Compassion in education

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama brings togeth...
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People who know me or pay attention to my Facebook page or my website are probably familiar with one of my favorite quotes: “Pay attention not only to the cultivation of knowledge but to the cultivation of qualities of the heart, so that at the end of education, not only will you be knowledgeable, but also you will be a warm-hearted and compassionate person.” It’s from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, in his book Live in a Better Way, but it’s a sentiment that HH returns to again and again.

Today, for example, he posted a similar statement on his Facebook page:  “Whatever the intellectual quality of the education given our children, it is vital that it include elements of love and compassion, for nothing guarantees that knowledge alone will be truly useful to human beings. Among the major troublemakers society has known, many were well-educated and had great knowledge, but they lacked a moral education in qualities such as compassion, wisdom and clarity of vision.”

Just a few moments ago I posted a link, with commentary, to a Worst Professor Ever blog post called “Why Experts Are Not the Best Teachers,” and in my comments, I complained about the author’s assertion that “knowing something at the PhD level benefits very few of your fellow citizens.” I didn’t expound on that complaint at the time, but my main issue with the original statement was that while individually no single expert’s particular, minutely finite expertise will necessarily benefit loads of people, the whole premise of academia and academic expertise is that, collectively, all our various areas of expertise in dialogue and cooperation does necessarily benefit human society as a whole. My expertise might benefit only a few, but our collective expertise benefits everyone!

Or so I wanted to shout.

But then, only moments later, I find this comment from HH the Dalai Lama, who seems the say exactly the same thing as the Worst Professor Ever — he just uses clearer terms and sets in place an opposite: Knowledge is useful to human beings, HH says, but it is not by itself sufficient and, by itself, it can be equally dangerous. What is useful, in all cases, is compassion combined with wisdom.

After I read the Worst Professor Ever post, and several others, I visited the About page there and left a comment about how the approach to academia espoused on that blog seemed antithetical to my own approach, yet I was fascinated by the possibilities and ideas the blog there raised. In my comment on the recent blog post I linked to here, I wrote that WPE’s attitude that students make the best teachers taps into my own philosophy of teaching.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has just validated WPE’s perspective by reminding me of the other part of my teaching philosophy, and now I feel complete.

So, thanks to both — the Worst Professor Ever and the man I consider the Best Teacher Ever. I’ve had education on the brain a LOT the past few weeks, thanks to the protests in Wisconsin and the attention (and attacks) those protests have brought to teachers lately. These two posts today have helped me step back from that fight a couple of steps and allowed me to remember the broader view of education… which, of course, only reinforces the importance of that fight in Wisconsin and around the country, and the need for everyone, especially American legislators, to act with compassion and wisdom.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

2 thoughts on “Compassion in education

  1. I can honestly say this is the only time I have seen my name anywhere near the Dalai Lama’s and I am heartily amused. But, if you makes you feel any better: apart from the blog, my efforts in the world are always in collaboration with my business partner, a former Hellenist and current world-saving-type ethicist, who is the opposite of my Romanist, Nietzche-reading, Machavellian-apologist self. As Plato noted, the chariot of the soul is driven by two horses, one black, one white. Also, it appears we agree on Neil Gaiman. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

    1. Ha! Glad to associate you with new company. 🙂 Thanks, in return, for popping over here — and I was serious, I plan to keep reading your blog. You have a really interesting perspective!

      Also, I love me some Nietzsche, some Machiavelli, and some Romans, though in the latter I confess I’m partial to the Stoics. Seneca and Marcus Aurelius were practically Buddhists. 😉

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