Compassion is a strange feeling; It’s nice to have but it often makes us feel uncomfortable. It’s a bit like sympathy, but more solid. When I first saw the picture of little five-year-old, Omran Daqneesh in the back of an ambulance, I felt the beginnings of tears well up. I think that’s a feeling of compassion: sympathy with heart.
The poor little child, stunned by murderous explosions, was unsure of where he was and, although injured, appeared unable to shed tears. Anyone who has ever known a five-year-old will tell you that they will scream their little heads off if ever they are hurt – especially if there’s a drop of blood in evidence. But for Omran the trauma he had endured blocked out what we would think of as a normal response.
I was saddened to hear that Omran’s older brother had succumbed to his injuries and died, but relieved that his parents had been found alive.
So, one child lives and another dies.
This is Syria today.
The photo of little Omran aroused our pity, sympathy and compassion.
BUT…recent reports estimate that 4000 Syrian children have died in this horrendously complicated and cruel conflict.
So, why is it that many of us are only upset when we see (in graphic vision) one wounded child?
Why were we so very upset, in September last year, when we saw those heart-rending pictures of little Alan Kurdi’s drowned body?
And, yet there have been THOUSANDS of people – including many, many children like Alan – who have died, and are dying daily, in Syria - and during futile escapes. (And, not forgetting Yemen).
We know the names of but two affected children: Omran, who lived and Alan who died. What about the other 4000 children? Where are their names? Where are our tears for them? Do we have to see pictures to prove that children are injured and dying?
Must we have pictures in front of us before our sympathy and compassion can be woken up? Perhaps we need to know all the names; perhaps 4000 children’s names should be written in our newspapers. With photos.
(Not that it would make the slightest difference to the warring factions).
Again to compassion: While the Australian government continues to keep hundreds of asylum seekers in ‘off-shore’ prison-like camps, the compassionate amongst us are begging for the camps to close. Begging to allow these people to be ‘processed’ and settled in Australia. But there is little compassion in government quarters, it seems.
Mr Dutton, our Minister for Immigration & Border Protection, has suggested that some Syrian asylum seekers (currently detained in Nauru) may wish to return to their homeland. He is even prepared to offer them money to do so. Does he not see the same pictures that we do? Of houses bombed beyond recognition and whole towns reduced to rubble. Does he take no notice of children being killed by the thousands?
Is he lacking the necessary emotional ability to produce compassion?
I suspect so.
Sure, I know there is nothing he – nor our government – can possibly do right now to stop the Syrian conflict, but…but…maybe helping those few who have escaped the horror to seek refuge here might be helpful (at least). No?
I accept that I am mixing up two huge problems here; the results of war in Syria and the lack of compassion regarding asylum seekers, but they are intertwined in my thoughts on compassion. Do we have to have more pictures of the likes of Alan and Omran to open our hearts as we wait for compassion to be aroused in some people?
Reading through a magazine the other day, I came across a story of a young mother-of-three planning a fortnight’s ‘escape’ holiday away form her husband and three (little) kids. She was apparently in need of some ‘me time’.
Some years ago, I knew a young mother who enjoyed keeping fit. Each morning she would plonk her two pre-school kids in front of children’s programs on television while she went into another room, put on a video for herself and pedalled away on her exercise bike. She called it ‘me-time’. That same mother also occasionally had weekends away with her netball-playing girlfriends – no kids allowed – and her husband also had his time away with his football mates.
This sort of thing is foreign to me.
Apart from the fact that I can’t understand how these mums (& dads) could willingly choose to be away from their little children for any length of time, I truly don’t know how they can afford such holidays. Couples bringing up young children are generally not the wealthiest of groups.
This need for ‘me-time’ and (what seems to me) selfish acts is in great contrast to anything previous generations would have considered. Take a double generation shift – perhaps back to parents in 1950 or 1960 - and 'me-time' would seem like pure fantasy. I’m sure that those long ago parents would not have felt any envy at these modern mothers, but would have just been confused as to what was going on.
I vividly remember the first time I was purposely parted from my two children, when they were aged ten and seven (!). I had made a promise to my youngest sister that I would come to stay with her for a week when she came home from hospital with her new baby. As I dropped my children off, first my seven-year-old son with his grandparents, then my ten-year-old daughter with her aunt, I felt as if I had lost a limb each time. I had left something of me behind as I said goodbye to my children.
At the end of a week, I could hardly wait to be reunited with them.
Was I strange or are these modern holidaying (sans children) mothers just different?
To a child, a week is a very long time. I heard about a three-year-old commenting to her mother after a week’s holiday with her grandparents:
“I suppose Susie is grown up now”, she said of her (then) nine-year-old sister.
As I said, a week is a long time in a small child’s life - and his or her mind. Perhaps I’m not moving with the times and maybe I’m being old-fashioned and showing my age, but I wonder how the kids belonging to the ‘me-time’ mothers cope.
Look, I’m no religious zealot. I don’t ever go to church but I sometimes wonder if a little ‘religion’ – a little God-talk and action wouldn’t go astray in children’s lives.
No, don’t go off screaming about it all being bullshit and who am I to say if children should – or could - believe in God; or a god, or any god, or gods.
I hear what you say about the ‘magic person in the sky’…but for kids it’s not all that serious.
When I was a very young student teacher, the school at which I was observing started the day with a morning assembly where the small children sang for about 30 minutes. Before the main singing began, all the children stood and sang a little prayer that went:
“Dear loving Father, once again we come
To thank you for another happy day begun.
We are your little ones, needing your care.
Listen we ask you to our morning prayer:
We thank you for the trees and flowers bright
For rain and sunshine, for the darkness and the light.
For all ……….”. (and sadly, I have forgotten the rest)
After a following ‘Good morning’ song of greeting they sat down and continued with the music.
Four years later I was a fully qualified teacher with my own room of four and five year-olds and I continued this tradition.
To add to this little prayerful morning interlude, at the end of each day all the children in my care placed their hands together (prayer-like) and we sang:
“Hands together, softly so,
Little eyes shut tight;
Father, just before we go,
Hear our prayer tonight.
We are all your children here,
This is what we pray,
Keep us when the dark is near,
And through every day.”
This was followed by a ‘Goodbye’ song, where the children acknowledged their classmates as they sang.
‘My’ children also had a song to welcome any new baby brothers and sisters that went like this:
“There are blessings from God all about us,
we should thank him for gifts great and small.
But the gift of a dear little baby,
Needs the very best ‘thankyou’ of all.”
Throughout all the years that I continued these ‘religious’ songs, there was never a word of criticism. (I always taught in government State schools, never ones connected to a church).
On many afternoons, parents waiting to collect their children after school, would stand quietly outside the (glass) classroom door until our goodbye songs were sung. So they were fully aware of what was going on.
But, that was way back in the 1960s.
Fast forward to the 1980s and beyond and it became perfectly clear that these prayer-like songs were now unacceptable - to other teachers as well as the majority of parents.
What made this happen?
Sure, I understand that not everyone believes in God – or any god. Some people might believe in different gods that don’t fit the simple messages in these children’s songs. But it does seem a shame.
It’s my view that small children need a little prayer-like time in their day.
Days can be quite frantic and filled with stresses even for five-year-olds.
How much would it hurt them to be able to hold on to an idea of a god (of any sort, but essentially kind and caring) who is at least aware of the start and finish of their school day?
It’s a funny world.
During one of my last years of teaching, with older children in my class, they were learning some old, but lively ‘spirituals’ (don’t scream objections– it was on the music syllabus!) and one of the songs was,
“All night, all, day, angels watching over me I pray…”
I was surprised to receive a letter from a parent insisting that her child leave the room each time that particular song was sung.
I asked the girl why she didn’t want to sing that song and her answer floored me.
“We belong to the Church of God and we are not allowed to sing that sort of thing.”
I had become used to the anti-religious attitude of teachers and families by then but was confused about ‘The Church of God’ and why a song about angels was banned.
Perhaps there are precious few who agree with me, but this stern reaction to any sort of religion (in song) does seem a shame…and…..….
The beautiful Christmas songs written for children’s voices are now missing from most of today’s schools. No more dressing up for a ‘Nativity Play’.
I fully accept the modern day attitude that religion is a no-go area in schools.
But I can’t help thinking it’s a bit sad.
I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.