Compassion: The greatest gift

compassionIn “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol,” Scrooge experiences a harrowing night of spirit visits that force him to face the potential consequences of his many wrongdoings. He awakens, ecstatic to find he has been granted a chance to make things right. Bubbling with joy, he runs to the window and exclaims, “I don’t know anything. I am quite a baby!” He feels the incredible excitement that comes from looking at the world in the beautiful sheen of compassionate light.

What most of us don’t realize, though, is that we ride our own journey to compassion as we watch Scrooge on his fateful ride. First, we judge him harshly. He’s a cold-hearted miser who deserves to be alone. Then, we begin to see what brought him to this sad place. With a visit from the ghost of Christmas Past, we get a glimpse into Scrooge’s lonely childhood, as the young boy sings his heart-wrenching song about feeling alone in the world. Suddenly, while we might not excuse Scrooge’s awful behavior, we can at least understand where he has been and how he has suffered. We find ourselves rooting for him to find peace.

When he wakes up, realizing the error of his ways, he joyfully comes to the Cratchit home with a giant roasted turkey, a bag of gold and a new, compassionate heart. Those of us watching are happy to see Tiny Tim and his kind parents and siblings reap the rewards they’ve so patiently accepted living without.

But we’re happy for Scrooge too. We’re glad his suffering has ended. We regard him with our own renewed sense of compassion.

That’s the magic of the Scrooge story, in all of its’ telling and retelling. We already have compassion for Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. The real challenge is digging deep to find compassion for Scrooge.

The holidays are the best time of year to begin a life-long discussion about compassion with our children. Like a baby, we can begin to discover the world bathed in a more compassionate light, in tandem with our kids. As we share our discoveries with our children, and they with us, we can learn together what compassion means and how we can weave it throughout our daily lives.

There are measurable things we can do to teach compassion, like donating presents for children in need, volunteering, and sharing our money and time with others. But it’s the smallest and closest of ways that can also make a big impact: listening to others express their feelings, forgiving transgressions, letting go of resentment, saying “I’m sorry,” and making a daily pact to avoid judging others.

Each of us is Scrooge sometimes: usually when we think no one is watching; often when we’re safely behind our car windshield or a social media outlet; especially in our own thoughts. We judge the guy who cuts us off from our parking spot, the woman who huffs and puffs in the grocery line behind us, the mother of the child who took a toy out of our little one’s hand. Even Bob Cratchit’s son, Tiny Tim’s brother, has a trace of Scrooge in him. As they “ooh” and “ahh” over the enormous turkey they’d been gifted, someone knocks at the door.

“Likely some poor beggar who smelled our turkey,” the boy says with disgust.

Bob Cratchit replies, “If it is, he shall have some.”

And with that, there’s a subtle, but powerful shift. Compassion reminds us, “I wonder where you’ve been. I hope you find peace.”

Ask your children to tell you when your own Scrooge pops up and return the favor by reminding them that it’s okay; we’re all human. But it only takes a dash of Bob Cratchit to help us remember that we can take a second look with eyes of compassion—oh, what a beautiful view it can reveal.