Grace, Courtesy, and Compassionate Living


This piece was written by Susan Shea, and originally appeared in the AMI USA Winter 2013 Newsletter. 

In a world that is increasingly attuned to the ramifications of stress, including depression, teen suicide and antisocial behaviors, the question arises of how to begin the process of decompressing as a society. Frenetic imagery arrests our attention from the computer screen while we attempt to order groceries online, simultaneously checking on the ten day weather forecast. The more tasks we seem to accomplish, the less time we seem to be left with. We buy our winter coats in September while the sun is still shining on the apple orchards. As soon as December 27 arrives, the Valentine merchandise is on offer. As I grab a sandwich on the go for tonight’s dinner, I’m already focused on tomorrow’s outfit. What’s that you say? Sorry, I can only check my e-mails if I play this wild dance music in my ears. It helps me to focus better.

We are all aware of family members, friends, co-workers or acquaintances who cannot seem to unwind; their body language is tense, their behaviors sometimes unpredictable. Even their speech patterns evoke a suggestion of general unease.

Tension is contagious, unfortunately. For a young child who is naturally absorbing the essence of other humans, exposure to tension can foster unhealthy thought processes and at worst, quench that spontaneous quality which defines childhood itself. Deprived of this spontaneity, the child’s natural development is interrupted and even hindered. Much as a current erodes the riverbank as it sweeps past, ever growing in speed and strength, so does stress overcome that which is particularly vulnerable. In our society, this might usually refer to our infirm, our elderly and, of course, our children.

In complementing our nation’s attempts to deal with gun control and mental health support, it is more important than ever to reassess the role of grace and courtesy in our homes and in our schools. While knowledge is indeed power, an ability to express oneself with confidence, respect and basic courtesy is nonetheless potent. Respect for others continues to be debated in the political forum and is a recurring theme in societal commentary. By our words and actions we can provide a tangible model that reflects these ideals, knowing that the child learns best by absorbing and imitating.

In all of our movements and each and every one of our words, we function as a continuous role model for our children. As in the physical classroom environment, from which all distractions and impediments to learning and development would be removed, so should all unsuitable comments or careless intonations be eliminated from conversation with our children. This requires spiritual preparation and conscious, sustained effort. It is difficult.

To be three years old and to be spoken to regularly without courtesy is a form of gradual desensitization; rather than immersing myself in the task of walking or working, I am initially rendered tense by the intonation of the caregiver, something that will lead me to eventually ignore the request or minimally will lead me to carry out the instruction merely to keep the caregiver at safe distance but with no personal investment in my occupation. This leaves the child with no reason to engage other than mindless obedience, deemed useless by Dr. Montessori.

As adults, we must model the behaviors of a joyful spirit. We are aspiring to raise compassionate citizens for the future, with peace as one of our goals. In today’s world our children are bombarded by stress. They are exposed to school shootings, teen suicides, international warfare etc. by the media. Some are overwhelmed by the effects of economic difficulty. Others are materially rich but are not enjoying a positive home environment.

It is impossible, then, for parents and educators to give too many presentations on good manners, patience, respectful dialogue and compassionate living.