As part of a typical assessment battery that I conduct with young adults (16 years and older), they are asked to define certain words. One of the more curious trends that I’ve observed in recent years is the difficulty that these young adults have defining two words on the test – "remorse" and "compassion."
Almost to a person, the definitions offered miss the mark. Understanding that "remorse" has some sort of negative tone, the definition given invariably leaves out the part about personal responsibility and the feeling of shame or regret. Definitions like, "Well, remorse is like feeling bad," are typical. (There is no mention of feeling bad about something you did).
For compassion, I frequently hear that compassion involves "love," leaving out that compassion involves empathy and an understanding of another’s feelings.
For quite some time I’ve been thinking about this and even wrote a rough draft of this blog a while ago, but never followed through with it.
Well, yesterday a young man committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge, seemingly the result of public humiliation.
Are we becoming a society that cannot define or understand two fundamental words, "remorse" and "compassion?"
Judging by the way I hear young people grope around in their attempt to explain these words, I think the answer may be obvious. The inability to put oneself in another’s shoes and feel compassion starts very young. So does the feeling of remorse.
Perhaps we should spend less time continually worrying about bolstering our children’s "self-esteem" (everyone’s preoccupation) or their SAT scores and more time engendering the ability to feel remorse and compassion and to understand what these words mean.
Just a thought.