Compassionate Society

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What might the role of education be in creating ethical societies?

Do you think that the educational systems in your community and your society adequately teach ethics? Education, the Dalai Lama believes, should be about opening the child's eyes to the needs and rights of others. Do you feel children are exposed to the ethical issues addressed in this course? 

If yes, how effectively are they addressed? If not, why aren't they?

Beyond knowledge

In the West education is focused primarily on imparting knowledge and skills which address a narrow range of objectives.

What are the skills and knowledge transmitted in your community's education system? What important goals are addressed and which are not?

Along with education, which generally deals only with academic accomplishments, we need to develop more altruism and a sense of caring and  responsibility for others in the minds of the younger generation.

Modern education neglects ethical matters largely because ethical values were held to fall within the scope of religion when these systems were developed; as the influence of religion has declined, schools have not filled the gap.  

What's wrong with imparting knowledge? Isn't knowledge essential?

One has to take care not only of the brain, but also of one's spiritual development . . . in the sense of having a good and compassionate heart. If one has a compassionate heart, it automatically brings inner strength, allows for less fear and less doubt, and makes one more open-minded.

What is the effect of raising children to have knowledge without compassion?

Reflect on the ways knowledge and technology have been used in positive ways in your society and in the world. How have they been misused? What forces might guide the direction of society's perspective on knowledge?

Education is much more than a matter of imparting the knowledge and skills by which narrow goals are achieved. It is also about opening the child's eyes to the needs and rights of others. We must show children that their actions have a universal dimension. And we must somehow find a way to build on their natural feelings of empathy so that they come to have a sense of responsibility toward others. Ethics for the New Millennium

Knowledge without the context of ethics leads to competitiveness, which breeds greed and presumption rather than humility and self-confidence.

Teaching ethics and altruism

To awaken young people's consciousness to the importance of basic human values the Dalai Lama suggests we:

  • Show children that their actions have a universal dimension and build on their natural feelings of empathy so they come to have a sense of responsibility to others.

  • See to it our behavior as parents and teachers is principled, disciplined and compassionate, since children learn from actions, not words.

    Lessons taught by a teacher with a positive motivation penetrate deepest into their students' minds. Ethics for the New Millennium

    Do you think teachers can affect children in this way? Can you remember a teacher whose way of being affected you for your whole life?

    The Dalai Lama offers an example from his life:

    As a boy, I was very lazy. But when I was aware of the affection and concern of my tutors, their lessons would generally sink in much more successfully than if one of them was harsh or unfeeling that day. Ethics for the New Millennium

  • Educate children of the critical but solvable nature of the world's problems, so that they come to see these issues not as abstract ethical or religious concerns. The next generation must understand the ways in which the future of our planet and society lies in their hands.
  • Teach and use dialog as an essential component of schooling. Learning to grapple with contentious issues and learning how to debate and listen openly teaches children how to resolve conflicts non-violently.

    Do you think the Dalai Lama's vision for the affect of teaching dialog is realistic?

    If schools were to make this a priority, it could have a beneficial effect on family life itself. On seeing his or her parents wrangling, a child that had understood the value of dialogue would instinctively say, "Oh, no. That's not the way. You have to talk, to discuss things properly." Ethics for the New Millennium

  • Ensure that curricula do not present any people or groups — nations, cultures, ethnic groups, religions... — in a negative light.  This includes guarding against love of country or religion being channeled into prejudiced nationalism or religious bigotry.

    Does this mean that we must teach students to reject the cultural and historical traditions they are raised into?

    On the contrary, it is very important they be grounded in love of their country, their religion, their culture, and so on. But the danger comes when this develops into narrow-minded nationalism, ethnocentricity, and religious bigotry. The example of Mahatma Gandhi is pertinent here. Even though he had a very high level of Western education, he never forgot or became estranged from the rich heritage of his Indian culture. Ethics for the New Millennium