Increasing Compassion in Your Life

Over the next few weeks, I will share a video series that looks at situations through a trauma-informed lens. 

In this video, you will:

  • Understand we are all carrying the stressors of life in our “invisible backpacks.”
  • Learn grace and compassion needs to balance setting expectations.
  • Reflect on increasing compassion and grace in your life.

You can find out more about including compassion and grace in your life on the Wildewood Learning blog:

Four Resources for Exploring Culture

Culture is described in the dictionary as “the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.”
In May 2020, the murder of George Floyd occurred in Minneapolis, Minnesota—my home state—the state of Minnesota Nice. Minnesotans are white Scandinavian folks that eat lefsa and bring hotdishes to potlucks at the church. The event did not fit my perceived image of Minnesota culture. There was something I needed to explore and get curious about that was not within my worldview.

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Unwrapping Peace – Gift #4

The holiday season can be frantic for both adults and children. There are the usual day-to-day things: school, work, practices, and homework. Then add the school programs to attend, sporting events, holiday events, decorating, baking, and shopping; the to-do list can get pretty long! It can get overwhelming, and we all need to give ourselves a little grace during this time of the year. 

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What are You Carrying in Your Invisible Backpack

Have you ever stood outside a busy school and noticed all the bags and backpacks carried by students and teachers? The small backpack with a cute design on the front. Or the large over-the-shoulder backpack that could store everything, plus the kitchen sink!  

We all have invisible backpacks that we carry with us to school or the workplace every day. Sometimes that inviable backpack is light; we have everything we need to feel safe and to go through our day. Then there are days when the invisible backpack is incredibly heavy, maybe even overwhelming.

An invisible backpack can be filled with,

  • Caring for an elderly family member
  • Someone being sick
  • Grief over a loss of a loved one
  • Concern for a family member with mental health issues
  • Paying bills
  • Losing a job
  • Not knowing where the next meal is coming from
  • The high expectations at work

Even positive activities can add to the weight of the invisible backpack, attending activities outside the work day and the tough decisions that need to be made, like what to make for supper. This backpack can be a heavy load carried daily by the people at your work.

Some days people come well-adjusted and well-prepared to take on the day; other days, not so much.

  • What might your colleagues be carrying in their invisible backpacks?
  • What might you be carrying in your invisible backpacks?

“Consider that everyone is doing the best they can.

Based on their knowledge, skills, and experiences,

they are making the best choices available to them. 

Including you.”

Elana Aguilar. Onward

I have worked in several different school districts as a teacher. I had colleagues come to me and complain about another staff member that they perceived was not doing enough in the classroom, not being on committees, or leaving right at the end of contract time. I have also been that teacher to complain about others on staff. Little did I know what that person was carrying in their invisible backpack and how hurtful those assumptions can be on the workplace culture. In the workplace, there must be a balance of grace and compassion with work expectations.

Grace, compassion, and setting expectations for yourself and others are subjects that I have covered in the past. Grace to let go of my closely held expectations and simple acts of compassion can create a connection with others.

Grace can show up in your workplace by extending forgiveness to a colleague, overlooking an off-hand comment, or giving someone another chance. 

Compassion involves not simply observing and feeling for the person in suffering but taking action to alleviate a person’s suffering. Compassion is different than empathy which is putting yourself in another’s shoes, and sympathy or pity creates an emotional distance between you and the other person. Compassion starts with listening with an open heart. Also, compassion for others begins with self-compassion, extending kindness to yourself, and refraining from the self-critical unforgiving voice in your head. 

Expectations sometimes need to be lowered for us to have the strength and energy to make changes.

When you hold a space filled with grace, compassion, and lower expectations, you aren’t advocating for making excuses but for understanding ourselves and our co-workers.

You can increase your compassion and grace with co-workers by telling and listening to another’s story. Start a staff meeting or conversation with one of the sentence starters below and listen closely to the answers you hear. 

  • A positive experience I had with a co-worker was …
  • A teacher that positively impacted me was ….
  • Three things I’d like you to know about me are …

Bring grace and compassion into your workplace by recognizing the load some people are carrying and knowing they are doing their best at the moment, just like you.


Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh

Introduction to Trauma Informed Education workbook by Dr. Jessica Doering

Simple Acts of Compassion Create Connection

Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Many of the wisdom traditions use a version of the Golden Rule. This rule or guideline stresses compassion. 


I think back to when I was a child growing up in the ’70s and ’80s and the problems I felt were in my life. The issues of friendships, where to go to eat on a Saturday night (Pizza Hut, of course), and what to do when I felt there was nothing to do. I usually didn’t know about a party until after the fact. If my friends decided to go to the movies and I wasn’t home to pick up the phone, my friends left me to find my own entertainment. 


It’s different today for the younger generation. Teens today have instant notifications, instant invitations, or instant connections, all through the little device in their hands. Yet is it really what they want or need? There are reports of young people feeling disconnected and lonely among the ability to connect instantly. 


Even though my teen years are so much different from my children’s, I can still have compassion for this generation’s young people because of an essential shared human experience. The needs of belonging, connection, and to matter are a few of the needs I can relate to, even though I am an “old” person. 


I have worked in the area of social and emotional learning for over 16 years. Over those years, I have learned that building a connection with a caring, capable, and compassionate adult is essential in a young person’s life – an adult who will listen and make a serious attempt to understand. 


Compassion is created from three components – awareness of suffering, action to relieve suffering, and recognizing a shared human experience. I see a young person sitting on the sideline watching while others play a game. I go over the talk to the young person, strike up a conversation and find out she doesn’t know the game’s rules. Then I take the time to explain the rules and then ask her to play. That is an act of compassion.


The Search Institute, a research organization in Minneapolis, has a list of 40 positive supports and strengths a young person needs to succeed. One area is support: care from family, other adults, community members, and school staff. When a young person feels supported by the adults around him/her, there is a decrease in high-risk behaviors. Simple ways to connect with youth can happen in your community. YOU can play a part in the solution!


Here are ten ways you can increase your compassion and connect with a child or teen.

  • Take an interest in an activity a teen you know is involved in by attending the activity or asking questions of the teen. Then listen.
  • Ask a child what they are interested in doing. What are her passions? What sparks his interests? Then listen.
  • Play a game of pick-up basketball with a group of kids for fun.
  • Invite kids on the sidelines to participate in a game.
  • Give an authentic and specific compliment to a child. An example could be, “Wow, I admire how you organized the books on the shelf.”
  • Do a random act of kindness for a teen.
  • Ask, “What are your dreams?” Then listen.
  • Accept a child for who he or she is, a unique individual in this world.
  • Make sure making mistakes is “okay” for both kids and adults. 
  • Breathe deeply before saying something that could harm a child.


If you take action on even some of these ten simple activities, you will build compassion in yourself and the other person over time. These actions will not solve the complex problem of loneliness, violence, or inequities in our world; however, it is a start.