The Impact Compassion has on communities


Catie Marqua, Reporter

Giving and receiving compassion connects people and with this connectedness, humans have the power to turn around someone’s day, make someone feel recognized, change a life, and even heal an entire community.

Durango High School’s social worker, Teresa Jennings, explains that compassion goes beyond just being kind to someone.

“It’s more than just caring about someone else’s experiences but feeling it with them,” said Jennings.  

Humans are able to feel each other’s emotions by relating to their own personal experiences. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern and a researcher at Harvard Medical School, explains the science behind how humans detect each other’s emotions.

“Emotions are guesses, the way we see emotions in others are deeply rooted in predictions…Your brain is predicting. It’s using past experience based on similar situations to try and make meaning.. Emotions you seem to detect in others actually come in-part from what’s inside your own head,” said Barrett.

The brain’s disposition to predict other individual’s emotions based off personal experience is one of the ways humans find compassion for one another. Although reading body language can be misleading as it’s only a guess, as Barren points out, it’s still a start nonetheless.

Recognizing visually that someone might be struggling and utilizing that as a tool to initiate a conversation and show compassion can make a world of difference, explains DHS sophomore Anna Fenberg.

“Showing compassion to others is one of the many simple things you can do to improve the lives of people around you. Being kind and showing that you actually care for people makes them happy and helps you feel better too. From experience, when someone asks me how I’m doing, smiles in the hall, or just show that they care, it makes me feel loved and helps me get through the day,” said Fenberg.

Compassion is crucial for creating a positive environment. Jennings explains why compassion, in school environments especially, is so important.

“Compassion makes you feel safe and seen–more able to be yourself and be honest.

So much of my job is connecting with students, but also trying to connect with staff to help spread awareness about how to support mental health at schools and how to support both social and emotional learning at school. I could not do my job without some level of compassion”  said Jennings.

DHS senior, Candace Dellinger, finds Durango High School to be an environment filled with compassion but still thinks there is room for more.

“I believe in this school, people are always friendly and kind, but I also feel that most students are afraid to expand their horizons. I encourage students to go out of their way to show compassion to people they may not even know. It’s important to notice people and show them they are recognized,” said Dellinger.

Finding compassion for other individuals is not always easy. It requires opening up your perspective beyond your own personal experiences.

“Compassion comes from a place of knowing that you don’t fully understand. You may not know what someone else is going through so you have to be compassionate when you don’t know how they are feeling” explains DHS’s Psychiatrist Amanda Rich.

In some scenarios, finding compassion or getting someone to be affected by your compassion requires persistence but it is important to start somewhere.

“Just start with simply asking people how they are doing, then you start to hear more about their perspective and their life–making it easier to find compassion” says Jennings.

In some instances, showing compassion has made an astounding difference.

On his NPR Ted Radio hour podcast, Guy Raz explored how humans harshly judge certain behaviors or conditions, making it harder for people to talk honestly about them. Raz interviewed journalist Johann Hari who researched the major drug crisis in Portugal in 2000. Hari reveals how an experiment to de-stigmatize drug addiction led to a large decrease in addicts.

“In the year 2000 Portugal suffered from a major drug crisis…1% of the population was addicted to heroin” says Hari.

In efforts to resolve the drug crisis, Portugal’s government took an alternative approach and spent money on reconnecting addicts with society rather than spending money on criminalizing drug users and disconnecting the adicts from society.

“{Portugal invested in} A massive program of drug creation for addicts and micro loans for addicts to start small businesses… the goal was to make sure every addict in Portugal had something to get out of bed for in the morning” explained Hari.

The program was successful in the rehabilitation of the addicts.  

“As they discovered purpose, they rediscovered bonds and relationships with the wider society…It will be 15 years this year since the experiment began, and the results are in, injecting drug use is down in Portugal according to the British Journal of Criminology by 15%” said Hari.

As demonstrated by Portugal’s solution to their drug crisis, compassion and making people feel connected to their society has the power to initiate formidable change.  Showing compassion makes a difference, whether big or small–it doesn’t matter.