Monday, April 27, 2009

Eric Dawson, President of Peace Games - "Compassion is a state of mind, a state of being, but it's also a set of skills "

When Eric Dawson, President of Peace Games, sent me this video on compassion, my initial reaction was what does this have to do with my project? I'd asked Eric to share with me what his thoughts were on compassion, and how it relates to work in the arts. And here's Eric, telling us a story about a kid who's being bullied. Not an actor trying to relate to a character, or a director showing us a human story. Eric's story is about a tiny first grader, Danté, and a much larger fourth grader, Brian.

What in the world does this have to do with compassion's role in the arts?


It took me a second to get that what the first graders did in this story is what every actor, writer, or director strives to do in their work. They saw Brian as a possibility, not as a bad kid who simply needed punishment. Not as someone who deserved a taste of his own medicine, not as someone who was hopeless, or destined for jail. But as a human being, who had within him the potential for good.

Eric said that after Danté was initially bullied, his classmates rallied around him and comforted him. And then, they began to organize. Imagine that, a group of first graders organizing a response to one of their own who'd been hurt. But they didn't organize an angry, frenzied, vengeful response. They first made a short term plan to ensure the safety of their peers: no one would have to go to the restroom by themselves. The bigger kids would accompany the smaller ones.

And then, most powerfully, the kids, along with Danté's mom, empowered Brian. They made him responsible for their well-being. So much so that he took it upon himself to become the protector, big brother, and mentor of the smaller kids.

What they saw in Brian was what Tom Hiddleston described in his earlier post.
"Within all of us there is the capacity to be anyone or anything... There is an Iago and a Romeo within all of us, there is that lover, and there is that sociopath."
Brian wasn't a bad kid. But some set of causes and conditions in his life led him to dunk little Danté's head in the toilet. A great artist recognizes that within that Iago might be a Romeo, or a Martin Luther King, Jr., a Gandhi, or a Barack Obama.

Thich Nhat Hanh said in his astounding book, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames:
"You can make a mistake only when you forget that the other person suffers. You tend to believe that you are the only one who suffers, and that the other person is enjoying your suffering. You will say and do mean and cruel things when you believe that you are the only one who suffers and that the other person does not suffer at all."
The kids in Danté's class could have easily planned to exact their revenge, to do "mean and cruel things" to Brian, and "teach him a lesson." Surely that's the conventional way we'd expect to see this story played out. But thanks to the amazing work of Peace Games, and some amazing kids, the story turned out very differently. The kids were able to communicate with Brian, because they saw what was possible for him.

Thich Nhat Hanh said in his book, Teachings on Love:
"When we cannot communicate, we get sick, and as our sickness increases, we suffer and spill our suffering on other people."
Brian couldn't communicate in any other way than to act out on Danté. The kids, with their Peace Games training, taught him how.

And what they ultimately recognized is what every artist recognizes: the essential humanity in Brian. That he was not all that different from they, themselves. That something led Brian to act the way he did, and that they could be the cause that could help him act another way.

Thanks, Eric, for your inspiring video!


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