Dr. Neil Hawkes
Founder of the International Values-based Education Trust (IVET)

David Cameron recently visited a refugee camp, saying "Refugees deserve our compassion". Here are some thoughts on how do we develop it.

I am heartened because in the current tragic refugee crisis we are beginning to see the outpouring of compassion Public opinion has created this change. Ordinary citizens can be seen on our television screens demonstrating love and compassion in simple acts of kindness. You may find it helpful, as I do, to remember that all of us are descended from people who for a variety of reasons migrated from one part of our world to another. 

As governments, spurred on by altruistic people, try to find answers to such profoundly heart-rending situations: when people who through no fault of their own are displaced, each one of us is invited to examine the values on which we base our lives.  It is our values that act as principles to guide our thinking and behaviour. No person is value free. 

Scientific research is suggesting that we cannot be truly happy or experience a sense of well being if we cannot be altruistic. Hedonistic happiness, gained through activities such as partying; drinking alcohol etc. are short term experiences that fail to produce lasting happiness, which may be defined as well being - a sense of contentment that is not dependent on circumstances. My understanding is that the ability to be in a positive relationship with others and ourselves, (even those we don't know, such as refugees), is the key to well being. Living our lives through this perspective gives us what I term ethical intelligence. Compassion is at the heart of ethical intelligence.

If we are lucky to be born into a stable loving family, then we naturally learn about compassion initially from our parents and caregivers as we form an attachment to them. The safety, security and love that we receive enable us to have a sense of compassion for people who are close to us.

Unfortunately, such compassion is not automatically extended to people who are outside of our intimate group of family and friends. What is needed to develop compassion for people generally is a form of training in ethical thinking and behaviour. Values-based schools are giving pupils access to such training. Young people learn about an ethical vocabulary (respect, trust, tolerance, resilience, etc.) and practices that enable them to develop ethical intelligence of which compassion is a key element.

I am optimistic because I think that when enough people can embrace and live abiding by these ethical standards - thereby creating a tipping point - then humanity will use and act on a new universal ethical narrative, the basis of which is wisdom. Such a vision for the future brings hope to our world, a future time when we can look on every stranger as an extension of ourselves and therefore worthy of our compassion. I hope our leaders empower themselves to employ this much-needed capacity.


From My Heart
Neil Hawkes

This is a book that guides readers on how to bring values into their consciousness, thereby improving their well being and that of their family, community and working environment.