Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Virtue Ethics: An Ethical Development Program for High School Youth

Activity 2: Ideal vs. Reality

Part of Virtue Ethics

Activity time: 10 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers, and tape

Preparation for Activity

  • Write “Compassion” on a sheet of newsprint, and post.

Description of Activity

Participants identify positive and negative aspects of the day’s virtue.

Ask the group to define “compassion.” Choose a volunteer to take notes on newsprint. Share the definition from the website: “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Offer:

Sometimes people distinguish “sympathy” from “compassion” by saying sympathy is feeling sorry for someone, but compassion means you feel their pain and want to alleviate it. Like the definition, most people link compassion with action: Feeling bad is not compassion, you also want to try to end the other’s pain and suffering.

Remind the group that the ancient Greek philosophers believed true happiness resulted when something fulfills its true purpose. They believed the true purpose of a human being is to survive, thrive, and form meaningful relationships. How will living a life of compassion help you do that?

Point out that compassion is central to many religions, including Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity; acts of lovingkindness are commanded in Judaism. Why do religions lift this virtue up?

Invite the group to play “Ideal versus Reality.” Explain that one person will take center stage and state an ideal associated with today’s virtue, compassion. Then the floor is open, and anyone can take center stage and state a reality that conflicts with the ideal. For example, an ideal related to compassion is “We should all feel compassion for all living things.” A reality might be “We are animals that consume other living material to live.”

More examples:

  • Ideal: Our government should reflect the compassion we feel. / Reality: Different factions in society fight for special treatment, at the cost of others.
  • Ideal: Those who are most at risk (sick children, victims of tragedy) should be the ones we feel the most compassion toward. / Reality: Some people despise the needy, labeling them as “weak” and see them as burdens on society.

After the game, invite participants to share other questions or thoughts about compassion. You can prompt with these questions:

  • How has compassion played a part in your life?
  • Who do you know that you consider a deeply compassionate person? Why?
  • What experiences have you had where people were not being compassionate?
  • When is it hard to be compassionate? Are there certain people or situations that make compassion difficult? It is hard to feel compassion for people who are not compassionate?
  • Have you ever felt compassion for someone you felt was your “enemy?” What was that like? Did it affect your relationship?
  • Have you ever met someone you thought was an awful person until you realized some of the pain and difficulty they were living with?
  • “Compassion fatigue” is defined as a secondary traumatic stress disorder that results from a person focusing so much on the suffering of others or being so preoccupied with the care of others, that they cease to take proper care of themselves. Signs of compassion fatigue include depression, apathy, isolation, substance abuse, and other destructive behavior. Though you may not know someone who suffers from this actual clinical disorder, have you ever felt as if the problems of the world are so many they simply could not care anymore? If you have had this feeling, did it pass?