Where Did Compassion Go?

Where Did Compassion Go?

By Hwaa Irfan

One of the worst things about any form of strife is to observe negative reactions – I mean the kind of negative reactions that brings out the meanness, and the coldness that we inflict on ourselves and each other. Once we become mean to ourselves it is easy to be mean to others, and those that suffer the most from dwindling self love is our children. Our children become the next generation who, unintentionally prevented from developing their social, and moral skills, help to form the next generation, a generation that forms a society that will make decisions as leaders, and as citizens. The public spheres if that training are the homes, the preschools, and the schools, as the humanity within us begins to hypertrophy. Trust becomes a precious commodity that either drives the world apart or together depending on how much damage has been done to the soul.

An oft-repeated practice is exampled by the apartheid era of South Africa’s past when the colonizers as families did not have that love to give to their own children because it had hypertrophied as a result of their brutal actions on those whom they colonized. That love was often received by the black mama, the nurse, who raised their children in humility. It was probably one of the few relationships where love was reciprocated in brutal times, and explained how a black woman whose people were being brutalized could continue to serve the children of her colonizers.

A 2010 study by psychologist Professor Darcia Narvaez looked to the past to see what we used to, and demonstrated a direct relationship between the child rearing practices of hunter-gatherer societies, which believe it or not represents 99% of our history as humans. Narvaez found that our hunter- gatherer fore-families had better mental health, greater empathy, a conscience development, and children had greater intelligence – don’t let the technological blind us to our living reality of today! Specializing in the moral and character development of children, Narvaez found:

“Our research shows that the roots of moral functioning form early in life, in infancy, and depend on the affective quality of family and community support.”

Three studies were carried out by the University of Notre Dame, U.S. involving the observation of parenting 3-year olds, a longitudinal study on how  certain parenting style relate to what a child becomes in a national child abuse prevention project, and a comparative study on parenting styles in the U.S. and China. The accumulative research by Narvaez and other researchers around the world were presented at an October 2010 conference entitled: “Human Nature and Early Experience: Addressing the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness.” As many of us know:

“Warm, responsive care-giving like this keeps the infant’s brain calm in the years it is forming its personality and response to the world,” said Narvaez .

Identifying the most common traits of our ancestors, Narvaez found that they

  • Breastfed, ideally 2 to 5 years. A child’s immune system isn’t fully formed until age 6 and breast milk provides its building blocks
  • Multiple adult caregivers — people beyond mom and dad who also love the child.
  • Free play with multi-age playmates. Studies show that kids who don’t play enough are more likely to have ADHD and other mental health issues.
  • Natural childbirth, which provides mothers with the hormone boosts that give the energy to care for a newborn.

These common traits according to Narvaez are missing in U.S child-rearing practices where it more common to distance children by putting them in carriers, car seats, strollers, and only 15% are breast-fed and that is only until they are 12 months old. Common today, are the nuclear families, limiting human relations and free play which places the burden on the mother and father only. In fact these modern day practices unfortunately are quite universal amongst contemporary societies. If the above parenting characteristics are lacking in society today, then there is no wonder that there is a sharp decline in morality, and compassion.

“Ill advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace, such as the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms, or the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will ‘spoil’ it,” commented Narvaez.

There is no doubt that the health and well-being of our children is not what it used to be with research confirming that it is worse than it was 50 years ago, despite all the developments of modernity. Young people today are more likely to have conflicts of identity, emotional security, and suffer from mental ill-health, aggressive behavior, and a lack of empathy in contemporary societies, as well as being more vulnerable to all forms of abuse.

“Kids who don’t get the emotional nurturing they need in early life tend to be more self-centered. They don’t have available the compassion-related emotions to the same degree as kids who were raised by warm, responsive families.”

Distant Relations

The distancing in human relations began with the distancing of ourselves from ourselves. Nowhere is this more evident than in the form of western feminism, a reaction to Christianity that saw the woman’s body as unclean, which arose out of a series of negative associations with the Christian fall of Eve. From that point, many miasms formed from the lack of self love. That lack of self love is disguised on modernity with affected notions of what liberty means, sending an individual on a long journey of confusion as to what he/she is without purpose and meaning. From the female point of view, many gender-based illnesses arise out of this lack of genuine self love as opposed to the kind of narcissism that re-sculpts the feminine body, losing the women within, and the male without.

The core of Western feminism is the rejection of the cycle of life as reflected through the menses. This cycle is the source of our creative souls. This rejection has become structured into contemporary society alienating not only the woman from herself, but alienating life from life. Many female illnesses is as a result of rejection of that cycle of life. Contemporary society helps to reinforce this rejection by placing the woman’s body under the directorship of state and politics, to be made available to the needs of the state and politics against the needs of her cycle. Treated as a mechanical instrument with the ability to incite, the female has been taught and self taught to see her body not as an entity that is mind, body, and spirit, but as an entity that can be controlled through pills, and the “defective” part removed so that she can function with the same level of convenience as a opposed to freedom as her male counterpart. By removing midwives from female fertility, and replacing them with men, the medical profession has become instrumental in the distancing of the self from self.

A natural product of that sacred cycle of life is children, and their children, and their children who in the story of contemporary man become a convenience for status, position or wealth. Forced to fit into a man-made world, the laws of nature that nourishes, gives in reciprocity and compassion are bound to become distorted for we have learnt to take for granted what it means to be human. Not so in the hunter-gatherer community of the Aka, of southern Congo. Removed from the exploits of expansionist globalization, the Aka are an egalitarian community that have built in social mechanisms that protect the rights of the individual, between generations, as well as equality of gender. This is how we perceive secular society of contemporary man, which caught in an illusion does the opposite maintaining only the rights of the powerful and the influential. One of the ways in which the Aka protect gender equality is through family relations. There are daily role reversals without stigmatization, and that is because work and play do not have separate spheres of existence.  Adults and children play throughout the day, which enhances adult-adult relations, and adult-child relations. Aka parents indulge in their children as the stress of a separate sphere of work is not present in their lives. Infants are constantly held and are breast fed on demand, and are not reprimanded if they do something “bad.”  Older infants are allowed to play with the adults tools of work e.g. knives etc., and are allowed to crawl into a parent’s lap while the parent is working, and of course this is possible because there is no separation of home and work, neighbors, and colleagues, and work and play. Older infants are free to explore their home and village, where in a globalized contemporary society, older infants are only allowed to explore limited aspects of their world, and if they step outside those limitations, they are reprimanded because outside of those limitations is a world that does not consider children. The Aka child receives constant unconditional love not only from their parents, but also from their relatives, including the father, and in doing so, are constantly being held so they are an integral part of their world. The father is able to play an active role in his family and community because the work is shared. In societies where forms of wealth are accumulated, it has been found that  men spend more time away from the home, and more time competing for the resources. In societies where forms of wealth is not accumulated, the father spends more time in the community, has a greater intimate relation with his wife, and a closer bonding with the family including the children. The Aka husband and wife are together for most of the day, sharing in the needs of the home, the work to be done, as well as parenting. In other words, there is mutual respect, and mutual understanding, which leads to healthy communication, and the true meaning of team work. This is strengthened by their religious believes that evolve around control. Aka men do not have physical or institutional control over women, and both men and women are valued, and as such, the incidence of violence against women is rare. Where materialism rules, it reaps concepts of power, possession and control.  Islam guides Muslims against accumulation of possessions through avoiding excess, giving of charity and instilling generosity, but unfortunately today, far too many Muslims have followed in the footsteps of others leading to many problems within families, communities, and Muslim societies today.

Beverly Hungry Wolf, of the Canadian Blood People of the Blackfoot Nation recalls childhood as follows:

“Traditional closeness between elders and grandchildren gave kids an exposure to the same values their parents were raised by. It also gave kids a lot of attention, which many modern children seem to be sadly lacking. If the mother and father of a crying child were busy, there was usually a grandmother or grandfather nearby who would find out what was wrong. As a result, it is not our custom to spank children, although it was occasionally done. This extra attention helps to explain how parents handled half a dozen or more children inside their crowded tipis on long cold winter days and nights. The elders told stories, played games, and otherwise helped to occupy the minds of the children…


“Old widows who were alone in the past were often given an orphaned child by some relative. Any small child that lost its mother was taken over by a relative, usually the grandmother.”

This is a far cry from the enslavement and abuse of three decades of 30, 000 children raised in foster homes post-Nazism. Not all of these young people were orphans, but a call of fate, ended up in state institutions where nuns and priests of the Catholic and Protestant denomination ritually beat these children, inflicted solitary confinement, forced labor and sexual abuse between 1945 and 1970. A product of the brutality of Nazism produced such child rearing practices.

As we face these challenging times which question how we have chosen or not chosen to live our lives so far, now is the time to evaluate.

  • Was it worth it?
  • What did you miss?
  • What are the deepest regrets?
  • What is really important?

For now is the beginning of the rest of our lives!



University of Notre Dame (2010, September 22). Child Rearing Practices of Distant Ancestors Foster Morality, Compassion in Kids. http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2010/09/100921163709.htm

Hewlett, B. S. “The Cultural Nexus of Aka Father-Infant Bonding.” “Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Ed. Caroline B. Brettell. Prentice Hall, U.S. 1993.

Paterson, T. Germany Admits Enslaving and Abusing a Generation of Children.” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/germany-admits-enslaving-and-abusing-a-generation-of-children-2159589.html

Wolf, B. H. “The Ways of My Grandmothers.” Quill, U.S. 1980.


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Taking Control of Your Family Home

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Schooling, Violence and Your Child

The Echo of Life

Self-Love is a Journey

Homeshooling as the Last Option

Egypt’s Creative Talent: Vanishing Within Education?

Attention Deficit or Information Overload in Our Children?

The Importance of the Creative Principle in Life

The Redemption “Songs” of Muslim Youth

There’s Nothing Superior to Mother’s Milk

Your Children and Sleep Deprivation

Reliving the Art of Communication

Children Need the Outdoors Like Earth Needs Rain!

The Collective Intelligence of Women

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