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by on October 15, 2022


by Br. Mark Dohle

Monastery of the Holy Spirit

I have known Br. Mark, a Cistercian (Trappist) monk, for over 25 years. Of the many monks and nuns I have known in my lifetime Br. Mark stands out as one of the few who fully engage in candid and respectful dialogue with people of all perspectives. I hope readers will avail themselves of this opportunity to do so. All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. (Marco M. Pardi)


This is a conference that I am giving to give this morning to a large group of teachers. I had some very good interactions with some of the teachers I had when growing up in Panama. A few of them touched me deeply, and I feel that I would have turned out differently if not for them.

These are notes but will use them to help me keep on track. -Br.MD

—–Definition of compassion: Sympathetic consciousness of other’s distress together with a desire to alleviate it.—–

I would like to start with the experience of meeting a very compassionate teacher a few years ago. Let’s call him Stan, in order to protect his privacy.

Stan worked at a school in Chicago that dealt with teenagers who came from homes that were in turmoil, to put it mildly. He would share with me his day-to-day interaction with these students. What struck me in a very powerful way, was the deep compassion that he had for these young people.

From one day to the next there was always some sort of ‘minor’ emergency going on and some serious issues that were in some cases, life-threatening, for some of the students.

He talked about failures, suicides, and trying to get through to the parents, who themselves came from very troubling family histories.

I am not sure all the teachers who worked in this school got as involved as Stan did. He has done this for years, has not burned out, and is a man of great faith.

What I experienced in Stan was the reality of the cost that compassion calls for.

Not everyone is called to the kind of service that Stan is, yet for most of us, we to, are called in many situations to be compassionate, instead of judgmental.

Stan was not a pushover. He did challenge his students, pushed them, and because of this, many were able to overcome their environment and move on to better lives. In some instances, it even helped the family towards healing as well.

Stan is not the only teacher I have met with this kind of Christ-like compassion, I have spoken to more than a few, and in all cases, I am amazed at their stamina in dealing with so much pain.

There is a price to be paid for being deeply compassionate. Choosing to become uncaring, and aloof, also has a heavy price to endure as well. In order to protect oneself from the sufferings, and struggles of others, a wall has to be built up, and the bricks for such a wall are the use of labels or stereotypes that lessen the humanity of others or take it away altogether. I do think this is a worse fate than the upward road that compassion takes us all on.

There is always an underbelly to all true gifts. When compassion becomes compulsive it suffers from thinking that they have to save, and make right, the lives that they come in contact with. This can lead to frustration, and burnout.

The healing aspect of compassion comes from the fact that the one being helped experiences a deep acceptance from the other that allows inner freedom to grow.

When I was a student, and I was not a good one, I also experienced compassion from some of my teachers. Some teachers lost patience with me, which was understandable, but it did not change me. Others seemed to see something in me that made me pause in wonder at what on earth they were seeing in me. I sort of agreed with the teachers that showed frustration, that I was not worth much. Though that was my subjective interpretation of their anger toward me. I doubt that was their intent.

Those who saw ‘something’ in me, did change me, they planted a seed that did not bear fruit until I was 19 or 20. It was then that my mind ignited and I thirsted for knowledge. I do believe that this happened in part because of the gentle acceptance of my slowness, yet at the same time, they encouraged me. If I never experienced that compassionate, loving acceptance, I doubt that I would have believed that I was capable of really learning, or becoming anyone worthwhile.

I do believe that all teachers have students they feel a deep connection with and help them in ways that they do not understand.

We learn from those we have compassion for. We deepen our understanding, not only through our own suffering and struggles but by seeing what everyone, I believe, goes through.

What makes it possible for us to be compassionate is the very commonality of the mystery of human suffering.

When I meet young people today, I do not see the stereotypes that are bandied about as true. Being a teenager was for me one of the most difficult times of my life. I can say this, even though my family life, for the most part, while chaotic, was not abusive. Today more than ever, our young people need mature adults to listen, encourage, and yes protect them from modern currents that can be destructive.

I have no doubt that all of you educators here have memories of teachers who saw something in you that you did not see in yourselves. Because of that, the seed of acceptance has born beautiful fruit.-Br.MD


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  1. Thank you, Mark. Your comments have significant relevance for me. I never taught at any level below college, but 22 years teaching in universities and colleges from Ivy League to small State colleges afforded me many experiences which your post brings to mind.

    However, the expression of compassion is, today, more of a minefield than it ever was. I don’t recall ever reading in a Faculty Handbook a formal warning against “in loco parentis”, being a “parent in place”, but I was cautioned against this tendency as it could lead to serious unforeseen problems. Nonetheless, particularly as the subjects I taught were as intimately involved with humans and our lives as one could possibly get, I did find myself becoming available to students far beyond just academic assistance.

    I know the issue is far more serious in the K – 12 system. My daughter, a school nurse with the highest awards in her field, is currently the subject of an avalanche of death threats from the anti-vaccine crowd and from parents who are outraged that she allows students to come into her office and discuss gender identity issues. Her school district is one of the wealthiest zip codes in the United States. Although security for her has been enhanced on school grounds, she is currently exploring other nursing options, all of which she is highly degreed and qualified for. Or, she can move to a civilized country such as Canada, England, or New Zealand.

    Your cautionary notes about “burn out” are certainly important. I’ve seen this in several fields, and the outcome is rarely pleasant.


    • mkdohle permalink

      I remember the day I visited one of your classes and gave a talk. I could see how much you wanted to expand the perspectives of your students. You are still doing that with us. Thank you for your care, as well as your wisdom.


  2. Tilly permalink

    Thank you Br.Mark for this post. We seem to be at a time in world history where compassion and kindness is needed more than ever. The ability to connect to and help another person in need is what makes us human. We may not always immediately recognize how important the compassion is that we show to others but, as you point out, it often has a lasting positive impact. This post was very timely for me, as I had just been thinking about what more I could do to make a difference within my community. One of the options I considered was tutoring new Canadians via programs available through the library. Lo and behold, here is your post about a teacher making a real and positive difference in the lives of his students. I will take that as a sign from the Universe!


    • mkdohle permalink

      That is beautiful Tilly, I have no doubt you will be very good with your future students.


  3. William Boyd permalink

    Mark: Thank you for opening up your experiences to us. What immediately came to mind upon reflection is a very recent C-Span video presentation treating Chris Hedges’ in-prison classroom experiences along with the thoughts of 3 his his “graduates” (i.e., now former prisioners). Chris, it seems, exemplifies the compassion you speak of.


  4. mkdohle permalink

    Thank you William, I will watch it. I write prisoners, and many wish to spend their time in prison learning a new trade, or they want to deepen their inner lives so when they get out, they will able to move forward and be good citizens.


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