More on Kindness: The Power of Self-Compassion

In my first post, I wrote about the neurological science behind kindness, its natural connection to and positive impact on teaching and learning, the recent growth of academic centers and institutes focused on kindness and similar values, and the need to make room for care-centric pedagogies in research and instruction. Though a critical piece of the conversation, what I didn’t touch on was the research or science behind self -kindness or -compassion.

Previously, I referenced Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education as one academic center focused on the scientific study of compassion, and since then, a friend recommended a podcast on the power of compassion, in which Dr. James R. Doty, MD, the founder and director of such Center and a clinical professor in the Department of Neurosurgery at Stanford University School of Medicine, is interviewed by neuroscientist, philosopher and best-selling author Sam Harris about such work. There, Doty notes how he was initially told that the academic exploration of self-compassion was a dead end, and that anyone who made such focus the center of their academic endeavors would not go far. Fast forward to today, and, as Doty explains, compassion is viewed as both profound and powerful in the way it positively impacts our emotions, physiology, and brain activity.

On Harris’ Making Sense podcast, Doty also points to the work of Dr. Kristen Neff, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion and an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education. In her work, Neff defines self-compassion as having three core components of self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. (And she even offers self-compassion training designed specifically for educators!)

In a TEDx talk on the difference between self-compassion and self-esteem, Neff explains that self-compassion begins with treating ourselves with kindness rather than harsh self-judgment. She notes we are often much harsher and crueler to ourselves in the language we use, saying things to ourselves we would never say to those we care about (or even those we dislike!). Her solution? She asks that we try giving ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend. Though a simple idea, Neff asserts it can be life changing.

The good news, Neff maintains, is that the practice of treating ourselves like we treat our good friends is easier than we think. She reminds us that we already know how to be a good friend or what to say to comfort someone when they’re in need, and that we simply need remember—and choose—to extend the same encouragement, understanding, empathy, patience, gentleness, etc. to ourselves.

I am hopeful that even just one person reading can take and use this small piece of advice as I have recently and finally allowed myself. After all, if an engaged pedagogy is holistic and empowering for everyone involved in the learning process, how can any educator seek to build a true, engaged pedagogy of kindness without first starting with hirself?


Stanford Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, (last visited Oct. 12, 2020).

The Power of Compassion, Making Sense Podcast (Oct. 8, 2020),

Self-Compassion, (last visited Oct. 12, 2020).

TEDx, The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion, YouTube (Feb. 6, 2013),

Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (1994).

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