“Let people live in your heart. When people really listen, they live in your heart forever.”-Toshiro Kanamori
What difference can one man make in the lives of so many? This morning, while watching a portion of a video of a remarkable elementary school teacher in Japan, I was reminded of a vibrant truth; that with love and compassion, full presence and guidance, empathy can be cultivated among children. Toshiro Kanamori is the 4th grade instructor who tells them that the purpose of this year’s work is “how to live a happy life, how to care for other people.” In the opening scene, the children are cheering, clapping and hugging him. This documentary called Children Full of Life explains a class assignment in which each day, three of the children share the feelings expressed in their daily notebook writings. One day, a classmate returns following the death of his grandmother. He reads his story of her passing and cremation. As he does so, his friends are moved to tears by his vulnerability and invite them to share their own tales of loss and pain, including that of a girl whose father died when she was three. She has, according to the narrator, been “holding down her memories for more than half her life. She had been afraid to talk about her father. She didn’t want to seem different. She paid a price.” My. Kanamori created an environment in which she was able to free herself. While comforting her, he also praised the young man who read from his journal since it gave her the courage to express her repressed emotions. Remarkably, he held space for the entire class to feel. He also seemed to know how to ‘close them back up’ in what might have felt like emotional surgery. I have seen a precious few workshop facilitators who teach adults these concepts exhibit the ability to do so.
I appreciated the emphasis on learning from life events, such as the death of loved ones as well as the importance of expression of a full range of human experience in the written and spoken form. What touched me most of all,were the ways in which the children bonded over their mutual joys and sorrows. Imagine the ripple effect that this will have in their lives and that of those with whom they relate. This film was released in 2003 and these students are now 19 or 20 years old; young men and women out in the working world or in college. In the interceding decade, they will have faced challenges and triumphs. I am certain that with the influence of their beloved teacher, they will more than likely have blossomed into remarkable adults.