Posts Tagged ‘empathy’

Teaching Peace in a Violent World – The Dhamma Brothers

We hear about problems regarding overcrowded prisons and the rising crime rate. How does that make you feel? If you are similar to the average high school student or adult, you have pretty strong feelings on the topic—feelings that don’t include much empathy. But what if there were a chance of reducing the violence? What if hardened criminals could learn to embrace peace? The Dhamma Brothers film demonstrates just how to do this.

Rehabilitation in Prison

The Dhamma Brothers is a powerful film depicting the true story of inmates in Alabama’s Donaldson Correctional Facility. This prison holds 1,500 men and is considered to hold the state’s most dangerous prisoners. Within this dark environment, a growing network of men gather to meditate on a regular basis.

In January 2002, an ancient, rigorous meditation program called Vipassana, based upon the teachings of the Buddha, was brought inside the walls of this maximum-security prison in the Alabama countryside. Vipassana is rigorous, and even intense requiring 100 hours of meditation over a period of 10 days; one inmate, Grady Bankhead, says it was harder than being on death row. Considered worse than worthless by their society, these men undertake a radical inner journey that transforms their self-image, gives them power over their impulses, and enables them to give back to the narrow community in which they must spend their years.

Journeys in Film Curriculum

Journeys in Film is now offering a new curriculum, based on The Dhamma Brothers film and book, Letters From the Dhamma Brothers. The curriculum covers many areas including

– Getting to Know the Dhamma Brothers | Film Literacy
– Prison Writing | Literature
– Meditation and the Human Brain | Psychology, Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, Neurology
– Introduction to Buddhism and Meditation | Psychology; History; Religious Studies
– American Prisons Today: A Statistical Study | Social Studies; Criminal Justice; Sociology
– Racial disparities in representation and sentencing
– Rehabilitation programs in correctional facilities
– Beginning Meditation | An Experiential Lesson

Additional Themes explored in this guide are:

– The power of meditation
– The hero’s journey archetype
– Prison stereotypes
– The U.S. prison system
– Prison reform
– Disparities in sentencing
– Mindfulness

Lessons in Empathy

One of the many beautiful lessons this film has to offer is one in the development of compassion. As the prisoners meditate, many began to understand the ramifications of their own actions. They feel copassion for the families of their victims. One of the Dhamma Brothers had his daughter murdered, and during his his meditation was able to let go of his need for revenge because he understood the human element in the man who murdered his own child.

As students learn about the Dhamma Brothers, their histories, and their pathways to healing, they become able to relate more to the complexities of the penal system. As one student wrote, “This film really opened my eyes to a lot of different things. My views on inmates is changed. Just as the men in the film. I no longer view them as inhuman people, but as human beings.”

Meditation Leads to Healing

Back in 2002, the prisoners learned about Vipassana meditation. The word Vipassana means “seeing things as they really are.” This was an intense 10-day program in the prison in which the prisoners couldn’t speak for the first nine days. It was successful, yet threatening to some of the leaders in the prison who were concerned that the prisoners would become Buddhist. Ironically, while the meditation sessions have roots in Buddhism, they don’t highlight any god. In fact, they teach concepts embraced by many religions, including Christianity. During an intense moment in the film, the Vipassana program is shut down.

After a few years, the prison had a change in administration, and the program was reinstated. Since the Vipassana meditation program was introduced, the prison has seen a 20% reduction in institutional infractions & segregation time .

Educators from various walks of life are embracing the curriculum based on The Dhamma Brothers. One sums up the experience by saying, “This course of study did inspire students to pursue research topics and engage in service learning. The materials generated great discussions, especially around film analysis and portrayal of prisons/prisoners, rehabilitation, mindfulness and research.”

You can download the curriculum at no cost, and find out more about the film on the Journeys in Film website (

Fostering Empathy, Addressing Bullying through Film

October is National Anti-Bullying Month, reminding us how the scope of the problem has grown in recent times. Earlier generations of school goers had bullies, but the problem was not an epidemic requiring the attention of the Centers for Disease Control. While no one knows exactly why the problem is escalating to epidemic proportions, professionals and parents alike are seeking solutions.

Middle School Students Perspectives on Global Film Education

Teachers looking for ways to inoculate classrooms against the spread of bullying can turn to Journeys in Film. Our Discovering India - Like Stars on Earth curriculum guide provides tools to disempower bullies by developing empathy among students who are neither bullies nor victims themselves.

Understanding the Victim

According to – “a comprehensive, one-stop-shop” website launched by the White House – those at risk of being bullied are children, teens and young adults who:

  • Do not get along well with others
  • Are less popular than others
  • Have few to no friends
  • Have low self esteem
  • Are depressed or anxious

Our featured film in Discovering India is the acclaimed Bollywood movie, Like Stars on Earth. The film follows the life of eight-year-old Ishaan, who is suffering from severe undiagnosed dyslexia. In the absence of understanding from his family, friends or teachers, he becomes withdrawn and begins to develop behavior issues consistent with the above criteria.

He is set on a path to being bullied – and predictably neighborhood boys and even insensitive teachers at school start to bully him.

The Victim’s Peers

This short but potent passage titled Peer Relationships that Promote and Prevent Bullying is from the National Education Association’s Nationwide Study of Bullying:  Teachers’ and Education Support Professionals’ Perspectives:

Peer relationships are like oxygen that allows bullying to breathe and spread” but “even one good friend to a victim of bullying” can ease harassment. A problem behind bullying is “the unresponsive bystandera classmate who finds harassment to be funny, or a peer who sits on the sidelines afraid to get involved”

If peers withheld the bully’s “oxygen,” perhaps it would force more socially acceptable behavior from the bully. But what could motivate peers to draw the line against bullying?

According to Time writer Maia Szalavitz in a 2010 Time article, research by neuroscientists, psychologists and educators over the past decade shows that bullying and other kinds of violence can be reduced by encouraging empathy at an early age.

Teaching Empathy

Targeting younger audiences, Like Stars on Earth gives a bird’s-eye view of how life looks from the perspective of the dyslexic, revealing the resulting psychological devastation. The sensitive portrayal of Ishaan’s conflicts will likely engender a sense of empathy in most viewers.

Lesson 3 of the Discovering India curriculum guide takes this natural response to a deeper level of understanding.

Nine questions on the two-page handout coach students on reading body language, interpreting anti-social behavior, and imagining themselves in a victim’s shoes. Teachers can take this lesson plan one step closer to resolving bully issues by giving examples of how to discourage the bully by showing empathy for the victim – thereby robbing the bully of his “oxygen.”

The NEA research showed that the support of even one child could make a difference to a bullied victim. Imagine the impact teachers could have on entire classrooms if they helped students tap into the native well of human empathy.

Journeys in Film is committed to preparing youth to be global citizens; empathy to one’s fellow citizens of the world is a beginning point.

Visit our store to purchase our Discovering India curriculum guide.

Be sure to download Lesson 3, “Analyzing a Character’s Emotions” that can be used by teachers to cultivate empathy among students and thus mitigate the impact of classroom bullying.  Also download free lesson plans about music in India and Bollywood.

Shopping Cart

Your shopping cart is empty. You can add items by visiting our Store

View Cart

Films & Lesson Plans
Defiant Requiem
Experience the power of the human spirit to create art and beauty under the most deplorable circumstances of the Holocaust.
Learn More   
The Dhamma Brothers
Witness the transformative power of spiritual practice inside a maximum security prison of the deep south.
Learn More   
Please Vote for Me
Share a thought-provoking lesson on Democracy with your students, and discover Chinese culture and more along the way.
Learn More   
Children of Heaven
Help your students understand cultures of the Middle East through Iranian cuisine, geography, and other social studies lessons.
Learn More   
Beat the Drum
Follow young Musa's quest for survival, understanding, and community while learning about HIV/AIDS.
Learn More  
Whale Rider
Explore cultural changes across generations, as young Pai becomes the first female leader of a Maori community.
Learn More   
The Way Home
Teach students about inter-generational conflict and globalization.
Learn More   
The Cup
Immerse your students in the traditions and culture of Tibet through this award-winning film.
Learn More   
Like Stars On Earth
Explore India’s culture through Bollywood and a young boy's struggle with dyslexia and bullying.
Learn More   
Join Our Community