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Door to Compassion

We can’t say good-bye to this year’s Founders Day celebration without highlighting the central role of compassion at our school. Last Friday our elementary students got to watch a short documentary about the life of Ivy Duce, our school’s founder, and her teacher, Meher Baba. The school is based on Meher Baba’s principles. Meher means compassion.

The dictionary uses many words to define compassion—empathy, concern, kind-heartedness—and all make me think about the Meher Schools office and the inexhaustible open-heartedness and loving actions of our school receptionist, Katie O’Callahan, and others, like Jeanette Segal and Megan Dixon, who play that role in the afternoon, as well as our HR coordinator, Emily Karakashian, and Toni Tishler, who sometimes fill in. The Office is the place where every visitor, applicant, and continuing and new parent begins their Meher Schools journey.

Our Office was intentionally set up to be more welcoming than the standard school office, which typically has a huge counter where people sign in to be on campus with minimal interaction with busy personnel. One of the first changes we made in 1979, when we transformed Montecito Elementary School into the White Pony and Meher School, was removing the counter, designed to separate people from the office staff. Our office has never had barriers and involves continual interactions.

People with problems in the morning

At 8 a.m. Katie O’Callaghan starts her interactions by answering the phone and responding to families who come to the Office in need of help. No matter what the problem, Katie responds with warm presence and one hundred percent equanimity:

“Oh no, strep is so painful.”

“So sorry you’re caught in traffic.”

“Hope your dog will be okay.”

“I understand that you’re anxious about your preschool application. I’ll pass the message on.”

Children who need comfort during the day

We can learn a lot about empathy from watching Katie respond to children with skinned knees, headaches, fevers, stomachaches, upsets over an argument with a friend or a game that ended badly.

Along with dispensing medication and bandages, Katie offers wholehearted attention and loving concern, but no upset or lectures, as she joins each child fully in the moment.

“That must have really hurt.”

“Let me get you an ice pack.”

“I’ll call your mom to come and get you. Just sit here and rest.”

Katie also celebrates growth and success.

“Congratulations, you lost another tooth!”

“I love your drawing—thank you for showing me.”

In many ways the Office is the beating heart of the school, and Katie and her counterparts play their roles superbly by turning to each individual situation with consistent support and love.


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