Like many of you I have been watching the devastation brought about by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  The compassion shown by individuals, organizations, local/state/federal government agencies, and even other nations is amazing. People reaching out to others in their time of need, homes being opened to the displaced, businesses dedicating their resources to relief, and abandoned pets being flown or driven thousand of miles to waiting homes.  So why does it take something like a storm or some other type of disaster for compassion to become so evident?  What can we do to become more compassionate?  If it isn’t already, how can compassion become a part of our daily lives?

“Compassion” is a noun and is most commonly defined as, “exhibiting sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others”.  However, as we all know,  compassion is not limited to suffering and misfortune.  When we exhibit kindness, caring and a willingness to help others, we are displaying compassion.  In essence, compassion is illustrated by many things we all do; giving to a charity, volunteering to work with animals, the elderly, or those who are sick.  Some say that compassion is simply putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understanding how they feel.  We also know that compassion is a self-sustaining positive emotion.  When you are compassionate it makes you feel good!  Let’s consider a few perspectives.

Compassion is rarely listed as one of the characteristics of effective leaders.  However, Margie Warrel, a contributor to Forbes believes, “The stage has been set for a new approach to leadership the transcends the traditional measures of organizational performance, to take care of the human condition at the heart level.  Her May, 2017 post, “Compassionate Leadership:  A Mindful Call to Lead From Both Head and Heart  makes the case for “compassion” being considered a trait held by effective leaders.  Warrel believes that global competition and heightened uncertainty regarding the future have created conditions where employees are seeking a deeper sense of meaning in their work and a greater connection between what they do and how it serves the greater good.  This, she contends, sets the stage for Compassionate Leadership which, “begins with the intention to see as others see and feel as others feel.”  Warrel maintains that by practicing genuine empathy, leaders are better positioned to cultivate mindfulness in others and that mindfulness can serve to improve focus, diffuse conflict, build collaboration, and enhance performance when under pressure.  Her closing comments are worthy of note, “By cultivating a more human-centered and compassionate approach to leadership it fuels a more courageous leader. The very sort needed in today’s increasingly anxious, uncertain and risk-averse environment.”  So perhaps we will now have more compassion in the C-suite, but how can we introduce it to our daily workplace culture?

Amy Morin, a psychotherapist and best selling author posts that there is clear evidence that compassion in the workplace can serve to not only improve culture, but help the company bottom line.  Sounds like a win-win to me.  Writing in Forbes: Entrepreneurs, her post, “Introducing a Little Compassion To Your Workplace Culture Has Big Benefits, identifies four benefits associated with a Compassionate Workplace:

1 Improved Employee Retention:  Having a boss and co-workers who display empathy and compassion for your life outside the office serves to enhance retention.  I’ve heard people say, “Yes, I could have made more money, but you can’t assign a value to the importance of the relationships I have with those with whom I work.”  It’s not always about money!

2 Decreased Stress:  Research reveals that when staff feel that are bonding, stress decreases and productivity increases. A compassionate workplace supports efforts to reduce stress for all staff. Remember, there is a fine line, but we should encourage staff to converse and share their lives outside the office.

3 Improved Health: A compassionate workplace can lead to physical health benefits which can certainly impact positively on a company’s bottom line.  Likewise compassion and collegial support has been linked to faster recovery from illness (I can personally attest to this).

4 Compassion is Contagious:  Simply put, compassionate behavior begets compassionate behavior.  Studies have demonstrated that compassionate behavior brings on a desire to “pay-it-forward” .  People feel good about themselves when treated with compassion, in turn they want to extend those positive feelings to others.

Creating a culture of compassion is not difficult.  We simply need to consider our own actions.  How much effort does it take to greet a colleague, to express concern for illness or sorrow for loss, to simply ask, “ Is there anything I can do to help? 

If there was ever a day for us to think about compassion it was this past Monday.  Sixteen years ago we were devastated by the actions of terrorists.  Several thousand individuals lost their lives, and the lives of their families were forever altered by the tragedy of 9-11.  Let me end with some words by Chris Stedman, executive Director of the Humanist Community at Yale University, “ Tragedy can teach us many lessons. From pain, we can learn compassion. From division, we can learn solidarity. And when our world is shattered, as it was on September 11, 2001, we can learn to seek understanding. On that violent day which shook us silent, America fractured. The lines between “us” and “them” grew thicker, darker, and harsher, muddying our shared humanity. We have since inhabited the shadows they cast, shouting at one another from across divides. On this, the sixteenth anniversary of that heartbreaking day, we mourn and remember those we lost and all who were affected. But we are also given an opportunity: to overcome the lie of “them” and “I” and learn to live together. The terrorists of 9/11 were guided by a narrative of intercultural incompatibility. But as people of diverse religious and secular identities, we can prove them wrong in our unity. By building bridges of understanding, we can emerge from the shadows and learn — from one another — how to be our best selves.”  Perhaps a good way to begin building those bridges is by showing compassion!

Embrace the Challenge