After discussing compassion as a tool for the leader’s toolbox, it was pointed out that compassion has been plasticized in modern society, and further discussion on the topic is required. The intent here is to help provide practical steps for building a compassionate team, making compassionate people, and soliciting compassion as the prime response in customer relations. There are some truths requiring stress to ensure a clear understanding is provided.
The dictionary declares that compassion means “to suffer together.” Intimating that compassionate people feel motivated to relieve suffering for they have felt the pain of suffering in another. But, compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism. Empathy is all about taking the perspective of and feeling another person’s emotions. The taking is dangerous, the feeling is dangerous, and combined empathy becomes all about the person’s selfishness taking and feeling, not the sufferer. Compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help, taking nothing, onboarding no selfish emotional entanglements for personal gain, simply a desire to help relieve suffering. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion.
The focus of compassionate people is to help without personally benefiting a person or animal in pain. Be that pain physical, emotional, mental, etc.; the focus is always on the other and on helping as able. Interestingly, compassion is rooted deep in the brain, whereas empathy, sympathy, and altruism are not. Compassion changes a person fundamentally for the better, whereas research supports that sympathy, empathy, and even altruistic actions do not. Hence compassion can be a tool in a leader’s toolbox, whereas sympathy and empathy, more often than not, are useless in building people and teams. It is clear that compassion is intentionality, a cognizant decision to act, and the purpose is always to help. Sympathy, empathy, and altruism are unconscious emotional desires; unless the person showing these emotions is there for personal gain, deception is intentional and conscious.
- Truth 1. It cannot be stated enough, or more strongly, emotions are a cognizant choice based upon social cues, learned social rules, and judgments to obtain a reward. Several good references on this topic exist, but the best and easiest originates with Robert Solomon, “Not Passions Slave: Emotions and Choice.”
- Truth 2. Emotions are active responses, not passive, and emotions do not happen to an individual sporadically or spontaneously. Again, several good references on this topic exist, but the best and easiest originates with Robert Solomon, “Not Passions Slave: Emotions and Choice.”
Where compassion is concerned, especially the conscious use of compassion as a leadership tool, the leader must become aware of emotions’ role and social influence and be better prepared to improve people and build cohesion in teams. Because of compassions intentionality to render help to others, understanding how emotions are a choice and why is like putting glasses on to clarify what is happening, why, and how to duplicate or eradicate the emotional influence. Thus, the need to emphasize these two truths, even though they are similar, are distinct and need complete understanding to best position the leader in building people.
Plastic Words – Tyranny in Language!
- Truth 3. Uwe Poerksen, “Plastic Words: The Tyranny of Modular Language,” remains an excellent source and cautionary tale on what we are experiencing in modern society where words are captured, bent, disconnected from common definitions, and then plasticized to stretch into what that word is not intended to be used for. There are a host of plastic words, phrases, and entire twisted languages dedicated to exerting tyranny through communication using plastic words.
Consider the following, culled from APA’s junior website, “Psychology Today.” Please note, the article linked is the author’s personal opinion; however, for understanding the plasticity in compassion found in modern language, a better example is difficult to find. The author insists that compassion requires using both sympathy and empathy to be compassionate. As discussed above, sympathy and empathy should not describe or define compassion. While the words are similar, the conscious intentionality of compassion means sympathy and empathy are not, and should not, be included with compassion.
Yet, the author still provides clear guidance on compassion, insisting that compassion be ruled with logic and wisdom. Please note, showing compassion does not mean the compassionate person needs to go into debt, sacrifice themselves, or invest to the point of exhaustion in another person. Logic and wisdom dictate that you are not less compassionate when you govern compassion with temperance, but the reverse. A critical point of knowledge stumbled upon while trying to plasticize compassion as sympathy or empathy; compassion requires logic and wisdom, temperance, and judgment, all conscious, active, and involved decisions to be the most effective in building people.
Finally, compassion is a two-directional mode of building people. Both parties in a compassionate relationship are choosing consciously to engage in compassion. Hence, both will share in the consequences; sympathy and empathy are all one-directional from the giver to the receiver, with no reciprocation. Thus, stretching compassion to include sympathy and empathy, or even altruism, disconnects the fundamental ties of compassion from logic, and chaos ensues; where chaos exists, tyranny occurs!
Using Compassion – Focusing Upon Potential
“Opportunity is potential; potential is triumph waiting for an effort to be applied.” – Dave Salisbury
The above sentiment is one of my favorite truths because of what Mumble’s Dad Memphis said in Happy Feet, “The word triumph begins with try and it ends with a great big UMPH!” What does the informed leader do to build people? They recognize potential, both strengths and weaknesses, as a means to grow in themselves and others. Compassion enters when an event occurs as the emotion of connecting and building relationships. An analogy, compassion, could be compared to the mortar used in laying bricks. Each person and event are bricks, and by using compassion, the bricks are organized into a wall of strength. What is the potential of a single brick in a pile; hard to say. Organize them with compassion, and the potential becomes visible to all.
Practical Activities for Building Compassion
The following are helpful suggestions for building compassion in yourself and others.
- Show genuine emotion; if you’re happy, smile! If you’re struggling, let people know. Our society has been built upon hiding what has been going on for too long. People begin a conversation with, “How are you doing?” The expected answer is “fine,” good,” “okay,” etc. yet, when you know how you’re doing, these answers just spread lies. Are you building an environment where people can be honest about how they are doing?
- Compliments are a big part of showing compassion. Yet, too often, we cannot compliment each other without problems of sexual harassment. The giving and accepting of compliments build trust and comfort between people. Open the environment for giving and receiving compliments.
- Praise and expressions of gratitude cannot be understated as needed tools for building people. Research supports that honest, sincere, and frequent praise is better than cash for brain health and motivation. Again, open the environment for issuing praise and gratitude.
- Employ reflective listening; reflective listening is listening to understand the speaker and build a two-directional solution. Active listening is easily faked; the other listening methods do not include listening, hence the need for reflective listening.
- Curiosity reflects a genuine interest in someone else. Ask the other person’s interests, find common ground, and build from there. Do not forget to share. For example, what books have you read recently? Got a hobby, share new skills.
- Invest time! You cannot build compassion without investing time in yourself and with your team! Take the time, invest the time, and employ patience.
© Copyright 2021 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images. Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.