What is compassion and why is it important?

The best way to understand what compassion is and why it is important may be to review the emerging science.


Testimony is easy to find now, which is why Stanford University's School of Medicine has the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.


There's also the Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science.


The science is clear: compassion has neurobiological correlates as well as yielding quantitative results in social science research.


Therefore, compassion clearly adds value to the human experience.


But what is compassion and how can you begin to incorporate it into your personal and professional life?


Compassion is surprisingly complex. It involves an awareness of suffering, coupled with a caring for others and also self. And it also involves an extension of loving-kindness towards the sufferer, whether self or other. But it's more than empathy. It's the courage to turn the other cheek without condoning bad behavior. It's really hard to love a person who has hurt you, but such acts of genuine compassion are the only way to break cycles of violence.


To be effective (ie. to relieve or reduce suffering), compassion also includes some extension of self such as taking action. But that action doesn't necessarily mean intervening, as in some cases compassion means withdrawing from the situation.


When the Dalai Lama speaks about compassion, a cornerstone of Buddhist and Hindu practice, he mentions his colleagues who are still political prisoners of the Chinese government. His Holiness recalls a moment in which a Tibetan political prisoner said, "I was in danger, not of losing my life, but of losing compassion for the Chinese."


The value of compassion is that it stops cycles of violence; as such, it's the only way to move through thorny situations like Israel/Palestine. Compassion has proven effective for immediate change through 20th century luminaries like Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Gandhiji. Viktor Frankl's refusal to fall into despair while in Nazi concentration camps is another example of compassion. The messages of Jesus taught in the New Testament are often rooted in compassion.


Karuna is a good word to use if we need to rebrand compassion, take some of the woo woo out of it. Rooted in Hindu and Buddhist psychology, the science of compassion includes compassion towards self and others.


Compassion is a compass we can use to guide our lives. It's a compass ion, a charged particle that leads us away from self-destructive cycles.


Though it requires an exertion of energy, or perhaps because it involves energy expenditure, compassion can be considered a North Star for Humanity 2.0.


Through programs like Stanford's Compassion Cultivation Training, lucid leaders have a lot of evidence-based practices to draw from in order to steer their ship in the right direction.


We call upon leaders in law enforcement, education, and healthcare to especially develop the courage to incorporate evidence-based compassion training into their HR practices.


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