When was the last time life called on you to be lovingly and patiently accepting of imperfection? How good were you at answering that call? I bet it depends on who was on the other end, and how long that particular phone was ringing.
Compassion is a quality that is gaining new attention because it seems to sit at the heart of so many human experiences and its presence, or absence, can tell us a lot about what might follow.
In crisis, compassion can be the quality that assists a first responder in dealing professionally with a suspect. Doing so may allow more successful prosecution, and ultimately the justice that a more adversarial response may have garnered. Compassion for the crisis survivor goes another way too; when we can see our own actions in a compassionate light we have a better time coping with the emotions and guilt that frequently arise as a result of traumatic events.
In relationships, compassion is the skill that gives us pause when we are feeling most frustrated at our partner or child. Just as most healthy people would not fault a dog for wanting to sniff the ground, compassion allows us not to fault our partner for sometimes being selfish, sometimes not listening, sometimes not following through. When we respond with compassion we elicit the type of relational response we were craving to begin with.
When we try to connect across divides, be they class, gender, or race; compassion helps us to develop awareness and understanding of our own and others biases, which in turn helps us to select different responses than we might otherwise have generated.
Looking at relationship and stress response outcomes, those with higher self-compassion often report more positive outcomes. There is truly something powerful about the ability to see imperfection and tolerate and embrace it anyway.
You can turn compassion into a powerful tool for yourself, and the more you try it, the greater the rewards. Compassion is a quality that can be cultivated. Small steps to increase your awareness and acceptance of imperfection, in the environment, yourself and other people, can result in big gains in areas of decreased stress, increased productivity, and increased positive interactions. Think about how much energy and time you would save when you stopped trying to change things that can not be changed and instead moved into where things are as they are. Curious about how self-compassionate you are with your own imperfections, Dr. Neff has a useful tool I use in my coaching practice and in areas of my research. Her copy for the general public can be found here. She also has a great book you may want to read.
Compassion doesn't mean lack of excellence or surrender. Progress can happen even when imperfection is tolerated and social science research, and your own memories of loved ones who guided you, confirm that progress is more durable, more fun, and more contagious when true understanding and concern has directed it forward.
I was thinking once again about the many service offerings BDSinsight has and it struck me one day after sitting behind an older driver (who lacked my sense of urgency when responding to a green light) how compassion is a thread that runs through each of the areas we serve. Culture and diversity, crisis, and conflict management are all enhanced when we can bring compassion. Here are some great TED talks that share lessons learned by others about compassion's role.
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
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Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014