Imagining the “compassionate mind” at work

In a thoughtful, compelling piece on the “compassionate mind,” Dr. Emma Seppala draws together a wealth of research and analysis on the role on compassion — defined “as the emotional response when perceiving suffering and involves an authentic desire to help” — in advancing the human condition. Here’s a short snippet of a piece that deserves a full read:

Compassion may have ensured our survival because of its tremendous benefits for both physical and mental health and overall well-being. Research by APS William James Fellow Ed Diener, a leading researcher in positive psychology, and APS James McKeen Cattell Fellow Martin Seligman, a pioneer of the psychology of happiness and human flourishing, suggests that connecting with others in a meaningful way helps us enjoy better mental and physical health and speeds up recovery from disease; furthermore, research by Stephanie Brown, at Stony Brook University, and Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, has shown that it may even lengthen our life spans.

The article appears in the May-June issue of the Observer, published by the Association for Psychological Science. It discusses whether compassion is natural or learned, the benefits of compassion for physical and psychological health, how compassion can change the world for the better, and how we can cultivate it.


Compassion at Work?

Is it naive to suggest that we could use more compassion in our workplaces?

Five years ago, I wrote a law review article suggesting that human dignity should be the framing concept for American employment laws. I noted, among other things, that considerations of human dignity are rarely voiced directly in connection with U.S. employment policy.

The idea of compassion seems even more, well, weird to associate with everyday employee relations.

Which is a big part of the problem. Too many of our workplaces are downright mean and utterly devoid of compassion. (That statement includes public service and non-profit employers, as well as profit-making businesses.) Within such organizations, incivility, bullying, violence, and other forms of aggression are common.

I understand that workplaces must be productive, however one defines the term, in order to thrive and survive and deliver our paychecks. So I’m not suggesting that we turn our places of employment into a giant support group. We have work to do — I get that.

But maybe someday we’ll understand that most of us do our best work in environments that are safe, supportive, and — yes — compassionate. Saying so isn’t naive; rather, it makes good sense.


Emma Seppala is the Associate Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. Go here to access her website.

4 responses

  1. I think it’s neither naive nor weird to think that compassion should be the cornerstone of the US workplace. I think a huge fallacy is that the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps mentality” at the heart of the US work ethos means that one must be devoid of all emotion and compassion in the workplace. It’s almost like employers strip themselves of personal mores in an effort to prove themselves and fit into an artificial construct that shows how “American” they are. I think you can have your cake and eat it too: being grounded in your principals, upholding workplace standards and accountability, and dealing with employees in a firm yet compassionate manner. I’ve witnessed it, I’ve done it, and seen better results in both the work quality and employee morale. I’ve also seen what a toxic workplace causes, and it baffles me that employers and bosses haven’t figured out that simple thing we learned in Kindergarten: treat others the way you want to be treated.

  2. There is so muucchh to be done in regards to the workplace, It may be only my opinion, however the help that the workplace needs will probably start right here in the pages and groups that we as mediators write since the world of workers are so connected via social media. I know that there are workers out there looking for help. May they find this page and find answers they are looking for.

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