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.