“Compassion, respect and gratitude are not the ‘soft stuff’ they are the very bedrock of organisational vitality.” – Mary Freer (The Compassion Revolution)
In this week’s episode I share one of my favourite conversations. On one of the most important topics in the Gentle Rebel Toolbox.
Compassion is sometimes misunderstood. And it’s a word that is not really used all that much outside of care industries and religion. But it’s one that we have a responsibility to take seriously if we want to change the current trajectory we’re on as a species.
From Empathy to Compassion
We might talk about empathy more than compassion. We may even use the two words interchangeably. But there is an important distinction between them:
Empathy – from the Latin root:
Em (in/to put yourself into)
Pati (to feel/suffer)
Empathy is putting yourself into the suffering of another person.
Compassion – from the Latin root:
Pati (to feel/suffer)
Compassion is the act of truly seeing another person, and endure alongside them so that their suffering may be relieved.
What’s the difference?
Empathy is a road into compassion, it doesn’t actually require any response.
To move from EMpassion to COMpassion you must respond to and act upon the feeling in order to move WITH the other person. You might experience the suffering of another person without them ever knowing (empathy). But compassion makes the other person feel seen, heard, understood. As such, they feel accepted in their humanness.
Mary Freer believes that compassion is the only viable future. She is on a mission to help leaders become compassionate in their approaches to building workplaces, organisations, and communities.
In a world where people are experiencing increased stress, uncertainty, and anxiety, we need to approach life differently.
“We urgently need to build a world where we are supported and encouraged to notice the distress in ourselves and others and act to alleviate that distress with the support from those around us.” – Mary Freer
Compassion is driven by the desire to remove suffering. Before we can do that, we must become aware of the suffering in the first place. Sometimes we are so busy doing life, that we fail to look up for long enough to notice distress in others and ourselves.
It wasn’t until my conversation with Mary that I really started to grapple with the true power of self-compassion. It’s an idea I had subconsciously written off as a bit soft, fluffy, and disingenuous. But I realised that this is because I didn’t get it. I had misunderstood what it meant. Not least because most things I had read about it talk about ‘being gentle with yourself’ and ‘remind yourself that you’re good enough’, and so on. What if it’s not that easy? Which, invariably it isn’t.
Self-compassion is much more profound than that. It’s a lot more messy and as such, more difficult to define as a one size fits all thing.
It’s an ongoing process. Stepping into moments of distress, suffering, and pain. And sitting with that past version of yourself, to see, feel, and acknowledge the pain of it. Not to understand it, or to reframe it within the context of what became possible because of it. But to simply recognise it and put an arm around that person (your past self), and comfort them with the gift of seeing, hearing, and accepting them as they are in that moment.
Towards the end of the episode I talk about a way I’ve started to do this.