Compassion is a concept that may seem, at first glance, rather dusty. Indeed, it is very ancient and was in fact created 2500 years ago, yet it is still a value that is at the centre of many human movements. In today’s western cultures, we find the word compassion can be associated with a sense of sacrifice and even weakness. However, far from being weak, compassion has now risen to attention with a special strength.
Compassion is a sensitivity to suffering in self (self-compassion) and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it (Gilbert, 2014). It is therefore neither a sacrificial act nor a weakness but a force, a source of courage, a motivation that allows us to free ourselves and others from suffering with respect and benevolence.
Why do we need compassion?
It seems obvious from the definition that compassion would be at the heart of caring and our care systems. Yet, our efficiency-based healthcare systems, evaluated by costs, as opposed to valuing care, have systematically moved compassion to one side. We now have, what might look like, a “cold” model of care subsumed within an industrial process. Even if the efficiencies are real, a “side effect” is the dehumanization of care. This lack of understanding and lack of prioritisation of compassion seems to be prevalent in most western human institutions. To introduce compassion into our organisations would require a recognition of the inner human force as a resource to free suffering, beyond generating products, goods or energy.
In spite of extraordinary advances in global health and wealth, human suffering does not diminish. New diseases develop, psychological disorders become more prevalent and suffering and dissatisfaction at work lead to waves of suicide, in both private firms and state institutions.
The environment is caught up in this degradation of life; climate issues are real.
Thankfully we are now witnessing a new appetite, a new desire, a will to think differently. We are seeing a move to develop an emotional and rational intelligence that embraces not just the individual as an isolated unit, but the self as an interconnection of social networks. There is now a rethinking of what is good for one will benefit others. Cooperation and mutual assistance are being harnessed to create a synergist potential for a more authentic, deeper force for change.
Life has evolved in the course of history by the successive development of complexity. Single celled organisms were the first units of life that collaborated to create more complex organisms. In doing so, they broadened their capacity to adapt to new environments and to new challenges.
These beings learned to share their resources, to co-create houses, villages and states. Today, we too must continue this drive to cooperate, with a new common objective: to relieve suffering, to create a new dynamic and to develop a powerful, ecological energy, a social energy: Compassion.
Isabelle leboeuf & Kisane Prutton
Isabelle Leboeuf is a psychologist and psychotherapist. In her practice she integrates hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and compassion-focused therapy.
Kisane Prutton is a Chartered Psychologist (Occupational; registered with the HCPC), Chartered Scientist, accredited mediator and qualified coach.