For many years, I served in leadership with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, in my last few years directing the activities of their Denver Regional Office.  In that role, I had an intention to be both a passionate as well as a compassionate leader for the staff.  I know that I was passionate about our mission and that hopefully came through in my day to day interactions with staff and customers.  I also know that I felt compassion towards my co-workers, I hope that it was perceived.

My growing awareness and intentionality around my spiritual growth in the last few years of that career fed a desire to see everyone expand in their sense of compassion for their fellow human beings.  I was becoming more and more cognizant that everything and everyone was connected and the more that we could expand our circle of care and concern to include more and more people, the more the likelihood that we could create a world where everyone could move beyond survival into a thriving life. We needed to move from being “egocentric” and “ethnocentric” to becoming “worldcentric”.

Yet, other than hopefully being successful in walking my talk to the degree that I was a role model for compassion to our staff, finding any kind of specific “training classes” that developed personal compassion would have been somewhat of a challenge for a couple of reasons.  First, I was blessed with a staff that had a great degree of compassion already.  Secondly, if I had sought out classes on “compassion training”, I fear I might have been seen as even more “woo-woo” than I already was.  (I now wear that “woo-woo” label proudly!).

Compassion in the Workplaces

Yet, maybe I was intuitively on to something….as evidenced by this report by the Greater Good Science Center entitled “How to Increase Compassion at Work“. In this report they state:

“Research suggests that compassionate workplaces increase employee satisfaction and loyalty. A worker who feels cared for at work is more likely to experience positive emotion, which in turn helps to foster positive work relationships, increased cooperation, and better customer relations. Compassion training in individuals can reduce stress, and may even impact longevity. All of these point to a need for increasing compassion’s role in business and organizational life.”

But the question then becomes the same one that I had — beyond showing compassion (which is, of course, very important!) how do you create compassionate workplaces — how do you offer “compassion training”?

The good news is that research indicates we can teach compassion. One successful tool described in the above article is something called “compassion development dyads” (CDD).  As it is described, “CDD is a hybrid of compassion training and technology. Two people “meet” online via Skype for an hour a week for eight weeks to have structured discussions on topics gleaned from the science of personal and social well-being—topics like mindfulness, emotional literacy, and the importance of having a growth mindset.”

Compassion in our Psychological Therapy

This type of training builds on the work of psychologist Paul Gilbert (no relation), who in this article from the journal BJPsyche Advances introduces “compassion-focused therapy”. His article describes it this way:

“Compassion-focused therapy is an integrated and multimodal approach that draws from evolutionary, social, developmental and Buddhist psychology, and neuroscience. One of its key concerns is to use compassionate mind training to help people develop and work with experiences of inner warmth, safeness and soothing, via compassion and self-compassion.”

Compassion in our Schools

Of course, one may consider the fact that if psychology is developing compassion therapy and others are developing compassion training in the workplace, might it not be appropriate to start a little earlier in the human adventure and teach us compassion skills a bit soon—say, like in our schools?  Turns out that is going on too….as evidenced by this report from the Greater Good Science Center. This article points out scientific evidence that building compassion reduces stress and has other physical health benefits, but it also points out:

“[Compassion] training also helps us build skills necessary for sustaining and enhancing our personal relationships. Practicing [Compassion]  enhances our empathic accuracy—that is, our ability to infer others’ mental states—which is essential for building our social relationships. These skills are especially important for many adolescents in foster care who have difficulty forming new, healthy relationships in part because of past trauma or neglect. Compassion training seems to help these children build inner strength and gain the emotional tools necessary for opening to and connecting more deeply with others.” 

In fact, if you turn your attention towards compassion (which is a good thing, I might point out), you will find lots of resources to support you.  There are a number of free compassion developmental resources online.  From the “Roots of Action” website are materials for children and from the “Seeds of Compassion” website are items useful for all ages.  And, the good news is that the more we develop our sense of compassion for our fellow travelers on this journey, not only do we have better relations with others, we also enhance our own personal lives.

Good news for all of us, indeed!

Mark Gilbert


Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his very latest one Becoming a Spiritual Change Agent. Check it out!


Photo credit: Jackman Chiu / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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