Blog: Learning Curve

Silent Night, Wholly Life

As we end another year, it seems natural to reflect on it. We take inventory, question assumptions, and pause. The notion of reflection requires a relationship with silence, a willingness to cultivate and appreciate moments of silence.

Silence can be a confusing topic—it may also be our best teacher.

In working with clients — coaching, and facilitating practice and meditation sessions — the idea of sitting in silence has surfaced, with appreciation for some and anxiety for many.

Some professionals become anxious in silence. They may not know themselves without the many distractions that invade our minds. Technology and related chatter are becoming systematically woven into our identity to alter our expectations.

For others, silence may reveal much: perhaps experiences they’ve identified with and would rather leave aside or perhaps doubts, insecurities, or fears from now or long ago. In silence, some may be confronted by waves of sadness.

Even with these reservations, I’ve found that most professionals wish to experience and increase moments of silence during mindfulness practice. That silence is key to increasing awareness and recovering our memory of the whole self. 

 Mental and Emotional Demands

Learning to engage silence may be the hidden gem of our modern day. Our lives involve interacting with mental and emotional demands, larger in quantity and frequency than ever in human history.

Mental Demands involve the degree to which you must exert mental effort to complete tasks at home and work. The fast pace and overload of our distracting lives require us to sustain the effort to continually bring ourselves back to the present moment. This takes energy that can drain us.

Consider how language shapes our affective life as well. New terms, acronyms, symbols, and concepts impact systems, processes, tasks, and applications with more updates and upgrades—all of which have become essential just to “prepare to work.”

Emotional Demands involve our affective lives. These include absorbing an exacting saturation of information: an avalanche of opinions, ideas, and attitudes from different perspectives and viewpoints that cascade without the time to decompress or recover to reflect.

Increasing amounts of content trigger anxiety and emotions that require a release. The everydayness of life—meetings, reports, traffic, packed subways, email/text messages, and reacting to comments, notifications, and emojis—activates emotions that shape our affective lives.

Silence offers the possibility of venturing beyond our preoccupations. Only quieting the mind can access the depth beyond the surface rhythm of life that shapes our views: our imagination, creativity, spiritual connection, and deep learning arising from insights tucked below.

Normalizing Noise

In his book Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, author and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explores the types of noise we consume. With awareness of noise, we can focus on something bigger than ourselves. (This brief video offers an instructive summary.)

Creating silence requires that we investigate the question, what is noise? Examining this question ventures beyond the auditory. Noise exists in both tangible and mental forms:

— Continual bells, dings, and pings of notifications pull us from any intended task.

— Pop-ups on websites, emojis, signs, symbols, snap-chats, and texts assault us, demanding a response.

— Commercials seed our minds through pop-up screens, billboards, grocery bags, park benches, and even receipts.

— Acronyms now crawl across our screens to convey and confuse us with vast details and information.

— Newsy-entertainment now monetizes attention, baits for clicks, and addicts us emotionally.

— Programmers engineer phone apps and social media to hook our attention (see 60 Minutes clip “Brain Hacking or, if international, this link).

— Small print agreements and warnings gild gadgets and services to convey risks and rights.

— TV narrators warn of the side effects and conditions of prescription drugs.

— Lights glow—bright, flickering, or subtle—in rooms creating “moods” that cloud perceptions.

— Multiple TV screens and channels line the walls in bars, restaurants, airports, and coffee shops, “entertaining us” while we eat, drink, or rest.

— Shelves full of clutter and trinkets fill space and grab our attention.

— Ruminations churn inside us as we fixate on assumptions, judgments, beliefs, or conditions.

Navigating the labels, signs, and signals often prevent us from enjoying the direct experience of life’s little pleasures. As you notice the noise, reflect on where you might reduce its tangible and mental forms.

Rescuing Our Attention

Noise pollutes our mind, mesmerizes us, and steals pieces of our attention. Like the low hum of an air conditioner, it becomes normal. Over time it fragments the self, increasing anxiety. Then one day, the AC is off, and we experience clean silence: our eyes rest, attention dwells, and listening expands.

In the silence, something new emerges.

In his book The World Beyond Your Head, Matthew Crawford offers silence as “a luxury good”:

In the business-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle airport, what you hear is the occasional tinkling of a spoon against china. There are no advertisements on the walls and no TVs. This silence . . . is what makes it feel genuinely luxurious. When you step inside and the automatic airtight doors whoosh shut behind you, the difference is nearly tactile, like slipping out of haircloth into satin. Your brow unfurrows itself, your neck muscles relax and after twenty minutes you no longer feel exhausted. The hassle lifts.

Crawford rightly notes that “because we have allowed our attention to be monetized, if you want yours back, you’re going to have to pay for it.”

From silence, we experience what is often ignored, unspoken, or not yet sorted out.

Adding silence in a conversation often leaves others sorting through deeper thoughts beyond reflexive or automatic responses. Managing the silence can be a struggle, as it invites the ultimate surrender: to give up control and accept the unpredictable.

Most of us avoid silence in a conversation, either to avoid the discomfort of another’s struggle or to satisfy our impatience for a quick answer. And yet, silence becomes a source of deep listening beyond our habitual assumptions, thoughts, and observations. With practice, listening becomes restful, new interest emerges, a connection is felt, and we are enlivened to be with another.

Teachers, health professionals, and managers can discover much here. If you want to connect deeply or receive something new, offer silence for others to sort through their often-concealed thoughts and for you to notice yours as well.

Cultivating Moments of Silence

In his book the Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, Thich Nhat Hanh poetically states, “Nirvana is the complete silencing of concepts.”

Most of us live concepts of our lives rather than experience it directly. Consider the many times we have eaten food without tasting it, listened to a song without hearing it, or viewed something without seeing it? Unfortunately, this has become an all-too-familiar part of the everyday concepts of our lives that masquerade as experiences.

As we venture beyond these concepts, moments of silence connect us more fully with our experience. We can experience joy in simple tasks, the beauty of art, the smell of coffee, the wholeness of our self in each moment.

  1. Begin with connecting intentionally to your breath throughout the day. Pause regularly and take three conscious breaths.
  2. Create a pause between meetings and tasks. Add silence in conversations between speaking and listening. Sit in silence for five minutes periodically in the day.
  3. When pausing, focus on stopping the habitual energies, calming the breath, and resting into the silence of the moment.
  4. Bring silence to the final hour of each day. This can include calming, stillness, and reflection (see previous blog) that can support restful sleep and renewal.

With silence, we connect deeply with our whole self through our breath, body, and sensations. We can begin to concentrate and stay with a thought until it passes. With time and in silence, we can look deeply into the source of what arises and gain insight into our true nature.

This blog post is a complement to the following blog posts:

These 3 Conditions Will Cultivate Our Attention

Completing Your Day: Taking Measure of Your Life

tony-zampella-headshot Tony Zampella is the learning designer at Bhavana Learning Group (previously, Zampella Group), which serves coaches, learning professionals and business executives. As an instructor, researcher, and designer of contemplative learning programs and practices, his work develops mindsets for growing a culture of servant leaders.

His focus includes ontological inquiry, into the nature of being; Integral theory to
include Eastern wisdom and practice with Western learning and business models;
and, Zen Buddhism to sustain contemplative practice.


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Move Fast and Break Things: Had Enough, Yet!?

“Move Fast and Break Things,” coined by innovation guru and Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, has become the ideology for disruptive innovation.

Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and PayPal and a venture capitalist, endorses it in his new book Blitzscaling. For Hoffman, “blitzscaling” (or moving fast and breaking things) involves releasing beta versions of products, then fixing and financing them as you grow—with an emphasis on scaling fast and first—to achieve first-mover advantage.

Go Big or Go Home

First-mover advantage confers many benefits on innovators who win rights to new territory and define the rules, roles, and routes. Gaining this edge creates markets beyond market share, and it does so in the image of those arriving first.

Those who have arrived are BIG: Facebook has defined social media; Google, the search engine; Amazon, online shopping; and Airbnb and Uber, room- and ride-sharing. Together, they’ve defined a “gig economy,” the realization of the Break Things ideology.

From Hoffman’s perspective, speed trumps accuracy, and whatever breaks can be the next avenue to innovation—until it’s not!

Breaking Fast, Breaking Bad

Recent effects of the Break Things ideology were addressed in a 2017 book by Jonathan Taplin: Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy. Taplin’s basic thesis is that Silicon Valley increasingly resembles “some kind of nightmarish children’s playground, populated by overgrown babies with no idea of the consequences of their actions.”

We’re going to be living with the aftermath of this ideology for years to come.

  1. Take Google-owned YouTube. Numerous times last year, it was found to be distributing and promoting disturbing videos to children. YouTube repeatedly vowed to address the problem, and it repeatedly failed.
  2. Then there’s Google’s recently acknowledged security hole in its Google+ social network and its admission that it had fired 48 people for sexual harassment over the last two years. 
  3. Facebook chucked any notion that it had privacy and security standards. Lapses include the Russia-linked 2016 election manipulation and the recent hacking that exposed the personal information of 30 million users, part of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. What’s worse, this rolling disaster has begun unraveling our social cohesion, undermining the company’s mission to strengthen social bonds. Breaking things means demolishing democratic and civic norms. Facebook’s response: they cannot police their own platform because they’ve grown too big, too fast.
  4. Twitter grew fast as a news feed, without the editors or regulation to ensure quality. Because it is so widely dispersed among nations, societies, and cultures, it cannot monitor posts, regulate bots, or manage its platform. Twitter lagged behind Apple, YouTube, and Facebook in banning Alex Jones of Infowars. It responded only after criticism from users mounted and journalists presented evidence of its failure to enforce its own terms of use. Twitter’s response was akin to Facebook’s: We’ve grown too big to monitor our platform.
  5. In addition to Uber’s numerous scandals, both Uber and Lyft have been sanctioned for flouting local laws and local sensibilities in their rush to seize local markets. This also spawned mini-violators such as scooter rental companies Lime and Bird (scooters have ended up blocking sidewalks and entryways, causing an uproar among non-scooter-using citizens.) Uber and Lyft not only broke ordinances that arguably protected the entrenched taxi industry, but they also contributed to increased traffic and massively depressed the wages of taxi drivers.
  6. Airbnb began breaking rental markets. A recent report by David Wachsmuth, a professor of urban planning at McGill University, examines what home-sharing is doing to New York City, presaging what other cities might expect. Airbnb raised rents that removed housing from the rental market and supercharged gentrification while discriminating against guests and hosts of color. Commercial operators transformed Airbnb from a way to help homeowners occasionally rent out an extra room into a purveyor of creepy, makeshift hotels.

A Broken Ideology

The Break Things ideology finds us scaling incompetence and only becoming competent when necessary, on the customer’s dime. This narrow strategy may work in Silicon Valley, where upgrading code is commonplace or where start-ups need to secure venture capital to go public in 24 months, but this impulsive mindset has real costs that we’ll be paying for a long time to come.

Facebook’s motto is no longer “Move Fast and Break Things,” but the results of that mentality are baked in. What Facebook didn’t realize is that moving fast can break things other than software code—it can undermine society and democratic norms.

View this 60 minutes clip — Brain Hacking (or, if international, this article) on how Silicon Valley is engineering your phone, apps and social media to get you hooked, as examined by a former Google product manager.

As we’ve seen repeatedly, when you’re moving fast, you don’t have any time for reflection or to listen, learn, and gain perspective. You don’t have time to think about what exactly you might be breaking or the larger social consequences of what you’re doing.

Additionally, there’s even less time for public officials or the rest of society to catch up and monitor these occurrences.

The danger and consequences of the Break Things ideology reach well beyond Facebook, because the mentality was adopted everywhere and is still being promoted. The assumptions woven into our imagination have reinvented how we view business, success, public good, and leadership.

View of Business

The downside of scaling has spiraled into a focus on short-term thinking and win-at-all-costs tactics. This mindset conflates opportunism with opportunities. The former reacts impulsively to market conditions for advantage; the latter supports long-term growth, focusing on sustainable values. Think Zynga (whose board Hoffman served on) vs. Apple.

Steve Jobs’ return to Apple as interim CEO (1997) and his position as permanent CEO (2000) came with hard-fought wisdom. The pioneer of “insane products” shifted to creating a sustainable organizational culture as the source of innovation.

Paradoxically, it was that shift to sustainability that produced a string of insane products: the iMac in 1998, which reenergized Apple’s sagging PC market, as well as the iPod (2001), iTunes (2001), iPhone (2007), Apple TV (2007/11), App Store (2008), and iPad (2010) before Jobs’ death in 2011.


View of Success

Scaling itself isn’t a negative practice, but to what end should it be implemented?

Impulsive scaling that disrupts for the purpose of being bigger, faster, and first encourages short-term thinking and opportunism. Opportunism often looks like opportunity, but our loss of focus finds us spread extremely thin in our desire to gain advantage.

Consider Facebook’s recent psy-ops methods to delay, deny and deflect in the wake of its recent scandals. The New York Times revealed that both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg claimed to be so preoccupied that they knew little about Facebook’s political machinations:

Bent on growth, the pair ignored warning signs and then sought to conceal them from public view. At critical moments over the last three years, they were distracted by personal projects, and passed off security and policy decisions to subordinates, according to current and former executives.

Ironically, one of Sandberg’s “personal projects” is her Lean In book and curated cottage industry, which claim to empower women even while she’s overseeing a company that is disempowering democracy and dismantling personal privacy standards.

Scaling can also be intentional, focusing first on values in an organic manner. In this sense, leaders transcend opportunism.

Warby Parker is a great example of intentional scaling, leading with its mission statement. Since launching in 2010, Warby Parker’s founders stayed true to their roots by offering designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, all while leading the way for socially conscious businesses. They haven’t launched a shoe line, and they don’t sell handbags. They just do one thing, and they do it extremely well.

View of Public Good

The Break Things ideology reduces business values to an algorithm of codes and transactions, stripping it of social or moral responsibility. Business now teaches us to leverage any advantage for a narrow group of winners.

Regarding this void, former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter posits that “disruptive innovations won’t produce a better society unless we work to contain their harms and spread their benefits”(“America Needs to Align Technology with a Public Purpose”).

The issues at Google, Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, and Uber are due to their singular focus: cheap, on-demand services and goods. This kind of focus blinds us to the enduring costs to workers, society, or the public good.

Consider the glee with which Elon Musk revealed that humans must merge with machines to overcome the “existential threat” of artificial intelligence to make “everyone hyper-smart” (Axios). Musk’s suggestion reveals the tradeoff—public-good wisdom for market-driven smarts. His market-driven solution invites another problem: more ethical oversight.

High-level competency combined with a deep moral center once limited access to new technologies. Now, a low bar for entry cultivates blindness, enabling access to technology before any ethos ripens. All change is declared progress (disruption is key) without seeking any wisdom. We valorize smart over wise and the next big thing over the right thing.

Consider nuclear or cloning technology: we weighed both earnestly before releasing them into the marketplace. Employing the Break Things mentality certainly would have had disastrous consequences for society. A review of Oppenheimer’s thoughts on the A-Bomb is a useful lesson, as he reflected, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

We need a new ethos.

As Ash Carter puts it, “We ourselves—not only market forces—should bend the arc of change toward human good.”

View of Leadership

The Break Things mentality, emboldened by Silicon Valley’s bro culture, reduces leadership to being first and fastest. Missing in this market-driven equation is social responsibility.

Indeed, Silicon Valley has had two decades to mold our notions of leadership. Its versions idolize a brand that sounds more like sex than leadership: we start firm, pound hard, flip fast, and cash out.

Consider the CEOs of Facebook, Google, Airbnb, Twitter, Lyft, and Tesla; former CEOs at Uber, Zynga, and Instagram; and others endorsing the Break Things ideology. Beyond gender or sex, this bro culture honors an impulsive and opportunistic attitude that shapes our values, leadership, and success in business.

Here’s the rub. Even when we include more women in boardrooms, the message is clear: buck up, walk tall, and lean in. Our recipe for getting ahead: be tough like a man. We may tame it, but it remains our primary business DNA. It’s baked into our American ideals about who we are.

Zebras and Unicorns

For a sense of our testosterone-laden business models, read Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break by Jennifer Brandel, Mara Zepeda, Astrid Scholz, and Aniyia Williams. The authors call these models an urgent problem:

In this game, far more than money is at stake. When [venture capital] firms prize time on site over truth, a lucky few may profit, but civil society suffers. When shareholder return trumps collective well-being, democracy itself is threatened. The reality is that business models breed behavior, and at scale, that behavior can lead to far-reaching, sometimes destructive outcomes.

It’s been two decades since our seduction by technology and disruptive change. We are maturing to understand some of technology’s societal impact; the evidence thus far ought to give us pause. There are no quick solutions, but can we venture beyond the Move Fast, Break Things ideology?

Brandel et al, believe that it’s time to develop “alternative business models to the startup status quo has become a central moral challenge of our time. These alternative models will balance profit and purpose, champion democracy, and put a premium on sharing power and resources. Companies that create a more just and responsible society will hear, help, and heal the customers and communities they serve.”

I offer two additional resources that might offer some perspective:

Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy by Jonathan Taplin (2017)

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas (2018)

tony-zampella-headshot Tony Zampella is the learning specialist at Zampella Group, which serves Learning & Development Professionals. As an instructor, researcher, and designer of learning programs and contemplative practices, his work develops mindsets for growing a culture of servant leaders.

His studies include the work of Martin Heidegger and ontological inquiry, Ken Wilber, and Integral theory, and Zen Buddhism and contemplative practices.


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Distinguishing Compassion from Sympathy and Empathy

Being of service often requires a deep connection to human experiences. Ever notice how we live with the words that describe such experiences? Of late, I’ve observed words such as sympathy, empathy, or compassion employed to describe political leaders in certain situations. Usually, terms are bandied about by commentators or casual observers, so I let them pass.

But as professionals in the human experience, I find it critical for coaches, counselors, educators, and even consultants to more critically observe what each situation requires. Do we see a need to show sorrow, to relate to another’s experience, or to reduce suffering?

To explore this territory, I will begin with sympathy, then explore empathy, and finally distinguish compassion from both. Both sympathy and empathy have roots in the Greek word pathos, which means “suffering, feeling.”

Pity and Sympathy

To develop sympathy, first, let’s explore pity, which can often be confused for sympathy.

Pity is a feeling of sadness or commiseration for someone who is either worse off than you or is worse off than some normative standard, which is why you can pity yourself.

Very few people want to be pitied, yet at times we do just that—or we pity ourselves. When you listen to someone’s suffering and respond with “poor you,” you have just pitied them.

Sympathy entered the English language in the mid-1500s and became used to convey feelings of regret or sorrow for someone else who is experiencing hardship. We often see this in messages of support and sorrow for others in a time of need (e.g., “my sympathies”). You feel bad for them and express sorrow, but you can’t personally relate.

The World of Empathy

Introduced in the late 1800s, the word empathy has come to refer to the capacity to imagine oneself in a situation with another, experiencing the emotions, ideas, or opinions of that person. This reflects either an emotional or cognitive empathy, described as follows.

Emotional empathy consists of three separate components. To quote Sara D. Hodges and Michael D. Myers from the Encyclopedia of Social Psychology:

  • “The first [component] is feeling the same emotion as another person . . .
  • The second component, personal distress, refers to feelings of distress in response to perceiving another’s plight . . .
  • The third emotional component, feeling with another person, is the one most frequently associated with the study of empathy in psychology.”

Cognitive empathy is also known as “empathic accuracy.” Hodges and Myers discuss it as “having more complete and accurate knowledge about the contents of another person’s mind, including how the person feels.”

Cognitive empathy is more like a skill that is developed to better understand another’s perspective, such as their attitudes, worldview, or ideas. We have found a strong correlation between listening skills and the ability to access this form of empathy.

Unlike sympathy, empathy isn’t just used for unpleasant feelings. You can empathize with someone’s happiness, too.

This leads us to compassion.


When researching this blog, I found compassion often used to describe pity, sympathy, and even both types of empathy. This reveals our confusion about compassion, which can be traced to an unclear definition.

Fundamentally, compassion is composed of com (together with) and passion (to suffer).

Tapping into 2,600 years of Buddhist wisdom, we can deepen our understanding of the practice of compassion —“to suffer with”— from a more common psychological view that tends to sound much like empathy and sympathy.

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh views compassion as “the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows.” According to Hanh, “we [must] practice mindfulness, deep listening, and deep looking” to develop compassion.

Thus, we associate compassion with an active desire to alleviate the suffering of its object, in the self or in others.

With sympathy, I feel for your hardship; with empathy, I share your emotions. With compassion, I can share your suffering and elevate it into a universal “common humanity” and transcending experience.

The relationship to suffering begins with understanding the truth—or true nature—of one’s own suffering or the suffering of another. This requires three elements: self-compassion, common humanity, and mindfulness.

1 – Self-compassion

If we are unable to be with our own suffering, we cannot be with another’s. This requires an awareness that discerns between being judgmental and being kind. Self-compassion invites us to be gracious, warm, and caring toward ourselves when we fail, suffer, or become disappointed.

The practice begins with becoming aware of our own suffering, expectations, and imperfections without judging them as negative thoughts about ourselves.

Author and researcher Kristen Neff, Ph.D. Neff suggests that “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings.”

Neff has also distinguished Self-Compassion from Self-pity, Self-indulgent and Self-esteem, and she offers a special piece on Why Women Need Fierce Self-Compassion.

2 – Common Humanity

Kristen Neff beautifully describes this notion of common humanity, distinguishing it from self-pity.

“While self-pity says ‘poor me,’ self-compassion recognizes suffering is part of the shared human experience. The pain I feel in difficult times is the same pain that you feel in difficult times. The triggers are different, the circumstances are different, the degree of pain is different, but the basic experience is the same.”

3 – Mindfulness

Understanding common humanity and practicing self-compassion requires our willingness to observe our negative thoughts and emotions with openness and clarity with mindful awareness.

Mindfulness is a non-reactive awareness that cultivates a receptive mind to observe thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them. This openness also loosens the grip that thoughts have on us and our ability to reify those thoughts. See our blog on Mental Hygiene.


Idiot Compassion.

Often, the compassionate thing to do may not seem empathetic and may lack sympathy. Additionally, honesty without compassion can be cruelty. The issue is whether we are willing to view the source of suffering or not. If we bypass this examination, we lean toward “idiot compassion,” a term I first encountered through the writings of Tibetan Buddhist and author, Pema Chodron.

Idiot compassion refers to enabling—i.e., the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering.

Chodron exposes the danger in this:

“instead of offering a friend medicine, bitter though it may be when ingested, you feed them more poison—at the very least, you don’t take it away from them. This, she says, is not compassion at all. It’s selfishness, as you’re more concerned with your own feelings than attending to your friend’s actual needs.”

This phenomenon is due to our inability to experience our own suffering, which also induces us to avoid the suffering of others. We commit a compassion bypass by acting nice, enabling deeds, or simply overlooking items that require our attention. In this sense, we actually increase suffering rather than relieving it.

Philosopher Ken Wilber states this well:

“Real compassion includes wisdom and so it makes judgments of care and concern; it says some things are good, and some things are bad, and I will choose to act only on those things that are informed by wisdom and care.”

Compassion Fatigue.

Compassion fatigue is defined as “the indifference to charitable appeals on behalf of those who are suffering, experienced as a result of the frequency or number of such appeals” (accumulative effect of absorbing trauma or suffering).

Much of this definition relies on a faulty understanding of compassion as an outward phenomenon.

“Compassion fatigue” speaks to a dimension of burnout; I see this more akin to “empathy fatigue.” Without the wisdom required in compassion, empathy and open-hearted care often find us relating to others’ emotions without sufficient boundaries. We become overwhelmed, merge the self with others, or become swept up in the needs of others.

Recall the three elements of compassion from above:  self-compassion, common humanity, and mindfulness. In this regard, we are also adding something else—practice. Compassion is more than a definition or description of a concept. These three interdependent parts must act as a system of practices to ensure that compassion has a built-in self-regulation. If we are practicing compassion, not idiot compassion, then we are first practicing self-compassion.

The term compassion fatigue eliminates the wisdom necessary for compassion. It reduces compassion to a feeling (not a condition with practice) and dismisses the fundamental aspect of self-compassion, which is necessary to understand and be with our own suffering.

In Sum: Compassion is a Practice

As professionals, we offer interventions to support others. Consider each situation you encounter and the care you might render. Then, observe the need and discern the understanding of those involved.

Thupten Jinpa, Ph.D., is the Dalai Lama’s principal English translator and author of the course Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT). Jinpa posits that compassion is a four-step process, which I’ve paraphrased slightly:

  • Awareness of the true nature of suffering.
  • Sensitive concern related to being emotionally moved by suffering.
  • A wish to see that suffering relieved.
  • Wise responsiveness or readiness to help relieve that suffering.

Compassion is a practice that involves Eastern wisdom and includes Western notions of feelings, thoughts, and emotions. We transcend suffering with practice to realize our common humanity. With practice, we learn to tend to our own suffering to relieve the suffering of others.

Additional blog posts on this topic: Mental Hygiene: The Overlooked Capacity, Part 1, and Mindfulness Minus Wisdom: Moving to Materialism; and, the workbook, The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook by Kristin Neff and Chris Germer

tony-zampella-headshot Tony Zampella is the learning specialist at Zampella Group, which serves Learning & Development Professionals. As an instructor, researcher, and designer of learning programs and contemplative practices, his work develops mindsets for growing a culture of servant leaders.

His studies include the work of Martin Heidegger and ontological inquiry, Ken Wilber, and Integral theory, and Zen Buddhism and contemplative practices.


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 “In times of change, those who are prepared to learn will inherit the land, while those who think they already know will find themselves wonderfully equipped to face a world that no longer exists.”


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