Saturday Morning Rounds December 14, 2019 - How to increase your compassion, and why compassion is better than empathy

Posted by BossB, MD on December 14, 2019
BossB, MD

Saturday Morning Rounds
A weekly round-up of everything that captured our attention over the last 7 days

What we're reading

Well this week it's actually what we're watching - and the answer is a series of incredibly interesting webinars that we just recently stumbled upon. Here are some of our favorite topics so far:

There's a huge, years-long backlog of webinar content on the main "webinars" page, so take a look to see if anything is of interest!

Who we're following

All of those webinars were hosted by the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare (@theSCCH) - an organization "dedicated to strengthening the human connection at the heart of healthcare."

The center was founded by a man named Kenneth Schwartz after he wrote a beautiful and moving piece in the Boston Globe about his battle with metastatic lung cancer, specifically highlighting how important the moments of compassion from HCPs were to his journey. Since then, the center has been pursuing its mission of "putting compassion at the heart of healthcare," and those webinars are only a very small portion of what they do. We recommend you give 'em a follow and check out their resources!

BBMD tip of the week

Compassion > Empathy

The word empathy is having "a moment" right now, and for good reason. It's an important skill that can help us increase our emotional intelligence and understanding of others. However, it fails miserably as a moral guide because empathy is:

  • Biased - We're more empathetic toward people who look like us, are attractive, are close rather than far, etc
  • Innumerate - We feel empathy for the individual rather than the group
  • Able to be weaponized - Empathy itself is amoral and can be used for either good or bad ends
  • Unsustainable - Empathy takes a heavy toll on those who cultivate it because it is, by definition, feeling WITH someone else

Long story short, empathy leads to bad decisions because it feeds bias, and leads to burnout because it involves feeling the same emotions as someone else.

There's another option though, and it's called compassion. Why is compassion such a better moral guide than empathy? Well, compassion is:

  • Unbiased - A compassionate lens is "clearer," so to speak, than an empathetic one
  • Distributed - Compassion can be spread across a whole group or even a range of groups, whereas empathy necessarily focuses on the experiences of an individual
  • Inherently positive - Compassion carries a sense of goodwill toward others in its very definition, it's hard to imagine it being used to further a malicious agenda
  • Sustainable - Compassion is often defined as feeling FOR someone else rather than feeling with them, and it's that distinction that makes compassion a more sustainable way to achieve the same positive ends that most people associate with empathy

So how do you put this knowledge into action? Well, 80% of the battle is simple awareness and reframing - now that you know about the distinction between the two, we invite you to become aware of them and ask yourself which you're using throughout your day.

There's another great tool, however, to increase your compassion, and it's got a massive body of research as well as thousands of years of practical application to support its efficacy. It's called Loving-Kindness Meditation, or "Metta" Meditation, and it's been shown to increase compassion as well as deliver a lot of the other secondary and tertiary benefits that meditation is so well-known for.

We've seen great success using this technique before contentious negotiations or business conversations, and our clients have as well, so give it a try and let us know what you think!

Quote we're contemplating

"If God exists, maybe He can simultaneously feel the pain and pleasure of every sentient being. But for us mortals, empathy really is a spotlight. It’s a spotlight that has a narrow focus, one that shines most brightly on those we love and gets dim for those who are strange or different or frightening.” - Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy,: The Case for Rational Compassion


As always, please let us know your requests and suggestions on Twitter. Which section above is your favorite? What do you want more or less of? Just send a tweet to @BossB_MD and put #SaturdayMorningRounds in there so we can find it.

Have a wonderful weekend, y'all!