Change the Brain for Good: Empathy and Compassion

This entry on empathy and compassion is the third in a five-part series. The series describes what we know about the impact of contemplative practice on the human brain and the relevance of these findings to doing meaningful work in groups. The first entry introduces this series and describes the impact of meditation on whether we can respond effectively to disturbing events instead of reacting to them. The second entry investigates resilience. One of the most popular and memorable … Read more…

Change the Brain for Good: Responding to Disturbances

This entry is the first in a five-part series. It will describe what we know about the impact of contemplative practice on the human brain, and the relevance of these findings to doing meaningful work in groups. For 15 years I’ve been tracking the impact of meditation on the human brain and its potential to help people be more constructive in meetings. In my work as a leader, consultant and facilitator it seems to me … Read more…

Artful Waiting

Recently during a workshop on mindful communication, Russell Delman  asked an evocative question: “What is ‘waiting?’” We wait in line to pay for items in a grocery store; we wait on the phone to talk to a live human being, and women in particular often wait to use public restrooms. While we wait, many of us get agitated, wanting this moment to end so the next thing can happen: return home with groceries, talk to … Read more…

Compassionate Resistance?

A long-time colleague and friend responded to a recent blog on compassion. He had been thinking about “the corrosive effects of incivility,” and wondered about the role of compassion. He wrote, “I don’t think compassion is enough these days. Gandhi and MLK Jr. were compassionate, to be sure. But it was their focus and smart, firm resistance that carried the day…or most of it. I believe we need now to plant two feet firmly in … Read more…

Cherish Potential and Possibility

Potential and Possibility

In a November 9th blog about her reflections after the elections, Ann Weiser Cornell wrote, “We need to cherish the sparks of potential and possibility in everyone and in every situation, while at the same time seeing what is in front of us.” What is in front of me is the challenge of:   1) Feeling compassion for the pain, fear, and anger that divide our communities, country and world into warring camps; 2) Remembering that all … Read more…

“Compassion” Our Way Forward

Compassion is a verb

After the November 8 election, I sent a dear friend an email asking about what he might be feeling or thinking. He began his response with, “I really believe we can only ‘compassion’ our way forward.” After astutely turning this noun into a verb, he continued, “We have to be the ones to try and make democracy compassionate and caring.” In previous postings, building on the work of Daniel Goleman, I have described various types of … Read more…

Third Doorway to Compassion

Emotional Empathy

In the last two blogs we explored two forms of empathy: cognitive empathy (understanding another’s perspective) and empathic concern (sensing what another needs). This week we look at the third and final form of empathy identified by Daniel Goleman: emotional empathy or feeling what someone else feels.   Feeling what another feels is a natural part of being human. When babies hear another baby cry, they start crying. After about 14 months of age, not only do … Read more…

Second Doorway to Compassion

Empathic Concern

Last week we looked at how cognitive empathy (understanding another’s perspective) can help you navigate difficult conversations during the holiday season. This week we explore another kind of empathy to help you through gnarly holiday gatherings: sensing what others need or what Daniel Goleman calls  “empathic concern.” This second doorway gets us one step closer to compassion. If you understand what others are saying with cognitive empathy, you can then sense what they might need. … Read more…

Doorways to Compassion

Cognitive Empathy

As you gather with your family and attend holiday parties, empathy and compassion can help you navigate the difficult conversations that are bound to occur in the aftermath of the year’s destructively contentious election season.  (Even if everyone agrees to avoid talking about politics, fear and anger can be easily rekindled.) To open the doorway to compassion with our family, friends and coworkers, we need, at the very least, to understand people’s perspectives or have … Read more…

Listening and Questioning Tied to Empathy and Compassion

Listening and questioning, which we have been examining for the last five weeks, are actions we can take which are tied to empathy and compassion.  Both empathy and compassion seem appropriate for the season, so we wanted to delve in again with our post from November 11, 2015. Tina Turner’s 1984 Grammy Song of the Year asks “What’s love got to do with it?” It turns out that compassion—an element of love—has everything to do … Read more…