A Bridge over Troubled Water: On Compassion in Organizations

Exactly two years and one day after giving my first TEDx talk in Bergen/Norway, today I’ve been given the chance to speak at another amazing event: The first ever edition of TEDxEBS. Now, EBS stands for European Business School (in Oestrich-Winkel/Germany) and it’s actually the university where I completed my Ph.D. from 2005-2010. So, six years after defending my thesis on management accounting and performance management, I was excited to return today in order to speak about a slightly more inspiring topic in a more relaxed environment.

I’d like to thank the TEDxEBS team for their awesome work. They have created a beautiful event, perfectly organized, with a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

It typically takes a couple of weeks until the TEDx videos are edited and then approved by the TED organization. But as I’m eager to share my thoughts and feelings with you, below, you’ll find the script of today’s talk. Once the video is online it’ll be fun to watch what I’ve actually said on stage compared to what I had written down earlier on.

Enjoy – and please help me to spread the news…

A Bridge over Troubled Water: On Compassion in Organizations

Nico Rose - TEDxEBS 2016

The most common sentence at work

What’s the most common sentence you hear at work? Most likely, it’s “How are you?” Each time you start an interaction, that’s the way to kick off the conversation, right? So, what do we reply when a colleague asks us: “How are you?” Typically, we´d say: “Thanks, everything’s fine.” And then we´d probably ask in return: “How are you?” And the other person will say “Great! Thanks for asking…” That’s what we do in business, that’s the flow. Here in Germany, it’s all the small talk you need. After that, you can get right to business.

The elephant in the room

Now, what if one of the two individuals in this “game of how are you” actually said something like: “I don´t feel good at all. You know, my child is really sick and I probably shouldn’t be here today.” Or, even more severe: “My father is likely going to die over the next days and…” Suddenly, there´d be this huge emotional elephant in the room, right?

And then, there´d be this awkward moment of prolonged silence. Finally, the other person would say: “Oh, that’s terrible. Is there anything I can do?” And the first person, noticing the awkwardness, would very likely reply: “No, no, it´s fine. But thanks for asking. Let´s go to work.” And then, they would go to work. Maybe they would talk about the budget for next year. Meanwhile, that elephant would make itself very comfortable in the room, making sure the whole meeting takes on a markedly uncomfortable vibe. Why is that the case?

Ever since Fredrick Taylor´s concept of “Scientific Management”, companies are supposed to be places informed by stern rationality. It´s all about numbers, calculations, and efficiency. Humans, with all of our emotional complexity, we´re oftentimes seen as a disturbing factor. Many of the most influential theories in economics actually dismiss human emotions altogether. Their homo oeconomicus is a selfish calculating machine.

And yet, each and every one of us knows that moment when the elephant steps into the room, right? Apart from positive feelings such as pride and joy, inevitably, we also experience emotions such as anger, fear, and sorrow while at work. There’s certainly a lot of fear in organizations. The truth is: Part of human life consists of suffering. And that’s why part of organizational life also consists of suffering. It´s a no-brainer.

That´s why the late Peter Frost, a management professor at the University of British Columbia, coined the following sentence:

Pain - Compassion  - Peter Frost

There´s always pain in the room!

There´s always pain in the room. Such a strong statement. Because it’s true. I mean, there’s pain in this room right now. 100 people. In the beginning, I asked “How are you?” – and you said you feel alright. But I´m sure there is suffering in this room right now. For some, it’ll be some physical pain, for some, it’ll be emotional pain, for whatever reason. There’s always pain in the room. That’s human. That’s life.

And basically, this means there´s always a lot of suffering in organizations. I work for a company of 120.000 people. That’s a lot of potential for suffering, each and every day. It’s not always about life and death, but it’s certainly always there. Where does this suffering in organizations come from?

Some of that suffering is caused outside of work, but people bring that into the office. There´s relationship problems, financial worries, sickness, there´s death – and taxes, for sure. We’re kind of expected to shake things off, to leave our negative emotions at the front door. Guess what: We can’t. We can put our sorrows on hold for a while, but we cannot get rid of them altogether. It’s impossible.

Additionally, work itself can be a source of suffering: Think about choleric bosses, harsh working hours, conflicts between departments, getting worn out in these power games, or the fear of being laid off. As leaders, we often talk about change. We talk about the future, and how to get there. What we tend to forget: Wherever there’s change, people lose something. When something new comes to life, something old has to die. Grief is, or at least, should be a natural companion of change.

Here’s a simple truth – yet one that is often overlooked: As leaders, we create suffering. We create suffering. It’s unavoidable. If we don’t create suffering, we’re probably not leading. Leading people sometimes means making decisions about things, budgets – and sometimes, making decisions about people. Who gets to work on that new cool project – and who doesn’t? Who gets to go on vacation for Christmas, who has stay in the office? Who gets promoted, and who will lose their job? Some people will suffer. You create suffering as a leader. That’s OK. But you have to be aware of that fact and you’ve got to take care of that.

The nature of compassion

So, what can we do when were confronted with the suffering of a person we work with? One option could be to downplay or outright ignore it. We sometimes advise other people to stay strong, or to get their shit together, right? But recent research from the Leadership Quarterly suggests that, especially as a leader, it’s about the worst thing you can do. In the long run, it will drive down engagement, motivation, and satisfaction of your people.

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A different way to respond to suffering is: Compassion. Showing compassion. Now, that´s a word that somehow doesn’t seem to fit in the world of business. It seems too soft, too esoteric. In fact, the word compassion is most often associated with spiritual traditions, first and foremost with Buddhism. Now, what exactly does it mean to show compassion? How do we get there?

First, some good news: You don´t have to go to Tibet for several years to meditate in a cave. Actually, compassion is something we´re born with. Even small babies will spontaneously display compassion when confronted with the suffering of someone they care about.

At the heart of compassion there´s a very simple and beautiful idea: The wish that other individuals may be free from suffering. While people here in the West would probably think of their family and friends first, the goal of practicing Buddhists is to extend this wish to all sentient beings. That´s the Champions League of compassion, so to speak. For now, let´s say the gist of the matter is wholeheartedly wishing for the best for other people.

Compassion as taking action

Now, here´s a crucial thing: Compassion is about taking action. It is more than just being empathetic. Compassion is about mitigating another person´s pain. Let´s suppose you see somebody hitting their thumb with a hammer. You could say something like “Oh, I know how that hurts, I´ve been there.” Technically speaking, you´re empathetic. You´re able to feel what´s going on with the other person. But then, if you don´t care, it´s not compassion.

Compassion - Realize - Relate - Relieve

In scientific terms, compassion consists of a three-step: 1) Noticing another person´s suffering; 2) feeling empathetic concern; and 3) taking some kind of action to mitigate that suffering. Or, as I like to call it: Realize. Relate. Relieve. Now, what is the concept of compassion in organizations?

Compassion in organizations

In organizations, compassion can be displayed spontaneously, or it can be planned into the system. What does it take to be personally compassionate? Not much, actually. Taking some time to just listen to somebody, offering them undivided attention. Giving somebody a hug, or buying them a coffee. When you´re able to hold a space where others can show their full selves, where they can be vulnerable – that´s compassion. Especially as a leader, not doing or saying things or postponing certain actions can ask be a sign of compassion. You should try not make things worse, right?

On the organizational level, there´s a possibility for magnifying individual compassion. Think about offers for counseling. Think about monetary support or temporarily cutting working hours. Especially, with severe strokes of fate, having time to cope and sort things out is a crucial resource. When companies offer swift and non-bureaucratic support at this point, it´s a true sign of organizational compassion.

Another element of compassion in organizations is coordinating rituals. I´ve already spoken about how change always activates grief. When long-time employees retire, or worse, pass away, typically, we hold farewell rituals. But what about the pain an organization creates itself? When there are layoffs and restructuring, people will suffer. I´m talking about relationships that are torn apart, about people being stripped of their pride, or a part of their life´s meaning. This is not only burdening for those colleagues who have to go, but also for the ones who get to stay. Handling transitions such as these in a personal and appreciative fashion, not resorting to press releases and empty phrases, is a true sign of compassion.

The upsides of compassion in organizations

So, what´s the “so what” of organizational compassion? What are the upsides? There is an excellent review article by Jane Dutton (and colleagues) from the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations. She proposes compassion unfolds its positive effects on several layers of the organization: It is beneficial for the person on the receiving end, it’s beneficial for the one who displays compassion, it can be beneficial  for potential bystanders – and potentially it creates ripple effects throughout the whole organizational system. Acts of compassion are a source of shared emotions, gratitude, and companionship. Additionally, while going through the motions, people engage in joint sense-making.

As a consequence, employees experience elevated levels of gratitude, pride, and meaning. Yes, compassion can be a powerful driver of meaning in organizations. Some studies propose there is a measurable impact on the bottom line. Think about less absenteeism, less burn-out, certainly less turnover intentions. On the positive side, think about heightened levels of trust, cooperation, and satisfaction. These seem like soft words, but they will show up in a company´s bottom line, eventually.

What undermines compassion in organizations?

Before I start wrapping things up, I´d like to say something about what undermines compassion in organizations. At this point, I could talk about how certain values and norms suffocate and literally kill compassion, for example rigid hierarchical leadership, overly competitive standards, and a macho-style “boys don´t cry” culture. But for the sake of brevity, I´m going to talk about something else: About you!

Compassion Killers - Adam Galinsky

I´m speaking here at a distinguished business school. Most, if not all of you, are going to be future business leaders. That´s great news, but therein lies a risk: Several studies, for example by Adam Galinsky (and colleagues) from Columbia Business School, propose that we tend to become less empathetic the more powerful we are. When we rise up the corporate ranks, we tend to lose – at least to some extent – our innate impulse to feel what others feel. When we rise in power, we typically care less about the suffering of others. At the same time, research by Jennifer Berdahl (and colleagues) from the University of British Columbia suggests leaders are less willing to express negative emotions. They tend to keep them to themselves. As a consequence, it´s very unlikely they´ll be at the receiving end of compassion – even if they might desperately need it. Accordingly, there´s a kind of compassion gap at the top of most org charts.

Now, keep in mind: As a leader, especially when you´re part of a top management team, you serve as a role model, whether you like it or not. People are going to look up to you, you´ll set the tone of the organization. As a consequence, there seems to be kind of vicious circle. Leaders tend to become less compassionate as they rise in power, and at the same time they shape the norms of the organization. Taking this into account, it seems that hierarchical systems have an inclination to become less compassionate over time – unless the leaders purposefully counteract this emotional decline.

It starts with you

And so, it starts with you! Most of you here in this room are just about to embark on your professional journey. Some of you will join existing corporations and you will eventually rise up the ranks. Some of you will join a non-for-profit or build a career in public service. A lot of you will hopefully build your own companies or take on responsibility in the family business. It’s all good. You can all find happiness.

Just remember: You’re not a different human being when you´re doing business. You take on a role and a responsibility – but there is no other version of yourself that you can send off to work. It’s always you and it’s always all of you. As a leader, you will suffer, and even more so, you will be the cause of suffering. You´ve got to take care of that.

So, when you go work: Dare to bring your whole self to work. When you lead people: Dare to encourage them to bring their whole selves to work. When you build a company: Dare to grow an organization where people can be their best, their whole selves. Dare to be a compassionate leader. Dare to lead from he heart. Thank you!


I wholeheartedly would like to thank the following researchers for being a source of inspiration, knowledge, and wisdom – even though most of them do not appear directly in the talk or in the charts, and even though some of them don’t even know about their contribution:

Wayne Baker, Sigal Barsade, Jennifer Berdahl, Kim Cameron, David Cooperrider, Edward Deci, Jane Dutton, Alex Edmans, Barbara Fredrickson, Peter Frost, Adam Galinsky, Adam Grant, Dacher Keltner, Laura Little, Kristin Neff, James Pawelski, Christopher Peterson, Robert Quinn, Richard Ryan, Esa Saarinen, Martin Seligman, Emma Seppälä, Kennon Sheldon, Tanja Singer, Michael Steger, Chris White, Monica Worline, and Amy Wrzesniewski.

A special thank you goes out to Jane Dutton and Robert Quinn from University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations. Somehow, they have helped me to understand that it’s OK to put my ass up on that stage with this “esoteric” topic.

Last not least, I’d like to thank my two beautiful children – who hopefully will grow up to work in a (business) world that’s as close as possible to the one I bring to life in my words.

Mappalicious - Children

Compassion and Business: How does that go together?

The word compassion sounds “soft”. It invokes images of praying Buddhist monks, nurses taking care of the feeble, or a priest administering the last rites to a dying person. What surely doesn´t come to mind is the picture of a corporate boardroom, right? But why?

When we walk into to the office in the morning and someone asks us “How are you?” we´re supposed to say something along the lines of: “Fine! How about you?” It´s part of the language game in the corporate world. We know this. At the same time, we all know that quite often, people are presenting a white lie at this point. We know this very well precisely because we do the same every once in a while. We say “I´m fine” even when things clearly aren´t fine at all.

Life can be a bitch. Our loved ones become sick or pass away. We fight with our spouses, our children, our parents, our neighbors. There are bills to pay and sometimes the end of the month is still too far away. Hell, the Warriors lose to the Cavs after a 3:1 lead in the NBA finals. It´s tough.

This emotional load – we bring it into the office, no matter if we admit it or if we decide to cover up. Most people indeed choose to cover up – as somehow, someone decided a hundred years ago that businesses ought to be rational places, spaces where emotions don´t belong or even disrupt normal functioning (whatever that is…).

The problem is: It´s just not possible. People cannot shut down their emotions at discretion. At least not for longer periods of time – and certainly not without paying a price.

There is always pain in the room.

This sentence was coined by the late management professor Peter Frost, one of the pioneers studying and advocating compassion in business settings. It´s a quite powerful proposition, even though (Or maybe: because?) it states something very obvious. Shit happens to the best of us. We suffer – and sometimes, it takes us a long time to cope. We feel pain and sorrow and those feelings don’t bother to ask us if we are currently at work or at home.

So, how should managers and co-workers react? The common rules of business tell us to ignore or downplay the issue but in most cases, that´s not what really helps.

Not showing our suffering or downplaying the suffering of our colleagues is a perfect example of what Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen calls a system of holding back in return and advance. We don’t openly display our suffering because we expect from prior interactions that it will not be acted upon appropriately. Meanwhile, the others see no need to act compassionately as everything seems to be OK. Ad infinitum. And the longer this “non-reciprocity circle” is in place, the harder it becomes for an individual to make a first move in order to interrupt the chain of neglect.

Another way would be to act compassionately: To notice the negative feelings of our co-workers, to feel empathetic concern, and to act accordingly. Compassion does not equal to fully experiencing the same feelings as the person we´re compassionate to.

Put in a straight-forward way…

…being compassionate means to be willing to imagine how it would feel like to walk some miles in another person´s shoes – and then, upon recognizing this would probably be hurtful, trying to appropriately mitigate that pain or suffering.

That´s it. It´s not a mystic thing – and we don´t have to mediate in a cave for 20 years before we´re able to pull off that stunt.

We know how to be compassionate even before we can ride a bike. Small children act compassionately by nature. When they see another child crying, they instinctively show signs of distress – and then they try to help with their restricted means, e.g., by caressing their counterpart or sharing a toy.

But somehow, this get´s lost as we get our high school diplomas, university degrees – and then move on to become business people. Which is a pity, because businesses create a lot of pain themselves – it´s not all from our private lives. People suffer because they don’t get that promotion, because their buddies get laid off, or just because co-workers, or even worse, bosses behave in outright toxic ways. Again, we all know this to some degree.

Here´s the point: Science shows over and over again that by carelessly ignoring these emotional dynamics, businesses are hurting the bottom line. If you want to know how, I´d like to point you towards this superb review article written by science rock star Jane Dutton of University of Michigan´s Center for Positive Organizations and some colleagues (that´s also where I “stole” the graphic from):

Dutton, J. E., Workman, K. M., & Hardin, A. E. (2014). Compassion at Work. Annual Reviews of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 1(1), 277-304.

annurev-orgpsych-031413-091221_f1

The Scientific Benefits of Compassion [Infographic]

This fabulous infographic on the scientific benefits of compassion was originally created by Emma Seppälä, Science Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) and author of The Happiness Track. For more of her awesome work, please visit her homepage.

scientific-benefits-of-compassion

Breathing Happiness: New TEDx Talk by Emma Seppälä

Emma Seppälä believes we already possess the tools we need to control our own happiness. She explores the science behind harnessing your state of mind and how it can ultimately lead to success.

Turns out, happiness is not as elusive as it once seemed. Using findings from cognitive psychology and neuroscience, Seppälä simplifies happiness so that anyone can enjoy it. She’s a frequent contributor to Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today and Scientific American Mind. She’s the founder and editor-in-chief of Fulfillment Daily, a news site dedicated to the science of happiness.

Hacking your brain for happiness | James Doty | TEDx

James Doty explains the neurological benefits of compassion.

“Project Compassion” has now turned into a leading research and educational institution and the only institution solely focused on the study of Compassion, Altruism and Empathy. Compassion improves the world; yet the world around us seems ever in need of greater feats of compassion.

How, then, can we create more compassion and inspire compassionate acts? And how is it that the brain and the heart work together to create compassion in the first place?
James Robert Doty, M.D., tackles these tough questions, examining the neural, mental, and social bases of compassion. He serves as Professor of Neurosurgery at Stanford University School of Medicine and Founder and Director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) – of which the Dalai Lama is the founding benefactor.

He serves as Chairman of the Dalai Lama Foundation and as a member of the International Advisory Board of the Council of the Parliament of the World’s Religion.

On TED: How to let Altruism be your Guide

What is altruism? According to Matthieu Ricard, happiness researcher, Buddhist monk and right-hand man of the Dalai Lama, it’s the wish that other people may be happy. And he believes altruism is also a great lens for making decisions, both for the short and long term, in work and in life.

 

Matthieu Ricard´s talk will also be posted as No. 49 on my topical list of Positive Psychology-infused TED talks, Michael Norton´s is already there.

 

Should you really “Follow your Passion“? Yes, but…

StinkefingerOne of the most common pieces of self-help advice is to “follow your passion”. Countless authors propagate this is the surefire way to lasting success and happiness at work (please also read Following your Bliss vs. following your Blisters).

Research suggests that, on the one hand, this may be good advice, but that things are not as simple as they seem, on the other hand. According to Robert J. Vallerand and his colleagues, there is a distinction between what they call harmonious vs. obsessive passion. In general, they define passion as

a strong inclination toward an activity that people like, that they find important, and in which they invest time and energy. Thus, for an activity to represent a passion for people, it has to be significant in their lives, something that they like, and something at which they spend time on a regular basis.

They further propose that

there are two types of passion, obsessive and harmonious, that can be distinguished in terms of how the passionate activity is internalized into one’s core self or identity.

In detail:

Harmonious passion results from an autonomous internalization of the activity into the person’s identity. An autonomous internalization occurs when individuals have freely accepted the activity as important for them without any contingencies attached to it. This type of internalization produces a motivational force to engage in the activity willingly and engenders a sense of volition and personal endorsement about pursuing the activity. Individuals are not compelled to do the activity but rather they freely choose to do so. With this type of passion, the activity occupies a significant but not overpowering space in the person’s identity and is in harmony with other aspects of the person’s life.

Whereas:

Obsessive passion results from a controlled internalization of the activity into one’s identity. Such an internalization originates from intrapersonal and/or interpersonal pressure either because certain contingencies are attached to the activity such as feelings of social acceptance or self-esteem, or because the sense of excitement derived from activity engagement becomes uncontrollable. Thus, although individuals like the activity, they feel compelled to engage in it because of these internal contingencies that come to control them. They cannot help but to engage in the passionate activity. The passion must run its course as it controls the person. Because activity engagement is out of the person’s control, it eventually takes disproportionate space in the person’s identity and causes conflict with other activities in the person’s life.

Vallerand as his coworkers have developed a scale to assess whether a certain aspect in our lives is a harmonious or an obsessive passion, e.g., for harmonious passion:

  • This activity allows me to live memorable experiences.
  • This activity reflects the qualities I like about myself.

And for obsessive passion:

  • I have difficulty imagining my life without this activity.
  • I am emotionally dependent on this activity.

After having developed and validated the scale, they evaluated some of the consequences of having harmonious vs. obsessive passion in our lives. Here’s their synopsis:

Harmonious passion was positively related to positive affective and cognitive (concentration and flow) experiences and to the absence of negative affect during and after activity engagement. In addition, harmonious passion was unrelated to negative affect and cognition when people were prevented from participating in the passionate activity. Conversely, obsessive passion was unrelated to positive affect and cognition during task engagement but positively associated with negative affect during and after activity engagement, as well as when prevented from engaging in the passionate activity.

Additionally, there were able to show that

the positive affect experienced during task engagement seems to spill over onto how the person feels in general in his or her life. More specifically, it appears that harmonious for the activity leads to increases in general positive affect over time even when the person is not directly engaged in the activity.

So, in the future you might want to be a little more careful when giving someone the advice to follow their passion. Only those that are intrinsically motivated and really fit it with the “overall system” of that person will lead to growing satisfaction and a fulfilled live.

Research: Linking “Positive Practices” to Organizational Effectiveness

Stones - GrowthThere are tons of books out there explaining how to use Positive Psychology for boosting the performance of organizations. But the truth is: from a scientific point of view, we really do not know very much about this link. There’s abundant research on the connection of positivity and individual performance – but it remains by and large unclear if this influence on the micro-level yields any outcomes on the macro-level. Of course, it seems to make a lot of sense to infer this relationship – but where’s the research?

A very worthwhile attempt is offered via an article named Effects of positive practices on organizational effectiveness by Kim Cameron and his colleagues. Based on prior research, they developed an inventory of what they call “positives practices”. According to the authors, these can be described as

behaviors, techniques, routines […] that represent positively deviant (i.e., unusual) practices, practices with an affirmative bias, and practices that connote virtuousness and eudemonism in organizations.

In order to do so, they administered a large number of questionnaire items to diverse groups of people. Afterwards, they clustered the answers in order to find common themes and pattern in the data. They found that all positives practices could be categorized into six distinct subgroups:

Caring

People care for, are interested in, and maintain responsibility for one another as friends.

Compassionate Support

People provide support for one another including kindness and compassion when others are struggling.

Forgiveness

People avoid blame and forgive mistakes.

Inspiration

People inspire one another at work.

Meaning

The meaningfulness of the work is emphasized, and people are elevated and renewed by the work.

Respect, Integrity, and Gratitude

People treat one another with respect and express appreciation for one another. They trust one another and maintain integrity.

Having found that structure, they gathered data from several divisions of a financial services company and one operating in the healthcare industry. They asked employees to assess their respective business unit (= the organization as a whole, not individuals) with regard to being a place that possesses the aforementioned attributes. Additionally, they obtained data on several objective and subjective key performance indicators of those business units – and finally looked at the connection of the presence of positive practices and organizational effectiveness measures. Here´s what they´ve Cameron and his colleagues found (in their own words):

In Study 1, positive practices in financial service business units were significantly associated with financial performance, work climate, turnover, and senior executive evaluations of effectiveness. In an industry in which positive practices might be assumed to carry little importance, organizational performance was substantially affected by the implementation of positive practices.

In Study 2, improvement in positive practices over a two year period in health care units predicted improvements in turnover, patient satisfaction, organizational climate, employee participation in the organization, quality of care, managerial support, and resource adequacy.

 In the course of arguing why positive practices should have a performance-boosting effect, the authors conclude that

cognitively, emotionally, behaviorally, physiologically, and socially, evidence suggests that human systems naturally prefer exposure to the positive, so it is expected that organizational performance would be enhanced by positive practices.

Of course, Cameron et al. urge us to be careful not to make strong inferences from their results:

The results of these two investigations, of course, are suggestive and not conclusive.

Still, their work is one of the first and still very rare pieces of research that links positive organizational behavior to organizational effectiveness. I am very much looking forward to scholars who pick up on these findings and expand our knowledge on the positivity-performance link.

People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used…

The reason why the world is in chaos right now is because things are being loved and people are being used.” *

Sound especially true now that Christmas time is here again…

People were created to be loved

* Could´t find an original source. If you know something, please tell me.

The Scientific Case for Compassion – feat. a TEDx Talk by Dacher Keltner

Even though the idea of compassion lies at the heart of virtually each and every religious and spiritual movement (with Buddhism and the Dalai Lama problably being the frontrunner), psychological science has ignored this important feature of our human nature for quite a long time, describing it as a subtype of other, more primary emotions. Starting with research on meditation, such as carried out by pioneers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, the topic has slowly but surely entered the “regular” academic discourse. Nowadays, the science of compassion is a full-blown discipline, being researched, e.g., at Stanford´s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) or Berkeley´s Greater Good Science Center (GGSC).

In 2010, researchers Jennifer L. Goetz, Dacher Keltner, and Emiliana Simon-Thomas authored a review article that sought to make a case for the idea that compassion is a truly distinctive feature on the continuum of human behavior and emotion. Here´s what they have to say in their conclusion:

Our review reveals compassion to arise out of distinct appraisal processes, to have distinct display behaviors, distinct experiences, and an approach-related physiological response. The state like experience of compassion, and the trait like tendency to feel compassion, fall under the purview of three evolutionary arguments: that compassion evolved as part of a caregiving response to vulnerable offspring, that compassionate individuals were preferred in mate selection processes, and that compassion emerged as a desirable trait in cooperative relations between non-kin.

If you want to hear the full story, please read the aforementioned article. You may also want to watch this TEDx talk by Dacher Keltner (who´s the director of the aforementioned GGSC). Enjoy!