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Compassion and caring improve health and society
July 27, 2016
From the Louisville Courier-Journal, July 27, 2016
By Pam Darnall
As chief executive of an agency that works daily with broken and injured children and families, I have been thinking a lot lately about all the violence and brutality that surrounds us. How people seem to be turning to guns and violence when they get angry or frustrated and how often we make negative judgments about others with no information that really supports these judgments or prejudices.
All of us taking the time to learn about our own implicit biases can help the latter. These are judgments we each make, usually unconsciously, that can be favorable or unfavorable, based upon stereotypes formed through our individual experiences.
They often exhibit through racial, gender and socio-economic situations through prejudice and social behavior. For example, the assumptions that girls like dolls and boys like trucks or more inflammatory examples such as whites crossing the street to avoid an African-American or Hispanic male. They have no basis for their behavior, but they do it anyway. There are, sadly, hundreds of other, more serious, examples.
So it’s important we be aware of and to understand our own implicit biases.
I also have wondered: What if we all were more compassionate? What might the world really look like if we all practiced compassion instead of rushing to judgment or anger and turning to guns and violence?
Compassion means, “to suffer together.” Emotion researchers define it as the feeling that arises when you see someone suffering and you feel motivated to do whatever you can to relieve that suffering.
Research has shown that when we display compassion, our heart rate slows down and we secrete oxytocin, a powerful hormone released when we hug or kiss loved ones that plays a huge role in pair bonding. Oxytocin also “lights up” parts of our brains linked to empathy, caregiving and feelings of pleasure, which often drives our desire to approach and care for other people.
Similar findings suggest that compassion can improve health, well-being and relationships. Many scientists believe compassion may even be key to the survival of our species and find that its advantages can be increased through targeted exercises and practice.
Other benefits include:
- Being compassionate can reduce the risk of heart disease.
- It can make us more resilient to stress, lowering stress hormones and strengthening the immune response.
- It helps make caring parents: Brain scans show that when people experience compassion, their brains activate areas known to support parental nurturance and other caregiving behaviors.
- Compassion helps make better spouses and friends: Compassionate people are more optimistic and supportive when communicating with others.
- Feeling compassion for one person makes us less vindictive toward others.
- Employees who give and receive more compassion in the workplace see themselves, their co-workers and their organization in a more positive light. They report feeling more positive emotions, like joy and contentment and are more committed to their jobs.
- Compassionate societies, such as those that care for their most vulnerable members, assist other nations in need and have children who perform more acts of kindness and are the happier ones
- Compassionate people are more socially adept, making them less vulnerable to loneliness, which has been shown to cause stress and harm the immune system.
Every day at Family & Children’s Place, staff work with families enduring trauma that may feel hopeless and live with pain most of us will never know. Our work is to do what we can to share hope and healing, and most of all, compassion, to those children and families.
What could our world look like if each of us, at work, at home, at school, in church, in every part of our lives, committed to be more compassionate with everyone we met?
I hope you will think about this and join me. Together, we can help build a better world for all of us.
Pam Darnall is president and CEO of Family & Children’s Place.