Objective compassion

Listening to a podcast today I heard an author refer to the Dalai Lama speaking about objective compassion. This expression is one that really stood out to me today on many levels so I share it with you.

What is it?

Most people are acquainted with the concept of compassion. It is a common virtue and often cited in our pursuit of truth and support of others. Definitions commonly refer to the ability of a person to really understand and feel the pain and suffering of another being with the view of alleviating the situation. There is the assumption of action taken in the form of perhaps pity or mercy.

The objective part of the equation adds another dimension. Rather than having a compassionate view that draws us into fixing or rescuing a person from their own learning and experience, we stand apart and allow them their experience. In other words we detach somewhat so that the experience of the other is theirs and not tainted by our judgement and desire to change.

Ultimately then objective compassion occurs when we feel for the person yet respect the boundaries of their personal situation. We ultimately empower the person to seek the help or assistance they need from our willingness and understanding of their situation.

When is it needed?

Objective compassion is particularly needed when people are experiencing personal growth. Such growth can be at work, in life or a combinatin of both. There may also be situations that trigger growth opportunities.

As the observer, confidant, friend or listener of a person in suffering we are usually in the best place to provide assistance. Considering the degree of help required is ultimately the challenge and skill involved.

How do you show it?

Consider that compassion is different from empathy in that you want to act from this place to alleviate the other person's compromised situation. In empathy you feel what the other person feels.

So to show compassion means you will take an action. To show it objectively means that you will not let your own personal judgement, values, emotions or feelings get in the way of how you help the person.

Holding the space

One of the learnings I have had in numerous workshops learning coaching and counselling is to 'hold the space'. I have had great teachers (contact me for information on them!) in this regard who modelled this behaviour. When I first started participating in such learning I found it strange not to help fix or rescue the other person from their pain or suffering.

Yet as I matured and as my experience proved otherwise people are entitled to their experience. For it is from our experience that we learn, grow and change perspective.

So a more respectful and meaningful way to work with someone going through a challenging situation is to 'hold the space'. How I interpret this expression is to be a witness and observer of the other person's experience. By being part of the experience you allow that person to go through what they need to go through. You also allow the person the dignity of pulling from their own internal resources to process, come to terms and achieve insight.

Then, and only if, the person asks for your support in a way that does not compromise them is it appropriate to step in. This inviting again is directed by the person having the experience, not the person holding the space. In holding the space you are also a caretaker in a way. By being part of the person's experience you let them know that you stay in your rational and objective state. This state allows you to maintain a safe space, ensure there is no self harm or damage to others through actions.

Everyday objective compassion

Now I don't think many of us ever get into situations where we need to call on that deeper part of ourself to offer objective compassion. However we can borrow from this concept in the way we treat people. Whether in your family, at work, with friends or in response to total strangers you have the choice as to whether you act responsibly with acceptance or jump too quickly down the judgement path.

For example, you have to conduct a performance review for a person in your team. You have done all your behavioural due diligence, you have looked at performance, strengths and challenges, covered all areas. Only your overall feedback is not good news for the person. How do you hold yourself in the situation when you deliver this news?

If you borrow from the objective compassion concept then you express your appreciation and understanding of the person's situation. You may even offer your support to help the person work through the feedback. Yet you also need to deliver the feedback. It is for the person's personal development to know the truth and be able to act on this feedback. How you prepare yourself for delivery of the feedback then determines how you will 'hold the space'. You can anticipate the full range of reactions. Then when one of these comes up you can let the person express themselves fully, really listen from the heart. In the end you may not anticpate all that comes up so it is the way you react that becomes important.

It's a state of being, not something you do

One last comment I need to make. We don't turn compassion on and off, we live and breathe it. This is also what I mean by everyday. To truly be of this mindset we maintain a sense of awareness that comes with our response.

Test out your own state by monitoring your reaction to various situations. What happens when someone gets upset and cries in front of you? How do you handle someone expressing anger and frustration? How do you handle interpersonal situations where you are not able to control the outcome? What happens when you have belief clashes with another? emotional conflict?

If this is all too tricky, then just consider this one thing. What is the most effective way that you can help someone and still ensure that they remain dignified, empowered and an individual.

Let's go there...


CoachingJenn Shallvey