The Art of Strengths Coaching

C is for Compassion Being Caring In Action

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Compassion goes beyond sympathy or empathy. It means taking positive action to help people in a particular situation. It is caring in action.

Different people have different circles of compassion. Some may feel compassion for themselves and their loved ones. Some may extend their circle to include friends and kindred spirits.

Some may go further. They may feel compassion for specific groups they identify with, such as communities or nations. Some may extend their compassion to include many human beings, living things and the planet.

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People can choose to be compassionate or cruel in their actions and words. The choice they make has consequences, both for themselves and other people.

People who show compassion often have a history of being loved and being taught to respect other human beings. They believe in spreading happiness, rather than hate. They want to plant seeds of hope that will encourage both present and future generations.

Such people are positive realists. They recognise the many challenges that we face as human beings. They believe in finding positive solutions, however, that will benefit both people and the planet.

They are strongly aware of systems theory, though they may call it something else. They may instead say something like: “You reap what you sow.”

Such people believe that what you put into a system – be it a relationship, organisation or planet – will strongly affect the future of that system. They therefore try to act with compassion rather than cruelty.

Jeremy Rifkin outlines a similar approach in his book The Empathic Civilisation. He believes it is vital to recognise that our actions have consequences on the whole system.

This calls for extending our empathy to the entire human family and the biosphere. Taking this step will increase our chances of surviving as a species. You can discover more via the following link.

Looking at your own life, when have you shown compassion by translating caring into action? You may have done this when choosing to be helpful, rather than hurtful, to other people. What did you do to show compassion?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you chose to show compassion.

Describe the specific things that you did to show compassion.

Describe the specific things that resulted from showing compassion in the situation.

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Compassion can produce enormous benefits, both for ourselves and other people. Certainly it is possible to show compassion and then become a victim, which is important to recognise. Human beings may only survive as a species, however, if we learn to care for both present and future generations.

Karen Armstrong explored these themes in her TED talk that led to creating the Charter for Compassion. She believes it is vital to start from the heart and create hope, rather than spread division. Karen and others have underlined the following points.

Compassion is at the root of many religions and spiritual beliefs.

Let’s revive the Golden Rule. Always treat all other people with the respect that you would like them to treat you with. Do not cause pain to others that you would not like inflected on yourself. 

Compassion can help to build a global community that helps to achieve the common good.

Below is a video in which Karen talks about the Charter for Compassion. The Charter includes the following messages. You can discover more on its website.

We believe a compassionate world is a peaceful world.

We believe a compassionate world is possible when every man, woman and child treats others as they would wish to be treated – with dignity, equity and respect.

We believe all human beings are born with the capacity for compassion, and it must be cultivated for human beings to survive and thrive. 

The Greater Good Center, based at the University of California, Berkeley, focuses on the science of living a meaningful life. Here are excerpts from part of its website that is devoted to compassion. You can discover more via the following link.

Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism though the concepts are related.  

While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help.

Scientific research into the measurable benefits of compassion is young. Preliminary findings suggest, however, that being compassionate can improve health, wellbeing, and relationships.  

Many scientists believe that compassion may even be vital to the survival of our species, and they’re finding that its advantages can be increased through targeted exercises and practice.  

Compassion makes us feel good.

Compassionate action (e.g., giving to charity) activates pleasure circuits in the brain, and compassion training programs, even very brief ones, strengthen brain circuits for pleasure and rewards and lead to lasting increases in self-reported happiness. 

Being compassionate – tuning in to other people in a kind and loving manner – can reduce risk of heart disease by boosting the positive effects of the Vagus Nerve, which helps to slow our heart rate. 

Brain scans during loving-kindness meditation, which directs compassion toward suffering, suggest that, on average, compassionate people’s minds wander less about what has gone wrong in their lives, or might go wrong in the future; as a result, they’re happier.

Compassion helps make caring parents: Brain scans show that when people experience compassion, their brains activate in neural systems known to support parental nurturance and other caregiving behaviors. 

Compassion helps make better spouses: Compassionate people are more optimistic and supportive when communicating with others.   

Employees who receive more compassion the workplace see themselves, their co-workers, and their organization in a more positive light, report feeling more positive emotions like joy and contentment, and are more committed to their jobs.

More compassionate societies – those that take care of their most vulnerable members, assist other nations in need, and have children who perform more acts of kindness – are the happier ones. 

Compassionate people are more socially adept, making them less vulnerable to loneliness. 

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking to the future, are there any ways you would like to continue to show compassion? What might be the benefits, both for you and for other people?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do to continue to show compassion. 

Describe the specific benefits of showing compassion in these ways.

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    C is for Showing Character During Challenges

    Lightening 2

    People sometimes welcome challenges. They look forward to testing themselves when playing a key soccer match, delivering a keynote speech or tackling a particular kind of crisis.

    Great workers, for example, want to show character. So they seek challenges where they can express their core beliefs. They then focus on clarity, creativity and concrete results. Sometimes they reach the goals by adding that touch of class.

    Let’s explore where this might happen for you.

    Clarifying when you
    have shown character

    Looking back on your life, can you think of a time when you showed character? You may have been helping another person, tackling an illness, dealing with a crisis or whatever.

    People often perform better when they take the emotion out of such situations. One person said:

    “This is what I did when faced with a difficult illness. After the initial shock, I treated it has a project.

    “This seemed a good way to use my energy and explore the possible ways forward. I did not want to get into the idea of ‘battling it’.

    “I saw it has an opportunity to grow, appreciate life and help other people.”

    Such perspective may seem odd, but it is a theme repeated by many people who appear to show courage. They often say things like:

    “It was the obvious thing to do.”

    A similar theme was highlighted by Samuel and Pearl Oliner in their book The Altruistic Personality. In it they described the actions of non-Jews who risked their own lives to rescue the victims of Nazi persecution.

    They were ordinary people, say Pearl and Samuel. They were farmers, teachers, entrepreneurs, factory workers, rich and poor, parents and single people, Protestants and Catholic.

    Different people helped the Jews in different ways. Some offered them shelter; some helped them escape from prison; some smuggled them out of the country.


    The rescuers showed that people can do wonderful things, even in the midst of catastrophe. Why did they do it? Here are some of the things that people said:

    “It was the right thing to do … My mother influenced me mostly by love. She was a warm woman, and we admired her for her wit, her wisdom, and her intelligence.

    “I was always filled with love for everyone, for every creature, for things. I am fused into every object. For me everything is alive …

    “I sensed I had in front of me human beings that were hunted down like wild animals. This aroused a feeling of brotherhood and a desire to help.

    “We had to help these people in order to save them, not because they were Jews, but because they were persecuted human beings who needed help.”

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invited you to do the following things.

    Describe a specific time when you have shown character tackling a challenge.

    Describe the specific things you did right then – the principles you followed – to show character.

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    Clarifying how you
    can show character

    Looking to the future, can you think of any situations where you want to show character? How can you do this in your own way?

    People sometimes show certain characteristics when faced by a challenge. They embody the following themes.


    They follow their purpose and principles. They realise they have been given the chance to follow these principles. Maybe the realisation comes as a shock. Such as:

    “Oh, this is happening to me. It isn’t a game. I am now called upon to show what I really stand for.”

    Sometimes they are presented with a big challenge that involves helping other people. They may say:

    “This is an opportunity. If not me, then who will step up and do it?”


    People aim to develop the competence to manage the challenge successfully.

    They do this by building on their strengths and following their successful style – their best way of working. Sometimes they complement their efforts by asking for help from others. This may involve getting support from friends, trusted advisors and experts.

    People prepare properly before embarking on the many stages of tackling the challenge. They then commit themselves fully when entering the situation.

    They keep pursuing their chosen principles and aim to perform at their best. Sometimes this also involves finding creative solutions to problems.


    How do people show class? They do this by showing character or, as some say, grace under pressure.

    People managing an illness, for example, often provide comfort to those who come to comfort them. They demonstrate it is possible to follow their principles, especially when faced by tough events.

    Perhaps this is the real goal – to pursue one’s purpose and principles. The people we admire often do this, even when they are facing pressure. They show the triumph of the human spirit.

    If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following.

    Describe a specific challenge that you may face in the future.

    Describe the specific things that you can do to show character when tackling that challenge.

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    Clarifying the benefits
    of showing character

    Looking back, when you have benefited from showing character when tackling a challenge? Different people give different answers to this question. Here are some of the things they say.

    The benefits were:

    Being true to my values … Appreciating the important things in life … Giving everything … Realising I was stronger than I thought … Meeting people who have since become trusted friends … Developing skills that I have applied since.

    People sometimes look back fondly at those times, even though they might have been tough. One person said:

    “Looking back at the illness, I actually felt more alive than for some time. It helped me to gain a sense of perspective.

    “Soon afterwards I returned to climbing mountains, something I had not done since my youth.

    “I began with climbs suitable for my age and ability, but then slowly increased my range. This has given me the opportunity to test my mettle and also enjoy feeling alive.”

    If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

    Describe the specific challenge where you will have the chance to show character.

    Describe the specific benefits of showing character when tackling this challenge.

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