Advice and development

How to be an agent of compassion

Five qualities, practised every day, can help you become actively compassionate, says psychology graduate and PhD student Mark Durkin.
Compassion_tile_Getty.jpg

Five qualities, practised every day, can help you become actively compassionate, says psychology graduate and PhD student Mark Durkin

The definition of compassion is 'to be with suffering'. But in reality, compassion demands much more than simply being with suffering. It requires agency to help another get through it. Therefore, compassion requires an agent. An agent is defined as 'a person who acts on behalf of another person', and 'a person or thing that acts or has the power to act'.

The following five qualities are taken from my own experience, as well as the current research in compassion. I believe these qualities can be practised by nurses on the ward with patients.

1 . Awareness : take notice of those around you. Some say we need to practise mindfulness

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Five qualities, practised every day, can help you become actively compassionate, says psychology graduate and PhD student Mark Durkin  


 Be patient with patients – remember to communicate with kindness. Picture: Getty

The definition of compassion is 'to be with suffering'. But in reality, compassion demands much more than simply being with suffering. It requires agency to help another get through it. Therefore, compassion requires an agent. An agent is defined as 'a person who acts on behalf of another person', and 'a person or thing that acts or has the power to act'.

The following five qualities are taken from my own experience, as well as the current research in compassion. I believe these qualities can be practised by nurses on the ward with patients.

1Awareness: take notice of those around you. Some say we need to practise mindfulness to be compassionate, but that's not always practical. We can achieve greater awareness simply by becoming more mindful of what's going on in our surroundings.

2. Wiser judgements: we don't know what lies behind the surface. Plus, being non-judgmental doesn't always work. It is in our nature to make judgements, but use your inner wisdom when passing judgement. We can make positive judgements, and we can also choose to see the potential in another person.

3. Communication: the way we communicate is important. The more conventional questions we often ask include 'are you alright?' or 'are you OK?' But, what if we started asking people 'how are you feeling?', or 'what can I do for you today?'. It is important to use positive words that encourage rather than hinder. We can also learn to listen to the needs of patients and communicate that we are there for them through our body language. A smile can go a long way.

4. Courage: we need the courage to go beyond ourselves in the service of another human being. To take compassion beyond our insecurities, vulnerabilities, fears and worries, and to attend to patients with all of our being.

5. Patience: be patient with patients. We are all human beings and therefore we are imperfect. We fear, we scream, we shout, we take our emotions out on others. And we need to allow others the time to heal mentally, just as much as they need to physically. Healing takes time.

These five qualities can be transferred to the self too. Become more aware of how you feel, make less harsh and wiser judgements about yourself, communicate with self-kindness, have courage to show yourself compassion, and above all, give yourself the patience to meet the demands of the job, remembering that you too are human.

The mission, as an agent of compassion, is to bring more of these qualities into your life. Practise them on a daily basis to help improve the quality of life for patients and yourself. In doing so, you will be making the first steps towards building your compassionate strengths, and becoming an agent of compassion.

The article is based on a talk the author gave at TEDxUniversityofBolton. To see the full talk, go here.


About the author

 

 

 

Mark Durkin is investigating compassionate strengths in nursing for a PhD at the University of Bolton 

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