Article by Elin Pöllänen, photo by Hanna-Maria Häkkilä
The Two-day CoPassion-seminar ’Revolutionizing work through compassion’ was held between the 11th and 12th of January. Hosted by CoPassion, the aim was to gather scientists from all over the world to share their unique insights on compassion with anyone that wanted to learn more. People from various fields attended the seminar, as did the media.
1st day: Leading compassion
After CoPassion greeted everybody welcome and good morning, it was time for the first key speaker, Monica Worline, to start her lecture Leading compassion as a social process and strategic advantage. Cofounder of Compassion Lab in the University of Michigan and research member of the Compassion center of Stanford, Worline brought her experiences to the seminar in the format of three different stories. They all had in common individuals who noticed and reacted upon the “suffering in the room”, something often suppressed in work life, but an essential part of being human. We are never indifferent to anyone’s suffering nor joy.
Compassion at work can bring about competitive advantage, higher well-being and creativity for businesses and organisations. Leaders are important for changing business values and attitude, emphasized Dirk van Dierendonck from Erasmus University, a spokesman for servant leadership. A servant leader takes the position of a steward; acknowledges the employees and their needs on a fundamental level and gives direction and purpose.
Christin Mellner contributed by sharing research from Stockholm University on the role of compassion to create sustainability leadership, where leaders nor employees get burned out in an increasing complex and challenging nature of work. The Danish Professor Bent Meiser Sorensen raised a warning finger about the possible misuse of compassion by people in leading positions and how to integrate compassion with rules of equal treatment in bureaucracy.
CoPassion team ended the day with a workshop where participants could ventilate the day and share experiences from their working contexts. One exercise involved describing a happy moment to a fellow seminar participant who had the task to express indifference, which effectively exemplified the interconnectedness of body language and emotion.
2nd day: How can we become more compassionate?
Sally Maitlis from University of Oxford, the second keynote speaker, started the second day by focusing on the responsibility of team members in creating more compassionate workplaces with how they communicate and think. Because minds have an easier task storing bad memories and feelings, teams and persons should try to recognize the sparkling moments. Remembering when something went right empowers us and makes teams more resilient toward strain and difficulty and improves communication.
To understand possibilities and obstacles in leading compassion, Risto Saarinen from University of Helsinki reminded us of the importance of historical context. Compassion, feeling or suffering together with someone, have had its significance altered with time. Already 300 BCE, Aristotle noticed the natural sympathetic force manifested in contagious yawning. More subjectively, compassion as a cultural and personal characteristics have to some been seen as a virtue, but to others- such as the philosopher Nietzsche, as a weakness. However, science encourages the view on compassion as a path to well-being and creativity, but also as an end in itself.
Historically, we have also used dance, music and writing to understand our compassionate minds. Interestingly, Eva Bojner Horwitz from the Centre of Social Sustainability, Stockholm showed how cultural activities in schools and workplaces make us more resistant to exhaustion. This requires a compassionate environment, where individuals feel safe enough to make mistakes and explore their creativity.
Being the last seminar lecturer, Katri Saarikivi from University of Helsinki forcefully lectured on the emerging work of neuroscience in revealing the mechanisms of empathy and how we can train to inhibit more compassionate brains and actions.
CoPassion Project Director and Professor Anne Birgitta Pessi concluded two days of lectures, music performances and discussions: We need humanity, meaning and compassion toward others and ourselves. We need the assurance from multifaceted research and a cultural response to make our (work) world a better place. The Rector of University of Helsinki agreed with his presence and invited everyone to a reception where the mingle and discussions continued.
A BIG and compassionate Thank You to all of the remarkable speakers, to the wise commentators Esa Saarinen, Olli-Pekka Vainio, Olli Valtonen, Maaret Kallio, Outi Ruishalme, to the insightful panelists Jaakko Hirvola, Liisa Välikangas and Janne Nikkinen, to the wonderful and talented performing musicians Laura Sippola and the Academic Choral society, and to all of the seminar participants. Each and every one of you contributed in making the CoPassion seminar a truly meaningful event full of (com-)passion, joy and inspiration.