Dr. B's Blog

The Case for Compassion

I’m not a big proponent of the “love yourself” school of psychology. I mean, I do believe that self-love is an important part of one’s psychological health, but I don’t think I often say those particular words in a therapy session. I’m sure that in the moment, when I’m being mindful of the situation and my patient’s emotions, those words may come out of my mouth because they make sense at the time but that particular phrase just gets people’s cynicism worked up. If someone said that to me with a straight face, I might have a hard time taking them seriously, so I couldn’t easily use those words unless it really fit the situation.

That said, I am a big proponent of compassion. To me, the root of psychological well-being isn’t love but compassion. Compassion allows perspective-taking. It allows validation or firm guidance. It allows for a deeper, more adult connection between two people even if there’s no “love” in the room. That’s why I found this article so interesting.

Recent studies of compassion argue persuasively for a different take on human nature, one that rejects the preeminence of self-interest. These studies support a view of the emotions as rational, functional, and adaptive—a view which has its origins in Darwin’s Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. Compassion and benevolence, this research suggests, are an evolved part of human nature, rooted in our brain and biology, and ready to be cultivated for the greater good.

I often find evolutionary explanations for observed phenomena to be a little like waiting for the coin flip and then calling “heads!” as if you knew it would be heads all along, but that doesn’t stop me from liking the results the article talks about. I find that tempering my cynicism with some good old fashioned pollyannaism to be a nice balance.

Read the whole article here. Discuss below if you’d like.