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Friday, 4 May 2012

Efficiency vs Compassion

"Compassion alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us." Eric Hoffer

It seems to me that one of the things happening in modern society has been a clash of values. Not so long ago a community spirit was prevalent. Post WW2, we had the introduction of the welfare state, better care for the old, more consideration of workers’ rights, more parents leaving the doors of their houses open when they went out and letting their children play out, teachers and pupils were valued as people as well as for their results, and we even had a celebration of love and peace in the 60s and early 70s (to highlight the change, in the 80s, Madonna singing about being a Material Girl was a more serious message than we first took on board)... the list goes on. What has happened is that society has become more obsessed with efficiency at the expense of people, money at the expense of compassion and materialism at the expense of well-being. Companies have reduced their work-forces in the drive for efficiency. Less people do more work and have to hit bigger targets and get results quicker. You can see it personified in football with its high turnover of managers and ever increasing business-management model, but it is everywhere. Often quality and long-term strategy is sacrificed for quantity and speed, and human relations suffer dreadfully.

What happens to people when they come home from a work environment like that? First, many of them take the stress and business values of work home with them and watch tv shows that reinforce their adopted mindset - “the weakest link,” or talent shows whose undercurrent is to mock the untalented or shows were ex-celebrities can be humiliated by eating insects and being lowered into nests of rats, giant spider and snakes. Worse, they perhaps neurotically expect their families to operate on the same level as they do in their business. Second, levels of expectation have risen so that we expect instant gratification and results from everyone around us and thus our schoolchildren expect and desire to be popstars, footballers or glamour models rather than somebody who adds value to society and fulfilment to their life. Third, with this expectation there has come increased levels of division in society from top to bottom, and greater jealousy and envy, which can be a poisonous cocktail. Fourth, levels of anger have gone through the roof both domestically and in society as a whole, so that even fire-fighters and hospital staff are regularly assaulted. And in this grand narcissism, drivenness and materialism, we have become almost immune to bad behaviour (including our own) and spend less time thinking of the needs of others. It is a sad state of affairs, but one people are so immersed and occupied with that they cease to notice until they break down with depression or stress or sheer exhaustion.

But let us stop and question. Let us get off of the treadmill for a moment and think. What are the benefits of all this “efficiency” and “delivery” really? People are not happier, depression, divorce, anti-social behaviour, job insecurity and lack of meaning (as I highlighted in my last Blog) have all shot up alarmingly. And what have those (both in and out of work) got in return for their massively increased efforts? More clever gadgets to obsess about, more tv channels to watch rubbish on and more cheap alcohol – to dopify them and ease their angst; more choice of items to consume, more instant gratification (if you want it) and a faster pace of life. It has not been worth it.

Amongst others, the Dalai Lama pointed at a different way: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” I think it is possible to be efficient and hard-working enough to maintain a good standard of living in our Western Societies without going so far that we completely blank out compassion and consideration for others. Success and money do not equal well-being. A quick glance at research showing the happiest and least happy countries on earth shows this. To Google it is quite a revelation. Even Western governments themselves seem to have noticed it – even if they generally pay only lip service to it. What else is the “Big Society,” the “Happiness Tsar,” more money for psychotherapy and counselling and funded studies on well-being about if not that? It seems that governments simultaneously both promote and discourage living our lives by a business model. It would be nice to have some clarity from them.

So what is one to do? Well, you probably can’t change the world. Unless you are an incredibly successful artist, politician or scientist or Bill Gates with a pocket full of billions of dollars this cannot be done. What you can do is change yourself and start to influence those around you by that – particularly, and most importantly, your children. Let them see that people are more important than targets and that if we consider people first they will reward you with effort; that if you demonstrate that hard work is not in opposition to kindness but ought to run alongside it, then it pays a happiness dividend.

Perhaps no-one was more successful or famous or could have claimed to have changed the world in the last century more than Albert Einstein, and yet he said this: “seek not to be a man of success but rather a man of value.” Compassion is one of the chief ways you can add value to your life and those of others. And it’s easy to do and you need only start on the little things – respect, appreciation, smiles, giving people more of your time.

How Counselling Can Help and What it Shows

I would say that the modern-mindset stands in stark opposition to what counselling is about. When people come to counselling they find an oasis of calm away from the noise and craziness of what modern society is about. Of course, there are other ways to find this peace – walking in nature, music, art, meditation, sport etc. The problem with most of those is that whilst they will relieve you of stress they won’t necessarily connect you to people and help you reconnect to compassion – though they might up to a point. If my clients are lucky, they have found compassion from a few close friends and from a good partner, but increasingly their friends and partners have become as alienated by the demands of modern life as they have – and what then?

Finding compassion for ourselves can be more challenging and yet without it, we cannot give it to others. As the Buddha said, “you can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” Counselling can be a good way of reconnecting with compassion in your life in general. Clients receive compassion from their counsellor (as well as a variety of other things like understanding) and then usually seem to reconnect with it within themselves and then go on to offer it to others within their compass as a result. It is not surprising and there is no magic: kindness begets kindness and it always has. We are creatures born to yearn for love, kindness, compassion and appreciation. One only has to look at babies to see this and to Romanian orphans to see the result of its omission.

I would urge everyone reading this to think a little about compassion in their life. Do you consider the atmosphere and happiness in you home as more important than a list of chores? Do you give it to yourself, do you get it from close others around you, do you give it to others? How might you stay aware of the pressures of modern life and see that they do no disconnect you from something far more powerful and vital to your humanity than what it can offer?   And if you are still not convinced ask yourself which you are more likely to regret when you are 90 - not having been even more efficient and successful or not having been more compassionate?

David is a fully qualified and BACP registered Counsellor. If you wish to talk about issues in your life or about compassion, you can book a face to face or skype session with him by ringing 07578 100256 or emailing him at You can also follow him on Twitter as Contented Counsellor at:!/SeddonDavid


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