Dump Empathy and Cultivate Compassion Instead

Dump Empathy and Cultivate Compassion Instead

Hard to grok, I know, but just ask His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama – and keep reading…

Social media is a huge gift to us on many levels. With it, though, much is being exposed about how we relate and interact with each other – across races, across cultures, across borders. Many of the scenes we witness on social media are quite disturbing and traumatic. This is where compassion enters.

There is actually a biological difference between empathy and compassion. We can all be grateful for advances in science, for, with these advances, we can be more informed and relate in a more evolved manner.

How Empathy Becomes a Hazard

With all of these exciting technological advances arises the invitation to become a master of our nervous system. When we master our biology, we are able to relate more consciously.

By now, you’ve probably read my blogs on Fear: The Other F-Word at Work: Fear and Fear 2.0: Stop Surviving and Start Evolving. Well, what’s amazing is new studies show that empathy is far from ideal. In fact, new studies show an empathic state doesn’t guarantee helpful acts.

Empathy involves feeling the pain of someone in distress – stepping into the other person’s shoes. Here’s what’s interesting:  If feeling another’s pain makes you feel awful, it affects your experience. If you are feeling highly distressed, whether due to resonating with someone else’s problem or because of your own problem, your body goes into survival mode – yes, your amygdala starts firing.

See my blogs on Fear –

When in survival mode, tending to your own needs becomes the priority. So, instead of one person in a stressful experience, we now have two people … or an entire group. This is like throwing gasoline on the fire. Let’s face it, while having your pain acknowledged is great, receiving support with presence or solutions is more satisfying.

Discovering an Evolved Empathy

Now enter His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who is famously intrigued by neuroscience. His Holiness facilitated and gave his blessing to a series of studies of Buddhist monks, which included neuroimaging.

What has been discovered is that empathic states are more easily navigated when we manage a detachment or distance. It’s a simple, detached, self-evident imperative rather than one requiring vicarious froth. You act compassionately toward one individual because of a globalized sense of wishing good in the world.

Putting an Evolved Empathy into Practice

And here is where Conscious Leadership enters: Instead of getting hooked again by empathy, you can turn toward COMPASSION and focus on feeling a warmth and care toward that distressed person. Instead of stepping into their shoes, sit beside them, be present, and give them an energetic hug. Ask them, “What support do you need right now, from yourself or others?”

Simply put:

EMPATHY = “I feel your pain, and I am taking it on. Now all I can manage is my own discomfort.”

COMPASSION = “I hear you. I am here, calm, and present. What support do you need?”

Everything I teach has science and research to back it up. Even still – don’t take my or anyone else’s word for it, check it out for yourself: Become a master of your nervous system.


My book Evolution Revolution: Conscious Leadership for an Information Age is your handbook on how to show up authentically. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 6 – Stop Surviving and Start Evolving:


“Most people are in survival mode all the time and don’t even realize it. The human body is an organism whose primary function and purpose are to survive, scanning the environment for what’s wrong—the strong negativity bias in the world. We categorize people as friend or foe. Most of us have food, clothing, and shelter. We do not have to fight for basic needs. Despite this, we are still in survival mode. This is our opportunity to evolve beyond fear and simple survival.”

~Abigail Stason, Evolution Revolution.