Public Safety Insights Newsletter: The Paradox of Compassion

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November 11, 2015 VOLUME 3, ISSUE 18
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The Paradox of Compassion
Public Safety Insight: You cannot be truly compassionate toward others unless you first are kind to yourself.

Compassion has two components: a feeling of deep sympathy for others who have undergone misfortune, and a desire to alleviate their suffering. It is compassion that leads many first responders to choose their respective professions. Agencies that identify core values often identify compassion as a quality that defines who they are, as an organization and as individuals. They feel proud that they serve their communities selflessly and with humility.

Yet most are fooling themselves: they are not fully compassionate.

The paradox of compassion is that you cannot be truly compassionate toward others unless you first are kind to yourself. Public safety professionals who teach CERT classes emphasize that members’ own safety comes first: "You can’t be part of the solution if you become part of the problem." Yet too many of them don’t walk their own talk: they fail to make regular self-care a priority. The problem: if donned consistently, the armor of selflessness masks the seeds of self-destruction. You don’t expect that a radio or phone whose battery has run down will work, so why do you expect that you will be able to perform at full capacity and be fully present for, aware of, and caring toward others when you don’t take care of yourself?

The holidays highlight the conflict inherent in the paradox of compassion. During this time of heightened awareness of others’ plights and the sincere desire to mitigate their misfortune, first responders are particularly likely to put their own needs aside. At the same time that call volumes may increase, public safety professionals go above and beyond the call of duty, "giving back" to their communities in the form of toy drives for kids or meals for those in need. Their generosity stretches them to their limits and beyond, as they take on these additional efforts on their own time. They cut back on their self-care, leaving themselves feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and perhaps guilty due to their lack of family time.

Here are twelve ways that you can be kind to yourself starting right now:

  1. When you begin to experience signs of stress, take a few minutes to engage in deep breathing or relaxation techniques.
  2. When you mess up, treat yourself the way you would a similarly situated family member or close friend.
  3. Embrace setbacks as learning opportunities, not as occasions to beat yourself up.
  4. Consistently engage in positive self-talk.
  5. Ask yourself what you did WELL in a given situation. Build on those actions or qualities to improve in the future.
  6. Listen to your body and act on its needs in a timely manner.
  7. Take a few minutes out of your day to notice and enjoy the simple things in life.
  8. Write a 60-minute appointment with yourself this week on your calendar. Make that time sacrosanct. Do whatever YOU want to do during that time. Then book another appointment for the following week. Over time, increase the number of self-appointments each week.
  9. Throw yourself a "pity party" as needed to honor negative emotions and release them. Set a timer for 10 minutes. During that time, feel as sorry for yourself as you possibly can. When the timer goes off, the party is over and it’s time to move on. This technique is effective for releasing any negative emotion.
  10. Laugh often.
  11. Do something fun every day.
  12. Get an accountability partner. Ask each other one question every day: "How were you kind to yourself yesterday?" Answer the question without comments, excuses, or feedback.

What will YOU do to be kind to yourself today?

If you would like more ideas about how to take care of yourself, take a look at our article 31 No-cost Ways to Take Care of Yourself. To find other articles and resources that may be of value to you, I invite you to visit my web site at

Public Safety Insights is a concise, bi-weekly newsletter written specifically to help first responders maximize their performance. Your e-mail address is never shared with anyone for any reason. You may unsubscribe by clicking the link on the bottom of this e-mail.


©2015 Pat Lynch | Public Safety Insights

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