Where is your heart?

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Where is your heart?



Blog by Louise Clifton from Invisible Grail

To act with compassion requires a degree of courage – one must go beyond the technical, the imperative, the rules of organisations and beyond past practice – to invent new practices that have within them empathy and love and a readiness to connect to others (Frost, 1999)[1]


Recently I was having dinner with a colleague from SDF, and she told me about a lecture she attended on developing self-compassion, held by the Weekend University. It was this conversation that prompted me to start thinking about how we all, working in the sector that we do, align our expertise in creating knowledge and wisdom, with the role that our emotions, and our heart, play in our professional lives.


In a twist of fate, mental health, wellbeing and compassion have become a priority for the sector over the last couple of months. With all this happening, I found myself reflecting on the idea of compassion, and I always came back to this point: there must be a way to find a clearer pathway to compassion for ourselves and others, and there is a critical need to make more room for this in our everyday lives. The question for me now is how we can we do this?





Ikigai is a wonderful word. It sums up in one “a reason for being”, or the things that make your life worthwhile. Each person’s ikigai is unique to them and is based on their own values and beliefs.


When I came across this word, I began to ask myself what is my ikagi? It’s not a question I had given much time to before. I know what the conditions are for me to be productive at work, and on a day-to-day basis I know what I have to do and why. But had I really considered what motivates me personally and professionally? What are my core values that align who I am and what I do? What do I get up for each day?


Some of us will be lucky enough to know the answers to these questions already. But if you don’t, gift yourself some time this summer to consider them.


If we were to broaden this question beyond our own ikagi, we might also ask: how do we understand not just what motivates us, but what makes the days of the people we work with, support or manage, more worthwhile too?


Understanding our motivation is what gets us started, knowing it is worthwhile is what sustains us.



The role of language in building compassion


In researching this blog, I came across quite a bit about compassion in higher education and healthcare. This, quite rightly, challenged my own preconception that it was something that can feel like an afterthought rather than a priority.


What captured my attention was the realisation that part of compassionate practice is to identify and value our own stories and the stories of those who we work with. Explored by Catherine Creede[2], she proposed that stories allow us to sink beneath the surface and connect with others on a deeper level. When we choose to recognise and empathise with the stories of others, we can build stronger, more compassionate relationships.


The role of language also plays an important part in how we frame our work and its value, as well as how it is interpreted by our audience. In an excellent article by Kathryn Waddington (2016)[3], one point she makes is to consider how conversational patterns in universities, and the words we choose to use (such as ‘the bottom line’ and ‘viability’), have an impact on creating and sustaining a toxic environment.


By choosing to reflect on the language we use, and to seek out the stories that are valued by our colleagues, we can make marginal gains in building more compassion into the relationships we have with others.


So where do we go from here?


If we were to take Frost at his word (see the quote at the top), then we might seek to invent new practices that bridge compassion and best practice for our universities. This is a noble aim and a positive direction to be travelling in.


However, if we were to think about what the smaller, more manageable steps could look like, then we might start with reflecting on our ikagi. We might also ask ourselves what our professional stories are, and then consider how we can discover the motivation and connect with the stories of the people we work with.


At the end of all of this, whether you take large leaps or small steps, the most powerful action we can begin with is to start by asking questions, such as where is your heart?


List of references

[1] Frost, P. (1999) Why Compassion Counts! Journal of Management Inquiry 8 (2) [127-133] http://www.thecompassionlab.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/frost1999.pdf

[2] Creede, C. (2014) Elevating generative identity stories as a practice of compassion. Chp 3 in Littlejohn, S. and McNamee, S. (Eds.) (2014) The Coordinated Management of Meaning: A Festschrift in Honor of W. Barnett Pearce. Lanham, Maryland, US: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. pp 77-94.

[3] Waddington, K. (2016) The compassion gap in UK universities. International Practice Development Journal 6 (1) [10]  https://www.fons.org/library/journal-ipdj-home