This post is co-authored by Dianne Timmering
“Compassion in the Workplace” session on November 16, 2012, a dream from the Festival of Faiths in Downtown Louisville, KY
Our move back to Louisville two years ago seemed perfectly timed with a city-wide charge to create and launch a “lifelong wellness and aging” movement that we could play a major role in. At the same time, the expanding Festival of Faiths International conference was growing and the launching of the compassionate city charter by our new mayor that we were blessed to sign-on early, made it a divine exodus from south Florida seem like a dream come true.
Last week, as Dianne and I sat in a packed room with standing room only, we are surrounded by business leaders, top researchers, spiritual leaders, and just really engaged people getting ready to dig into a panel discussion on “compassion in the workplace” and hear about our spirituality model and other models which link the spiritual and compassion to human well-being. Dr. James Doty, a Standford neuro-surgeon, and leader in altruism and compassion, started off our panel with the thought on what is compassion, what is non-compassion where one feels no part of anything. Does the lack of compassion in the workplace lead to bad stress and issues with productivity? And what is the cost of bad stress in biased decision making, weakened performance?
There were more deserving leaders than Dianne and me, like Paul Thompson with Bridgeman Foods, Tori Murden McClure, the famed president of Spalding University, and Phil Marshall, CEO and president of Hosparus, the panel sponsor.
But here are the takeaways, we really want to dig into –
People are starting to notice Louisville and the Compassionate City charter – this can be a framework and healing ideology to unify our divided culture and heritage in the same way Merton’s epiphany manifested; a rebirth and transcendence a foot in the stream of our city’s people.
Conference attendees came from everywhere in the U.S. included several delegations from Canada to experience this event. And so is the Dali Lama next May coming to our fair town to embrace this soulful city, to expand this compassionate city charter and contemplative partnership so the vision that Thomas Merton delivered in Bangkok the day he died (December 10th, 1968) visualizing an east-west spiritual balance between western self-directed personal empowerment and eastern selfless reflection can merge to capture what are both mankind’s greatest attributes.
Remember, I did not like the previous workplace environment that I worked in very much either but we may be at the end of the western highly directive command center business model that gave corporate a bad name in the workplace anyway. This will be the next industry leadership cycle requiring embracing the concept of shared leadership, collaborative external partnerships, real transparency, embracing servant leadership where we all must know the work . . . So . . . why not try being a compassionate workplace by being an early adopter if it’s going to happen.
Is compassion rooted in ancient religion? All compassion really means is that to be human is to embrace suffering–knowing it is an intersection to fellow man. If we share and reflect upon it, that everyone’s journey is equal in divine purpose, then we can drive toward the attempt at being present while possessing a non-judgmental awareness. God knows in me, that to feel deep personal suffering made me embrace forgiveness as the only way to heal and stay close to God. And knowing that we were on a parallel track of convergence with everyone in this room make us just feel more connected.
During the panel we learned a ton. One key learning jewel: Dr. Doty made an important point about the compassionate workplace state of mind . . . we must be totally self-aware, if there is a problem that you as a leader are the reason it exists, the critical party that must accept fault for it not being in optimal state, only then can you can help lead the real solution and create the condition around you so everyone owns the collective win . . . something we need to continue to embrace.
Then the magic happens . . . the science of Happiness occurs–your stakeholders have freedom from fear, a new sense of control, relationships with building trust, and they can contribute to something bigger than you and them for the opportunity of transcendence and purpose because you have given them the compassion to be.
Prior to COVID, I think we all felt like we spent more time with work, work partners and peers than our own families. Was it good or bad? For me, I worked with some of the most talented people in the country, so I loved it. And obviously I love my family too! I had the blessing to work with a friend, brother, Savant, Mensa member, and so much more for nearly a decade and a half – Stephen Stocksdale. To say he was talented with an amazing range is honestly a great understatement in a world full of the opposite. Stephen did so much intellectually, professionally, and personally that for the first three years of working with him, I assumed it “all could not be true”. But time and time again I learned the opposite was true. He served our mission-based organization in every role (field leader, controller, administrator, VP, strategy, consultant, start-ups, etc.) and whatever else we asked of him. Despite having more professional success himself, he just wanted to help us grow in all ways.
One day 5 ½ years ago, Stephen was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we grieved with him as you would expect. But he was a determined guy and decided to not just learn all he could about cancer, but to master it. He decided there had to be a path he could carve out for himself that no doctor had considered, or he would locate new research that would help him beat it. With a scientific mind and unparalleled IQ, he found a clinical trial he was approved to get in. This trial’s treatment regimen was so potent, and Stephen was the only one that survived. He learned about transfusions, blood structures, and cancer interventions. Cancer kicked his ass often, but he always beat it back up and won again!
We cheered, prayed, and cried often over the past years, but learned three great lessons from Stephen that we all cherish today:
- “Be a Lifelong Learner” because we can always master new things and age is just a number, but lifelong learners never get old. Stephen mastered EMT services, police work, cancer research, hospital administration, heart transplant programs, high level statistical methods, travel, long term care, teaching, and many other degrees, certifications, and accomplishments over 65 years, so let’s all keep Learning and keep growing!
- “Never Give Up” because we grow everyone around us in our struggles and sufferings in ways that impact everyone around us and Stephen knew that and wanted us to get stronger, be more grateful and relearn presence, which we all did! When he came back home, he rarely missed a day at the office and taught all of us new things daily up until the moment he passed last week.
- “GOD IS SO REAL” Stephen had historical expertise on religions, studied theological premises, and had a metaphysical outlook, but in this battle, he felt like he met the Lord and had to share it with all of us. He knew he beat something that is nearly unbeatable, and he wanted time to share his story, his walk, and his private time with the Lord. He watched prayer groups with people he barely knew praying 24/7 that he receives a miracle, and he did receive one that he could share with all of us.
Our organization is going through a very painful time as a mid-size nursing home organization that has stakeholders who worked under unbelievable stress and pressure for so long and had to endure seeing some of our residents pass away. We have lost half of our team, and we are still trying to rebuild stronger and better. I think after serving through the pandemic for 2 ½ years and struggling with how to bring it all back together in this changing workplace and overworked healthcare system, and after suffering so much pulsating unknowns for so long, it was Stephen who gave us the best reason to not look back. He taught us to enjoy the struggle as something that can deepen us all and stay prayerful that God is with us during times like these. We need to rebuild and have new passion as learners, which Stephen demonstrated everyday making our lift just a little easier. And lastly, when you beat cancer four times and die from something else, how could we ever give up? It’s time for us to just “STOCKSDALE IT” and grow by learning, fighting harder and believing in our purpose!
Stephen’s office will remain untouched for now because when he left work on Monday with his ambitious assignments on his wall, we never knew we would not see him again. However, we can certainly feel his presence and we are all better people for his amazing lessons that he taught us until his last hour!