Compassion: A Dirty Word

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    Language evolves, sometimes in unanticipated directions. The word "compassion", once used in a positive manner, now seems to be used mainly in bemoaning it's lack.

    I’m beginning to feel as though the word “compassion” is a dirty word. Maybe it’s the way people use it these days. It doesn’t seem to be about an actual feeling of empathy toward a patient, family member or even a colleague. It seems to be more about “ME ME ME.” The word is used more as a bludgeon to impugn someone’s character, motives or behavior than as a descriptor. It’s used to induce -- or to attempt to induce -- feelings of guilt rather than to praise or validate.

    “I’m pregnant and I don’t think I should have to bend, lift, take isolation patients or work twelve hour shifts. My co-workers aren’t helping me at all. Where is the compassion?” (Perhaps the co-workers are tired of being dumped on, of doing all the bending, lifting, taking isolation patients and doing 12 hour shifts while Princess is languishing at the nurses’s station complaining about her nausea and regaling all with tales of her latest OB visit.)

    “A mistake was made and a patient didn’t die, but they’re firing me anyway and I can’t get unemployment. Why no compassion for me?” (Of course *I* didn’t MAKE the mistake -- it just happened. Or if I did make it, it was because the charge nurse was mean to me, my Granny is in the hospital, I didn’t get much sleep because the neighbors were so noisy and no one taught me how to give meds anyway. Just a wild guess, but no compassion for you because you’re so busy feeling sorry for yourself that you’re not taking personal responsibility for MAKING the mistake in the first place, and you don’t seem to grasp the potential ramifications of the mistake.)

    “The nurse wouldn’t give me extra water after that doctor made me NPO, find a charger for my cell phone or a bed for my girlfriend to spend the night with me. She/he was polite and professional and all, but she/he wouldn’t put out the warm fuzzies and the pillow fluffing. That nurse has no compassion!” (This usually comes after the patient in question has verbally and/or physically abused the nurse and questioned his/her parentage and sexual proclivities. Nurses, being human and all, aren’t usually inclined to go above and beyond for people who aren’t nice to them.)

    “You are all MEAN! You’re just jealous because I’m so much younger, smarter, better educated and more beautiful than you. It’s true that nurses eat their young. And I thought nurses were supposed to be compassionate!” (Is it really “eating your young” if the “young” is so obnoxious, entitled, lacking in basic social graces and self-centered they cannot interact as adults and professionals with the adults and professionals around them? Trust me, Honey, if you were nicer to those old, fat, dumb, uneducated and ugly nurses who work at the same place you do, you might not have cause to complain about they way they treat you. Not that that would stop you from complaining anyway . . . . .)

    “It has always been my dream to be an ER nurse, but you people are all scaring me! I never want to be as jaded and cynical as you! You should all quit and find another career because you have no compassion!” (Yes, it is my mission in life to avoid scaring anyone reading a vent thread and I’ll hop right on that change of career thing -- as soon as the mortgage is paid, the bills go away and I have time and money to go back to school to learn to be something that requires no compassion!)

    It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone use the word “compassion” in a positive way. It’s getting so I cringe when I see the word in type or hear it -- usually in a complaint because someone didn’t get everything they wanted or felt entitled to.
    Last edit by Joe V on May 3, '11 : Reason: formatting for easier reading
    talaxandra, blueheaven, TDub, and 19 others like this.

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    About Ruby Vee

    Ruby Vee cringes when she hears the word "compassion" these days. Maybe she's just old and cranky, but maybe she has a point.

    Ruby Vee has '38' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'ICU/CCU'. From 'the Midwest'; Joined Jun '02; Posts: 8,615; Likes: 31,143.

    Read more articles from Ruby Vee

    45 Comments so far...

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    Ha, Ruby is back.
    As much as I sometimes disagree with you, I always enjoy your postings and believe you are an excellent writer. Always good to have a backup career-JK
    NurseLoveJoy88 likes this.
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    After reading this I had to look up the word. We use it frequently and I found the definition interesting.

    a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

    I was educated to avoid sympathy and replace with empathy. Yes, I do have a strong desire to alleviate suffering. Many times there seems to be a feeling of entitlement for removal of feelings rather than seeking help to alleviate misfortune. Feelings cannot be sucked out of another person at will by someone who is suffering. One cannot add water and find a strong desire in another to alleviate misfortune. It requires some level of cooperative communication. That is far different than to abuse and then try to guilt another into feelings of compassion.

    Too often we fail to identify abusive communications until they set us on a path of seeminly to be less comapssionate. Until we can verbally identify abuse and get backing to stop it we will be subject to the criticism of not being compassionate.
    NRSKarenRN and mskate like this.
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    It is no wonder that we seem to no longer understand the concept of compassion in the USA when we also have bastardized the concepts of liberalism, greed, and ethics...

    ...but maybe that is the topic of a separate thread.
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    Hear, hear!!! I can't say how tired I am of the "bambi and butterflies and happy dolphin music" stereotype of "compassionate nursing". I disagree with the definition of compassion as sympathy ... I'd use the word empathy.

    Real compassion comes from a deep understanding of "there but for the grace of God go I". Striving for compassion while at the same time keeping proper boundaries is one of the greatest challenges of nursing. It's not accomplished overnight.

    Then, there's the sheer arrogance of anyone presuming to dictate how I'm allowed to feel.
    MikeRNWI, AmericanRN, tewdles, and 1 other like this.
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    Bambi , butterflies , and happy dolphin music?????!!!!! I just laughed 'til I cried! I agree....eeeeuuuuuuwwwwwhhhhh!
    AmericanRN likes this.
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    Awesome! Compassion: sympathetic appreciation for the suffering of another coupled with a desire to alleviate it. As in, I may desire to alleviate your thirst when you are NPO, but it is my duty to keep you safe. My understanding of your thirst and desire to alleviate it makes me compassionate; the fact that I don't indulge that desire and do the right thing makes me a competent professional nurse. In between, there is education, sympathy, and maybe a glycerine swab....
    talaxandra, DSkelton711, gonzo1, and 2 others like this.
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    on nurses that eat their young and compassion; a friend came up with this reasoning: it is probably the nurses who are in nursing for the wrong reasons that may guilty of a percentage of the problems along with as "jealousy" and "stress." it is all interference to best outcomes. our responsibility is not to reason why but to be resourceful.
    the ethical commitment one must make guides us to work with compassion, to give a new nurse or an established nurse every benefit of his or her experience and assist his/her coworkers in order to help the hospital’s clients. however we all work with human beings, individuals that are evolving at diverse rates and possess unique talents. what does one do?

    when working alongside those who act in a manner inconsistent with one's view of compassion, one is triggered to grow. my suggestion; learn to handle the guilty with grace so to develop desirable qualities such as “patience, tolerance, and acceptance." in private, journal with dates. journaling is a tool that helps me carry on during complicated, challenging events. each one of us must understand that it is better to nurture self and embrace a lesson from whatever or whoever irritates or interferes. once centered, find a couple of qualities that makes the guilty valuable and worthy of your respect. build on that. i remember grace i have been given and pay it forward.
    Last edit by bleverett on May 4, '11
    gonzo1 and No Stars In My Eyes like this.
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    An interesting viewpoint. I agree that I do enjoy your posts though I do not always agree with what you say. This is one of those times. I recently was witness to a cold firing of a secretary on "Administrative Professionals" day of all things. She was probably expecting a luncheon or gift and instead was fired.

    No, I don't think there is much compassion in the world today no matter how you define it. These people who ask for compassion are hurting, for whatever reason, and are asking for support. It is difficult to always be there and be supportive for everyone. Especially when we feel they are taking advantage or are undeserving. I strive to hold my tongue and to give support no matter what I feel. It is not always easy. I am tired and stretched too thin and abused by those who feel they are superior to me, a lowly nurse. But I really try. I never know when my turn will come and I will want for compassion. "There, but for the grace of God, go I".
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    You are right on many levels. It takes an open mind, tolerance and a non-judgmental attitude to be compassionate. Nurses are not in the workplace or at home (since our profession is 24-7) to change people. We are there to gently lead by knowing. By that I certainly don't say that nurses know everything, but we can lead folks to more information or to help come to conclusions on their own. It is a different methodology than the medical model. It is holistic, mind, body, spirit. That being said, we have to meet people on their own terms at the place they are at that particular moment. Many times we have to remind people of that. We have to get patients, family and friends through the crises and once that occurs we can delve more deeply into the cause and effect of things that occur that cause people to need our assistance. That same methodology can be used to precept. Empathize with new nurses, because we were there once too. I think we tend to forget that. Old people get old because they feel there is nothing left to learn. I think a mind-set of life long learning keeps you young. New nurses have new things to show the older nurses. We have to keep an open mind and give younger nurses credit for helping us learn new things. Believe me they can. They can learn things from us too.
    Zaphod, Oldest&Ugliest, bleverett, and 1 other like this.


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