Many studies have been made from the perspective of offering compassion; how the nurse, or volunteer, or professional communicates comfort and consolation. What hasn’t had as much attention, though it’s a vital part of the social justice equation, is perspective of the receiver.
“If this is a two-way street,” says Timothy Huffman, assistant professor of communication studies at Loyola Marymount University, “why is it that we almost always study this from the perspective of the giver, and not the receiver?”
Huffman recently hosted a webinar attended by about 100 people, to offer the insights from his scholarship into the receiving end of compassion as part of a forum by the organization Fostering Success in Michigan. The event was held through Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and was focused on reaching people who work with foster youth with the aim of addressing the educational and professional inequities for youths in the foster system.”
“These kids leave the relatively protective system with little or no resources,” Huffman says. “We can and need to serve them better.”
Huffman, who also studies organizational communication, has coined a method he calls “Embodied Aboutness” – essentially, where the giver is mindful that every word, act and gesture should be about and focused on the receiver – as way for meaningful communication to occur.
During the webinar, he also spoke about some of the pitfalls that compassion givers often fall into, which he categorizes as: Presence – a receiver might interpret an imposing presence as intimidating and it might conjure past hurts; Recognizing – where a giver sees a need the receiver doesn’t acknowledge; Relating – where the giver connects to negative side of the receiver’s circumstances; and Re(act) – where the giver’s responses are ineffective in the situation.
Huffman believes that trying to help someone and actually helping them are two different things. Just because we want to help doesn’t mean we know how, he says, so connect with people, mutually identify needs, and move together toward solutions. The first part of that process is asking.
“I believe in the power of asking,” Huffman says.