Idiot compassion

Try to think about the big picture. Being nice is important but practicing wise compassion is better.

It’s human nature to want to avoid conflict and be liked by others. But can one be too nice?

There’s an idea called “idiot compassion”; in an attempt to relieve the suffering of others, one can make things worse in the long run. Think of giving a child a sweet every time they want a sweet.  It can be justified (The poor child saw another child with a cupcake, I’ll feed him salad for dinner, It HAS been 2 hours since lunch) but will there be a good long-term outcome? The opposite of idiot compassion is wise compassion which means caring about the person or the situation enough to take actions that may feel bad now but help the bigger picture. An example of this is telling the truth when it would be easier to fib.

The key is in the big picture. If a colleague is sick or having a bad day, it’s OK to graciously help them finish a project. But if that colleague habitually runs late on projects and should have been done, they need feedback. And not giving that feedback suggests the help was given for personal gain or gratification rather than compassion. With 360 Reviews and peer feedback affecting performance ratings, it’s not surprising that idiot compassion can thrive in some organizations. Try to think about the big picture. Being nice is important but practising wise compassion is better.


Are you considering the big picture when you decide to “be nice”?  Does this answer change when you’re at home versus when you are at work?

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