Years ago there was a show on the PBS called The Operation which profiled a specialized surgery. Each episode told the story of a surgeon and patient and there was always real footage of an actual operation!  (This real-life documentary series was a precursor to what we now call reality TV).   


One episode I vividly recall focused on a middle-aged man who needed open heart surgery and on the surgeon who would perform it. Their stories were told through their own narration as well as video footage of cameras that followed them around for the weeks proceeding the operation. One of the scenes I will never forget was when the surgeon went to dinner at the patient’s home. The surgeon, patient, and family chatted around the dinner table getting to know each other better – and it looked like any other gathering of family and friends as they spent time with each other. Afterward, an interviewer of the show asked the surgeon, “why would you take the time to experience family life with this man?” The surgeon answered, “I believe caring about the outcome of the surgery in human terms gives my excellent technical skills an added advantage. I want my patients to matter to me more than just a successful operation”. I remember feeling how powerful that statement was.  

Caring can actually improve our performance.

Likewise, I believe compassion is an essential component in successfully addressing conflict  Why?  Because the energy of conflict naturally feels divisive and it fractures our connection with others. Which generates the competitive energy of ‘us vs them’ and ensures conflict grows. Compassion allows for us to be aware of and care about the frustrations, stress, pain, and needs of others as well as our own. This motivates collaborative energy to generate inclusive, meaningful, and SUSTAINABLE solutions to our problems.


For most of us, the stakes may not feel quite as tangible as open-heart surgery but I believe the success and failure of how we deal with our conflicts operate in exactly the same way. Caring about others will always feel vulnerable. Even more so when we are in conflict with them. And yet this is the exact energy needed to break through the reactive, often destructive energy that necessitates having a winner and loser. Whether we can see it or not, we are all in this together.


Even though it may feel counterintuitive, compassion will always give us an advantage to generate higher quality outcomes in difficulty, uncertainty, and conflict. It requires us to trust more not only in our ability but also in our caring.

PS- The heart surgery in this episode went exceedingly well!

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