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Compassion: not just for friends and family

How we show we care in the workplace

Margaret and I worked well together. She was cordial and understanding whenever she called with a problem. We had polite chats, but never got into each other’s personal lives too much. About a year ago, I noticed a gradual change in Margaret’s demeanor. She became abrupt, impatient and defensive. I had to repeat instructions numerous times, which made me frustrated and angry. It became unpleasant to work with her; others at headquarters felt the same.

Then we heard through the grapevine that Margaret had been diagnosed with cancer and had been undergoing treatments. Between the stress of the illness and the treatments, her personality changed and her performance suffered. Since Margaret had been such a good employee for so long and needed the income and a sense of purpose, management decided to keep her on.

My attitude changed, and so did my co-workers’. We double-checked her work, and took extra time to walk her through new procedures.

A few months ago, Margaret died. I believe she taught us more about becoming a community than she realized. I now believe compassion should be more stressed in the workplace – how can I make sure this continues in our company?

The expert says: Gregory Pierce, former president of the National Center for the Laity, writes in his book, Spirituality @ Work, “In some cases, people’s situations are not obvious or are well hidden. While prying into the personal lives of colleagues is certainly not appropriate, an atmosphere where there is openness and understanding of personal problems is encouraged”.

What Pierce is reflecting here is what Linda learned the hard way. It’s easy to respond judgmentally when we don’t like someone’s attitude. However, as Christians, it is our responsibility to be more understanding. We shouldn’t automatically take offense; consider instead what this person may be dealing with.

It often takes prayer and practice to establish and sustain an understanding, positive attitude. To help in this endeavor, post the following passages on your tool box, computer, or in your organizer as daily reminders:

• For I was ill and you cared for me. (Matt 25:36)

• Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:28)

• Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. (Rom 12:17)

• Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matt 5:9)

• Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Tim 2:7)