Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Intelligent Compassion

Students enroll in seminary for many reasons.  One that I hear from time to time is, “I want to make a difference in the world.”  This does not always mean working in a church or doing traditional ministry.  Central Seminary, the institution with which I am associated, recognizes a responsibility to form Christian ministers who can serve in both traditional and non-traditional settings.

I am part of a seminary team that is learning more about human-centered design (or design thinking) as a problem-solving or creative process.  As one of our exercises, we are addressing the question, “How might we enable more seminary students to become social entrepreneurs?”

As part of our research we are interviewing past and present seminary students as well as people who might be described as social entrepreneurs.  In an interview this week, one of our current students expressed appreciation for being exposed to social entrepreneurs who exhibit “intelligent compassion.”

The phrase caught my attention, and we spent a little time unpacking it.  By intelligent compassion, the student meant people who not only show empathy for the needs of others but the ability to be proactive in creating change. 

For example, in her seminary program, she had the opportunity to talk with the leader of an organization that helps men and women to overcome obstacles caused by poverty through providing education, mentoring, and resources. Services include helping individuals with high school equivalency training, English as a Second Language education, and interviewing skills.  This community organization not only recognizes the problem but has found a way to effectively address it.

This approach is the difference between mopping up water off the floor and finding a way to stop the source of the water. Compassion is an important motivating factor, but what will you do with your compassion?  Acting on one’s compassion in a constructive way makes an effective social entrepreneur.

Whether a person is addressing organizational change within a congregation, providing the means for individuals to move beyond poverty, or challenging structures that harm the marginalized, compassion must be united with effective action.

The idea of intelligent compassion was a significant insight.  I am sure we will discover others as we continue our interviews.

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