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  • Writer's pictureWaldemar Lewin

For "real men" only: Become a Masculine Compassion Activist

PART ONE: Introduction & First Step Comment: This blog uses generalizations and humor when it comes to some of my comments about gender specific behavior and attitudes to make the reading more joyful. The message behind is truly serious.

Why should you read this blog?

As all human beings, men have the following three needs:

  1. The Psychological Need to Avoid Pain (Minimize suffering, while searching for joy) 💊

  2. The Fundamental Need for Social Connection (Build and sustain relationships) 👩🏼‍🤝‍👨🏽

  3. The Human Need for Contribution (To improve the life of others) 💁🏼‍♂️

The idea around human needs is, that we all share them and that we strive to fulfill them in order to be happy and fulfilled.

So, we want to live a pain free life, surrounded by people who care for us and who we care for. If you ask me, it looks like that it could be pretty important to find good ways to deal with all sorts of events that bring pain or suffering in our life! And since we are deeply connected to the people around us and want to contribute to their joy, we better also think about how to help them with their pain.

So how do you deal with situations when you or people, animals, nature around you feel bad and suffer? When "negative" emotions like sadness, anger or anxiety arise? Or when you feel not good enough? When somebody asks you for help? To phrase it in a more masculine way: What is your anti-suffering strategy? How and when do you help yourself and others? If you are not totally happy with your actual strategy, or do not have a strategy at all, read on. I will share how practicing compassion can serve all of us. 💁

My hope is that this blog inspires you to strengthen all your different relational roles by actively acting to solve problems, like:

  • Yourself: self-doubt, uncertainty, anxiety, stress, anger, ... 🕺🏼

  • Husband and Lover: jealousy, grief, illness, job related problems... 👩‍❤️‍👨👨‍❤️‍👨

  • Father: fear, illness, learning problems, broken hearts 👼🏻

  • Brother & Friend: relationship-, family- and job- problems, illness, conflicts, ... 🙍🏼‍♂️

  • Son: problems of getting older, health issues, IT problems (joke) 🧍‍♂️

  • Leader: discrimination, burn outs, job loss, uncertainty, mobbing, ... 👨🏼‍💼

  • Colleague: lows and failures, conflicts, dissatisfaction, ... 🙌🏻

  • Earth-Citizen: war, Climate change, environmental pollution, species extinction, .. 🌏

  • ...

Why do I write this blog?

In my blog around Masculine Compassion I express my personal belief that the world needs more compassion performed by men. So it is mainly directed to us -men-. 💪🏻

I think it's time to impress each other with our compassion capacity instead of the price tag on our cars 🚗 or our coolness 😎. Compassion has the power to create sustainable, more joyful (and less painful), relationships with ourselves and all other people (as well as nature) around us. So maybe it is time for us to be brave and become a #masculinecompassionactivist?! 👊


Let's start with the basics: What does compassion mean?

Compassion -in a nutshell- describes the ability to feel that sb. is suffering and to take counteractions on that. This sb. can be yourself (Self-Compassion) or any other being (Compassion).

Compassion can be described as letting ourselves be touched by the vulnerability and suffering that is within ourselves and all beings. The full flowering of compassion also includes action: Not only do we attune to the presence of suffering, we respond to it. - Tara Brach

Small side fact for your next "smart-guy-moment": The difference between empathy and compassion is the action part of compassion. Empathy is when you feel sad because you had to let an employee go. Compassion is when you help him in finding a new job. Or as Jeff Weiner (former CEO of LinkedIn) says:

Compassion is Empathy plus Action -Jeff Weiner

Examples: Therefore compassion is something we need to do, an action. It can be as small as helping an elderly person to carry home his groceries (If we see he struggles with that and wants us to help) or something bigger like supporting refugee kids with free tutoring or sport trainings on the weekend. At work we could have a look who struggles with overwork and help him to get it done, to do better time management or to speak up in the next team meeting when all work finds its way to him. As a leader, we can find ways (home office, variable working hours, some days of) to help our employees to combine work with their private obligations (like home schooling, or taking care for parents / grandparents).


What does compassion not mean? ✋

Acting compassionately can easily be confused with other actions. I designed the following little infographic to give you a first snapshot of related but different concepts.

Some main differences:

a) Your level of engagement: Pity = "I acknowledge your suffering, but that's it" Spoiling = "I do all your work for you" b) The existence of a real problem / suffering: Pleasing and Spoiling can be even done or continued, when there is no (more) suffering from the other person.

b) Your emotional attachment Only when you do empathy you are emotionally attached to the other persons emotion (Which may be painful to yourself). That means, that you feel your own version of the pain you see in the other person. When you do compassion, you are detached from the negative emotion and focussed on helping, which triggers a positive emotion (and hormones like oxytocin) in you. I will share more of that fascinating difference in another post. If you want to learn more yourself, Dr. Tania Singer is the expert on this field.


Why do especially we -men- need to learn more about and do more compassion?

You could think it is one of this old generalizations that men have less social or people skills than women. And according to some actual research, which are well summarized by Dr. Shawn Andrews in one of her Forbes Magazine articles, you are right: Men and Women score pretty equal on EQ (Emotional Intelligence) tests. Your EQ is pretty much the sum of your people skills. It contains all social and emotional skills. While the overall score is pretty equal between women and men there are significant differences in the sub-scores, like Dr. Shawn Andrews outlines:

Women tend to score higher than men in areas of empathy, interpersonal relationships and social responsibility. Men tend to score higher than women in areas of assertiveness, stress tolerance and self-regard (or confidence). - Dr. Shawn Andrews

Since empathy is a necessary premise to practice compassion (as I explained earlier) women seem to be some steps ahead of us -men-. In fact the difference between women and men in the area of empathy is as high as 25% (40 vs. 50 Points. Max = 80), according to a study from Cambridge University in Great Britain with more than 40.000 participants.

Since social responsibility obviously also plays a role in compassion it is hard to deny that we -men- have a bit of work to do to catch up. A pretty catchy proof for that can be also found in a performance evaluation in the US military from 2018, where 80.000 employees were asked to name the most positive and negative skills from their leaders. While Compassion was the #1 skill describing women, it does not show up in any significant amount to describe men leadership skills.

So let's face it. Women are "performing" better in empathy and compassion than we are, yet ;) 🦹🏽‍♂️


Why do we -men- perform less compassion?

At a young age, boys learn that to express compassion or empathy is to show weakness. They hear confusing messages that force them to repress their emotions, establish hierarchies, and constantly prove their masculinity ... whether boys and later men have chosen to resist or conform to this masculine norm, there is loneliness, anxiety, and pain” - Jennifer Siebel Newsom

There are three major theories for the difference in this pro-social behavior:

  1. Genetical Differences

  2. Socializing (Social Construction / Post-Natal Learning)

  3. Biological (Different levels of hormones like oxytocin or testosterone)

While I could not find research that find proofs for significant genetical reasons, most experts (like Dr. Shawn) see a mixture of socializing and different levels of hormones as most likely. But the main tendency is, that socializing plays the biggest role. Most of us -boys- we socialized to be confident, decisive and competitive. We were taught that winning is important and that boys do not cry. Girls on the other hand were socialized to be nurturing, empathic and to care about others. Since some of us were maybe socialized differently, that would also explain why men are on average performing lower than women on empathy tests, but why some men are performing better than women already (YESS!!).

That means we can "fight" our way back to compassion guys. 🏃 It is something we can learn, not something which the universe missed to "install" in our character or brains. An until we are there, we can of course blame our parents and society for our shortcoming. 😉


Summary: Surprise, Surprise: Compassion is not "Girls-Stuff" but a powerful tool to solve a lot of problems

Ok now we know what compassion means. And I hope we all got the point that compassion is not "girls-stuff" but maybe one of the most underrated skills. It helps to build a healthier and more enjoyable relationship to ourselves and people around us and to fulfill our human needs. But it looks like we -men- could do better on it (and have no natural excuse that stops us). So what about giving it a try?!


Call for Action: Our first step as #masculinecompassionactivists

Since learning comes best with doing (if you ask me) I thought about a first little action for all of us. It is pretty easy and a preparation to catch up on empathy with the girls later on. But before we dive into emotions we start with something we are good at already, cognitive awareness.

Mission #1: For the next three days be aware of people (or other beings) in your life and think about what problems they may have. Make a little list with what you think was / is their problem. (e.g. the elderly women from next door is maybe afraid to go shopping due to COVID-19, Paul is probably suffering because Ina broke up with him, my grandfather may feel alone at the moment, my boss was quite pushy as maybe he is under high pressure at the moment). Write down at least 5 persons and your interpretation of their actual problems.


In Part 2 of my blog series I will talk about Emotional Intelligence and emotions. Later on, I will write about empathy, self-compassion, practicing compassion towards others, Yoga, meditation, breathwork, and how to apply compassion in (digital-) leadership.

If you have any questions, comments or wishes, please leave a comment below. 🧞‍♂️

Waldi, aka your #masculinecompassionactivist 🦸🏽

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