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Compassion is an emotional response to the struggles of others combined with a real, authentic desire to help lessen their suffering. Compassion is something we can extend to others, and to ourselves. Compassion can also be shared on an individual, group, and community level. Interestingly, a community that promotes, and practices compassion is often a more resilient community.

In this blog post, we discuss the importance of compassion, and how compassionate communities can be created and maintained.

Why does compassion matter?

Compassion is a natural, human experience that is wired into our brains and biology. It is an important value in many world religions, including Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity (CMHA 2024). Compassion is more than having empathy, it is the combination of having empathy with an altruistic desire to help.

Compassion matters because of its positive impacts on individuals, groups, and broader communities. On an individual level, acting compassionately and trying to relieve the suffering of others can provide the same positive feelings that we get from pleasure (CMHA 2024). When individuals engage in self-compassion, it can help to reduce feelings of depression, isolation, and loneliness. It can also help them to cope with difficult experiences and emotions (Maricic et al. 2023).

For groups of people, such as neighbourhoods, schools, and workplaces, compassion allows us to develop positive and trusting relationships. A genuine act of compassion is altruistic, which means that it is not done for strategic or selfish reasons. When a coworker is struggling and receives compassionate support, it helps them to feel seen, worthy, and like they belong. A workplace that embraces compassionate leadership is more likely to have positive employee job satisfaction, as well as more loyalty, trust and retention of staff within the organization  (Trzeciak et al. 2023).

Research on community resilience after a natural disaster also highlights the importance of compassion. Researcher and author Jamil Zaki (2020) uses the term “catastrophe compassion” to describe the way that humans engage in mutual aid, and feel  a sense of solidarity with one another in the face of negative circumstances. You may have experienced catastrophe compassion during the Covid-19 pandemic, as many informal networks and groups were created to share resources and offer a sense of provide connection in safe ways. In this way, communities that practice and promote compassion are also resilient communities, as neighbours and acquaintances look out for one another and provide support when challenges arise.

How can we create and maintain a compassionate community?

Compassionate communities are those where the suffering of others is not only recognized, but is alleviated through formal and informal supports. Creating and maintaining a compassionate community is everyone’s the responsibility, including politicians, community leaders, businesses, and citizens.

Developing and promoting compassion involves work on an individual and community basis; below are a few things that communities and individuals can do to help foster a culture of compassion.

Encourage Volunteering

Encouraging community members to volunteer is one way to help foster a culture of compassion. Volunteering can help to connect people through shared interests and can encourage exposure to new people and ideas. It is important for volunteering to be accessible to different people by creating various volunteer roles and projects. Some people may be able to dedicate time regularly, while others want to help out with a specific project. Ultimately, volunteering can promote a compassionate community by encouraging cooperation and allowing individuals to feel more ownership over community projects.

Read Widely

Fostering a compassionate society often means challenging unkind and harmful assumptions, stereotypes, and ideas. One way to do so is to encourage reading, and more specifically, to encourage reading widely. Reading widely is the practice of reading different kinds of works; this can be books by different authors, on different subjects, and in different genres. This helps us to be exposed to different perspectives that may increase our understanding of other lived experiences. When we learn through various perspectives and show understanding, we can be more compassionate to someone else’s pain and suffering, even if it is something we haven’t experienced ourselves.

Stay Curious

Another way to help challenge unkind and harmful assumptions, stereotypes and ideas is to encourage curiosity as a core value of the community. Curiosity involves exploration, investigation, and humility, as curiosity requires some acceptance that we may not know everything. When we are curious, we are less likely to be judgmental and more likely to be able to see the “greys” beyond the “black” and “white” of a situation, helping us to extend compassion to those who are different.

Practice Gratitude & Generosity

The last way that communities can promote compassion is to also foster a culture of gratitude and generosity. Gratitude and generosity are often connected; when we are grateful for the things we have, we may be less likely to adopt a scarcity mindset. A scarcity mindset can discourage compassion by making people feel as though they don’t have anything to give (e.g. time, money, resources) and/or that they need to protect what they do have before it is gone (whether taken, destroyed, or used). We often think that to be generous means being financially generous, but we can also be generous with our time, effort, and knowledge.

Final Thoughts

Many individuals are struggling deeply for a wide variety of reasons. When we foster a compassionate community that recognizes and responds to challenges and suffering, we are also creating a resilient community. To learn more about developing compassion, check out the resources below.

Citations and Resources for Further Learning

Canadian Association for Mental Health: Mental Health Week – CMHA National

Maricic, J. et al. (2023). The Role of Self-Compassion and Attributions in the Mental Health of Older Adolescents amid the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Trzeciak, S. et al. (2023). Leading with Compassion Has Researched-Backed Benefits. Harvard Business Review. Leading with Compassion Has Research-Backed Benefits (

Zaki J. Catastrophe Compassion: Understanding and Extending Prosociality Under Crisis. Trends Cogn Sci. 2020 Aug;24(8):587-589. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2020.05.006. Epub 2020 May 14. PMID: 32410822; PMCID: PMC7221394.


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