On compassion leakage

Compassion leakage: The dilution of compassion as issues are passed up the system.

At the community level, passion is strong and the feelings raw and real. Front-line staff from government, NGOs and organisations are frequently moved by what they hear and see. They take this feeling back to the office but struggle to translate the felt reality to those higher up.

Personal stories get noted as meeting minutes. The minutes might be attached to an email. The email becomes a bullet-point in a report. The bullet-point is missing from a briefing paper. At each step the emotion connected to your story, your world and your life dissipates. From the meeting to the briefing, compassion is leaked and your story is lost in transmission. Systems reduce humanity to numbers. We call this compassion leakage.

A good story can be powerful, but you will need more than a good story to change a decision or achieve the action you are after. Try building a larger picture with numbers and evidence.  The residents of Broadmoor, a quiet neighbourhood in New Orleans, took this approach.

Imagine your home was inundated with water after Hurricane Katrina. The water receded and you were living in the undamaged upper floor of your home. You were wedded to staying in your community where your children go to school amongst your support networks. Your home held memories. Not only was it your past, you saw it as your future. You had already invested in repairing your damaged home. One morning, over breakfast, you read an article in the paper. It announced post-disaster plans that will see your neighbourhood cleared of housing and turned into parkland. You were stunned.

The community was galvanised into action to prove that Broadmoor was a viable place to live—that it should not be slated. The community sought help and it came in the form of Harvard University. Students and faculty volunteered their spring break to work with a core group of residents. Most of the residents had never met before, and none had previously worked on a redevelopment plan. They collected data such as how many were affected and where, costs, risks, demographic trends, school population details, and so on that built a strong case. They won their right to continue calling Broadmoor home.


·       Ask yourself, “Am I doing all I can to help others get my reality using the language the bureaucracy understands?”

·       Research your issue. Don’t underestimate the power of seeking and collecting data, researching what has happened elsewhere and calling on the goodwill of experts.

·       Get to know government officials. A meeting is better than a phone call. A phone call is better than an e-mail. But an e-mail is better than nothing.

·       Find others with similar challenges and work together.

·       Thank those working in government, NGOs and organisations who are doing the best they can and who show empathy, understanding and compassion.


©McNaughton & Wills Ltd 2019

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