The darker the night, the brighter the stars.
For centuries, people have taken comfort and joy as they gazed at the night sky and were able to recognize clusters of stars known as constellations. Prior to the invention of global positioning devices, people actually relied on constellations in the night sky as a celestial navigation system.
In this article we suggest that there are constellations of compassion that can provide direction, clarity and comfort for ill children and their families as they navigate through a serious illness or pediatric hospitalization. Compassion is being able to sense, feel, and act to alleviate another's suffering. Compassion is an innate quality we all possess. When we see individual constellations such as the North Star, the Big Dipper, Orion's belt, or Sirius, the dog, we experience micro-moments of joy, the sense of seeing an old friend, something comforting and familiar. We want you to think about constellations of compassion as an opportunity for healing. Once your eyes have been trained to recognize constellations, it becomes easier to pick them out of the swirling mass of glittering stars punctuating the night sky. In the same way, when patients and families learn how to recognize and use compassion, it serves as a global positioning system that can help you feel less isolated by coming closer to the effervescence and healing force of other people.
So here's the invitation: look up. Look out.
Once you start looking for constellations of compassion you will notice patterns of compassion everywhere. The best thing is that these shared micro-moments of compassion just take a moment to give or receive. Sometimes you are going to be the constellation or shining light for others. Simply by sharing a smile or a kind word you can become the North Star to someone who feels anchorless.
Other times, you will recognize patterns of compassion in others and this will brighten your spirits. For example, a woman who holds open a hospital elevator for you just when the doors are about to close on the large tray with hot beverages you are carrying. Or each day when the man who cleans the floors greets you with the warmest "good morning" and his kindness lights up your entire day.
Trust us, once you start noticing these constellations of compassion, you will begin to see and feel light emanating from people all around you, just like the countless stars in the sky.
We believe that these Constellations of Compassion are like the invisible lines that we often don't notice which connect us in meaningful ways to what's important in life. We believe that if you look around you right now, whether you are in the hospital or grappling with serious chronic illness as part of your life or the life of someone you love, you can start to recognize patterns and shining lights all around you.
(This is the first of a series of three articles co-created with Jane Dutton of CompassionLab. The CompassionLab is a group of organizational researchers who strive to create a new vision of organizations as sites for the development and expression of compassion. Their focus is on the expression of compassion in work and in the workplace, including emphasis on roles, routines, practices, relationships, teams, and structures that impact the experience of compassion in organizations.)