Compassion: Be An Angel In An Earth Suit

The quote, “I’m an angel in an earth suit” makes me laugh every time I hear it in the Celebrity Apprentice promo.  It’s the mad-cap Gary Busey that says it, which makes it even funnier to me. Regardless of the source, that phrase stuck with me and it made me ask, what would it take to be considered an angel in an earth suit?

The first characteristic that came to mind was compassion. Compassion is the desire to alleviate suffering. It’s different from pity because pity is about feeling sorry for someone who is suffering. However, pity is observing suffering from afar. It can’t get past the element of fear, wanting to flee from the suffering. Conversely, compassion does not run but is willing to be with suffering up close and personal because there is an acceptance vs. a resistance. It literally means “to experience or endure with.”

“Suffering” often connotes conditions of great physical/psychological pain – abuse, starvation, poverty, etc… However, consider that people are suffering because they are not finding the type of success they desire at work, find it difficult to have courage in difficult situations or the ability to mend broken relationships. Bottom line, there are LOTS of people suffering through each day.

To me, compassion is a leadership characteristic that is often under-rated. Compassion in a leader will foster loyalty, inspire motivation, allow people to believe in themselves and encourage success – whatever their definition of success is.

A compassionate leader has empathy and will take time to sit, listen and develop their people. They are willing to give people second chances. It’s remembering – I’m not better/smarter than that other person – I’m like them. That’s why the Golden Rule has such staying power – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s the same principle formulated by Confucius over 2,500 years ago: “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” 

So how can you practice compassion and build up those empathy muscles?

  1. Make the most of daily situations to practice patience and anger management. Airports, grocery stores, the freeway are prime locations. It’s an opportunity to show compassion for the passenger in front of you at security who never flies and has no clue how to navigate the procedure efficiently. Or the customer who has to check and balance her coupons presented at the register with her receipt.
  2. Reflect and Remember your own struggles.When you were unable to meet your boss’ expectations, what was that like? What would have helped you get on track? How can you behave in a way that encourages others who are not performing up to standard while still holding them accountable for their performance?
  3. Live the Golden Rule. Enough said.

Compassion – it’s about remembering we have a common humanity underneath the labels and identifications that divide us. Think back on a time when you received a compassionate response from another. What effects did that have on your state of mind?

Showing Compassion – it’s like being “an angel in an earth suit”!

Martha Duesterhoft is a Partner with PeopleResults.  Follow her on Twitter @mduesterhoft or connect with her via email at