Day of Compassion

A day of Compassion is an action teaching assignment developed in 1997 by Scott Plous, a psychology professor at Wesleyan University and Executive Director of Social Psychology Network.

The study invites you to use social psychology for the greater good by living a day of compassion and reflecting on the experience. When carrying out this self-study, leave no behaviour unexamined — How people think about, influence and relate to one another. At heart, Prof. Scott helps us to see through problems via social psychology lens.

I’m writing this blog post as a self-reflection about the study, how it relates to me as a product designer. In cases you just fortuitously pass by — hopefully, you find some insights through my story.

What does Compassion mean to you?

Compassion may mean different things based on the context & practice. It can be as simple as a great action toward strangers or extend to massive projects like Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To me, Compassion means “suffering together”. You often have sensitivity, which is an emotional aspect of suffering. It encourages people to help the mental, physical, or emotional pains of another and themselves.

In the psychology context, we may compassionate forward your ingroup(s). People also make trait attributions in ways that benefit their ingroups, just as they make trait attributions that help themselves. (Ingroup Favoritism and Prejudice)

Because our ancestors lived in small social groups that were frequently in conflict with other groups, it was evolutionarily functional for them to view members of other groups as different and potentially dangerous (Brewer & Caporael, 2006; Navarrete, Kurzban, Fessler, & Kirkpatrick, 2004).

These naturally occurring tendencies may lead us to be more tolerant and compassionate forward certain groups, and in some cases, even to unfairly ignore people from outgroups at some points. In my own experience, let’s say the same tragic event happened in third-world countries vs Asia; I likely feel more compassionate toward Asia’s one because I have more attachment to it.

In order words, our compassion is also conditional at some points, that we may or may not realise. Under pressure and uncertainty, we likely make fast decisions based on those existing biases.

Source

How does it impact us?

Self-awareness

Learning more about our bias and human behaviours enrich my understanding of myself and the world around me. By studying and observing how people view others and behave in groups, how attitudes are formed and how social relationships influence individual functioning.

Sometimes, it’s good to think twice and question cultural beliefs, norms or social standards. People can blindly obey forward groups or higher authorities, making us do horrible things like war crimes and horrific human experiments during the Nazis and WWII. Hitler couldn’t have made it all without a handful of followers. What made them follow the orders they were given?

Suppose you’ve read Man’s Search for Meaning (1946) by Viktor Frankl — as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. In that case, we could see those ordinary people can become heartless, no-mercy toward other people due to surrounding conditions at that era.

In a more straightforward example, you may get killed by being LGBT back to 60 years ago. Gay sexuality was policed more aggressively; people believed that it was a sickness, it’s different from what God wants and unnatural. Scientists have been proving that homosexuality is natural, and it also happens in the animal world. So why do we judge and mistreat LGBT people?

Combat Unconscious Bias

As we meet people in certain situations or deal with work/life challenges, our brains sort and categorise in a blink. Most of the gut feeling is superficial and drawn from instincts, not facts.

Social Psychology can help us slow down and get a more accurate picture. Start thinking about all of the assumptions we make about the people we meet every day and ask ourselves if they are correct.

Dive into the wealth of the human mind offering diverse perspectives. While we are more connected than ever, the information algorithm on social media feeds you what you want to see, sharpening your beliefs about people and the world.

Combat unconscious bias with your curiosity and empathy.

Self-compassion

As a product designer, it’s a part of my daily job to be empathic with people’s problems, then looking out for opportunities to improve them — those moments where empathy are converted into Compassion, the desire to help and solve surrounding problems.

So the day of Compassion happens to me frequently. Once, my mentor said

A designer is not only a job title but also a lifestyle. You’re naturally sensitive to the surrounding environment.

That brings us — designers, artists, many tremendous benefits. However, it also exhausted to care what people feel, occasionally helpless and redundant if I cannot make any tangible actions forward. Sometimes, it feels easier to isolate my inner self and not step in people’s shoes.

“After many years working with designers like you, I believe that all you guys need is a space […] Give yourself compassion sometimes, as to how you would treat other people”, a therapist told me.

I often disparage myself over mistakes for which I would readily forgive others. Yet, therapists suggest looking beyond our flaws and treat ourselves with forgiveness and understanding; we increase our psychological health and inner energy for the long run.

Why should we care about unconscious bias?

The benefits are tremendous.

It helps to increase group productivity and creativity; enhanced relationship- and community-building. For greater goods, it improves equity and appreciation for diversity.

My tips to mitigate unconscious bias

  • Learn about unconscious bias and social psychology
  • Listening to the stories of others
  • Separate feelings from facts
  • Engage in self-reflection to uncover personal biases.
  • Find yourself a safe space to discuss unconscious bias
  • Practice empathy
  • Last but not least, welcome diversity and differences

Thanks for reading, passenger :)

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Anh Pham (AP)

Anh Pham (AP)

Product Designer. I believe joy exists in simple forms, so does design. I’m studying joys for a living.