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Exploring the Boundaries of Compassion Organizing

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Management theory and practice are facing unprecedented challenges posed by the amount of suffering induced and caused by the recent financial crisis, increasing social inequity, the worldwide spread of terrorism, and the consequences of climate change (Hart 2005, p. 61; Prahalad 2005; Senge 2008). Spiritual figures such as the Dalai Lama and Pope Benedict XVI have repeatedly highlighted the central role of compassion to alleviate the pain caused by these crises. Drawing on ancient spiritual teaching about empathy and the more recent insights regarding the relevance of emotions (e.g. emotional intelligence), emotion-centric perspectives of management have been advocated more strongly in the very recent past (Brockner and Higgins Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 86(1):35-66 2001; Cooper and Sawaf 1996; Mayer et al. Annual Review of Psychology 59:507-536 2008). So far, however, compassion related concepts have played a marginal role within management research. Dutton et al.’s Administrative Science Quarterly 51(1):59-96(2006) seminal paper offers a much needed perspective as it allows to conceptualize compassion as an organizational focal point.
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ORIGINAL RESEARCH
Exploring the Boundaries of Compassion Organizing
Michael Pirson
1
#Springer International Publishing AG 2017
Abstract Management theory and practice are facing unprecedented challenges posed by the
amount of suffering induced and caused by the recent financial crisis, increasing social
inequity, the worldwide spread of terrorism, and the consequences of climate change (Hart
2005, p. 61; Prahalad 2005;Senge2008). Spiritual figures such as the Dalai Lama and Pope
Benedict XVI have repeatedly highlighted the central role of compassion to alleviate the pain
caused by these crises. Drawing on ancient spiritual teaching about empathy and the more
recent insights regarding the relevance of emotions (e.g. emotional intelligence), emotion-
centric perspectives of management have been advocated more strongly in the very recent past
(Brockner and Higgins Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 86(1):35-66
2001; Cooper and Sawaf 1996; Mayer et al. Annual Review of Psychology 59:507-536 2008).
So far, however, compassion related concepts have played a marginal role within management
research. Dutton et al.sAdministrative Science Quarterly 51(1):59-96(2006) seminal paper
offers a much needed perspective as it allows to conceptualize compassion as an organizational
focal point.
In this paper, I set out to examine boundaries to the general applicability of compassion
organizing theory. Istart by examining the assumptions regarding the human capacity for
compassion presented by Dutton et al. Administrative Science Quarterly 51(1):59-96(2006). I
further develop a set of boundary conditions of individual level compassion capability, a
precondition for compassion organizing. I then develop a typology of compassion capability
proposing four archetypes of individual level compassion capability, and transpose the insights
generated onto a typology of organizing modes. This typology allows distinguishing the
various modes of compassion organizing, and helps identifying the structures and mechanisms
that undermine compassion organizing. As such, Ihope to contribute to a better understanding
of the potential for compassion organizing in theory and practice.
Keywords Compassion .Organizing .Humanistic management
Humanist Manag J
https://doi.org/10.1007/s41463-017-0028-4
*Michael Pirson
pirson@fordham.edu
1
Fordham University, Bronx, NY, USA
Management theory and practice are facing unprecedented challenges posed by the amount of
suffering induced and caused by the recent financial crisis, increasing social inequity, the
worldwide spread of terrorism, and the consequences of climate change (Hart 2005,p.61;
Prahalad 2005;Senge2008). Spiritual figures such as the Dalai Lama and Pope Benedict XVI
have repeatedly highlighted the central role of compassion to alleviate the pain caused by these
crises. Drawing on ancient spiritual teaching about empathy and the more recent insights
regarding the relevance of emotions (e.g. emotional intelligence), emotion-centric perspectives
of management have been advocated more strongly in the very recent past (Brockner and
Higgins 2001; Cooper and Sawaf 1996; Mayer et al. 2008). So far, however, compassion
related concepts have played a marginal role within management research. Dutton et al. (2006)
state that the process of organizing to alleviate pain is generally not well understood. They
further argue that organizational researchers have rarely focused on how and why some
patterns of organizing compassion emerge and work more effectively than others (Dutton
et al. 2006,p.59).Duttonetal.s(2006) seminal paper offers a much needed perspective as it
allows to conceptualize compassion as an organizational focal point. In a time when expec-
tations for businesses to compassion organize have exponentially increased (Jackson and
Nelson 2004;MargolisandWalsh2003), such theory is critical to support organizational
transformation (see for example efforts to establish for benefit organizations). While a
theoretical perspective based on a case study benefits from the accuracy and simplicity
generated (such as in Dutton et al. 2006), there remain questions as to its generality (Sutton
and Staw 1995;Weick1979). Since such theories could provide substantial theoretical and
practical benefit on how to deal with these major crises, their generality needs to be further
examined (Weick 1995).
In this paper, we set out to examine boundaries to the general applicability of compassion
organizing theory. We start by examining the assumptions regarding the human capacity for
compassion presented by Dutton et al. (2006). We further develop a set of boundary conditions
of individual level compassion capability, a precondition for compassion organizing. We then
develop a typology of compassion capability proposing four archetypes of individual level
compassion capability, and transpose the insights generated onto a typology of organizing
modes. This typology allows distinguishing the various modes of compassion organizing, and
helps identifying the structures and mechanisms that undermine compassion organizing. As
such, we hope to contribute to a better understanding of the potential for compassion
organizing in theory and practice.
Compassion Capability as Prerequisite of Compassion Organizing
Compassion organizing is defined as collective response to a particular incident of human
suffering that entails the coordination of individual compassion in a particular organizational
context (Dutton et al. 2006, p.61). This definition presumes an individualscapabilitytobe
compassionate, which in turn is defined as the ability to notice, feel, and respond to anothers
suffering (p.60). Compassion capability specifically requires the ability for an individual to
notice the suffering of another, feel inherently other regarding concern, and behave with the
intention to ease the other partys suffering (Dutton et al. 2006, p.61). Despite a lack of focused
attention within management research, compassion and closely related constructs of care,
sympathy, empathy, and concern have received attention as distinct human capacity supporting
our social and relational nature in a variety of other disciplines (e.g. Batson 1990;Gilbert
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2005; Titmuss 2001). While often not stated explicitly there exist a variety of assumptions
about the nature of compassion capability. In the developing research on compassion within
organizational contexts it is assumed e.g. that it is an innate human instinct (Dutton et al.
2006). This account is largely supported by anthropologists, biologist and evolutionary
psychologists (Lawrence 2007,2010). However, as Batson (1990) argues a large number of
psychologists and sociologists deny the possibility of compassion as a true other regarding
concern, an account that economists subscribe to as well (see notion of homo oeconomicus).
As such compassion with regard to authentic other regarding concern becomes mere fiction.
In the following, we wish to scope out the basic assumptions regarding compassion
capability as either an unbounded or a bounded concept. While there are different scientific
accounts on compassion, involving the notion of sympathy, empathy or concern, we distill
their perspective on the generality of compassion capability as a basis for the further exam-
inations of boundaries to compassion organizing.
Narratives of Unbounded Compassion Capability
Compassion Capability as Norm/Default Starting from Aristotles observations that we
are social animals, human nature is considered to encompass a capacity for care and concern of
the other (Batson 1990). As Adam Smith wrote, man is motivated by sympathy as well as by
self-interest. He suggests that Bthere are evidently some principles in nature, which interest him
in the fortune of others..^One such principle is Bpity or compassion, the emotion we feel for
the misery of others^(Smith 1759, 1.1.1.1). Darwin (1909b) similarly observed that there
must be an innate drive for compassionate behavior: BUnder circumstances of extreme peril, as
during a fire, when a man endeavors to save a fellow-creature without a momentshesitation,
he can hardly feel pleasure; and still less has the time to reflect on the dissatisfaction which he
might subsequently experience if he did not make the attempt. Should he afterwards reflect
over his own conduct, he would feel that there lies within him an impulsive power widely
different from a search after pleasure or happiness; and this seems to be the deeply planted
social instinct^(p. 122).
The account of compassion capability as a norm has received further support from
evolutionary biologists and anthropologists since, who argue that the ability for care and
compassion allowed the human species to survive and thrive (see Diamond 1992; Lawrence
2010). Especially the relationship between mother and infant prescribes a relationship of care
and concern unique to humans, who mature comparatively slow and need the protection of kin.
It is further argued that this innate capacity of females to bond via compassion is extended to
the nuclear family by partner selection, and then onto the tribe and possibly to humanity at
large (Darwin 1909a; Lawrence 2010).
Compassion Capability as Universal Potential A different perspective is presented in
theological and spiritual traditions (Smith 2002; Thupten 2005), in that compassion capability
is viewed as an aspiration with universal potential. Accordingly the existence of pain is conditio
humana, and compassion the potential remedy. This perspective is most prevalent in some of the
Eastern spiritual tradition but also has firm roots in Western theology. The suffering of Christ, for
example, is the ultimate act of compassion which wins his followers the right to eternal life.
Whereas this perspective is mostly expressed in spiritual and theological traditions, these
perspectives have permeated culture and tradition in many societies. As Wuthnow (1991)
suggests, the early educators in the United States placed compassion in the center of their
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educational mission, assuming that it was crucial to the development of a better society.
Compassion as such is not viewed as innate, but something that needs to be nurtured and
developed. However, compassion capability is assumed to have universal potential, and reigns
as a guiding principle on how to live life as an individual and within organizational contexts.
Narratives of Bounded Compassion Capability
Compassion Capability as Positive Deviance Another perspective views compassion as a
possibility. As Wilson (1993) suggests, sympathy or compassion is a motive. As a conse-
quence this perspective renders compassion capability much more exclusive in that it does not
describe a default but rather a deviation from the norm.
In the organizational level research, such a perspective is echoed to the extent that explicitly
or implicitly compassion among many other features in organizational life (such as respect,
forgiveness and virtue) is considered a rare circumstance. It is argued that compassionate
behavior is an Bintentional behavior that departs from the norms of a referent group in
honorable ways^(Spreitzer and Sonenshein 2004,p.832).
Compassion Capability as Fiction The social sciences, including economics, psychology,
sociology and political science largely assume that true altruistic, other regarding concerns do
not exist (see e.g. Batson 1990; Henrich et al. 2001; Lawrence and Nohria 2002b). In this
perspective compassion capability is socially constructed behavior, not innate, but learned
through socialization. Batson (1990) lists three pervasive assumptions about the egoistical
nature of human concern, care and compassion, which support the perspective that compassion
capability as defined by Dutton et al. (2006) is fiction. The first reason for compassion is
aversive arousal reduction, which means that people act in compassionate ways only to reduce
their own suffering induced by watching the other suffer. The second reason humans act
compassionately is to avoid empathy-specific punishment. It is argued that we wish to avoid
social ostracism, which we understand could arise when not helping a person in need. The
third reason we act compassionately can be traced to empathy specific rewards we receive
from helping, not from being truly concerned with the fate of the other. In that understanding
compassion is born out of egoistic self-preservation needs, which presents severe boundaries
to compassion organizing, as compassion capability is considered non-existent.
While these perspectives are certainly not mutually exclusive they are clearly distinct. In
turn, we will now draw on the evidence presented for each of these perspectives to explore the
individual level boundaries to compassion capability.
Exploring the Boundaries of Compassion Capability
As Dutton et al. (2006) suggest compassion organizing is a recurring process which includes two
conceptually differing stages: compassion activation and compassion mobilization. The compas-
sion activation stage encompasses the noticing and feeling of anothers suffering, while the
compassion mobilization stage refers to the behavioral response to said suffering. Based on this
understanding, we suggest exploring the potential boundaries to compassion organizing along the
dimension of compassion activation, which includes the cognitive capacity to notice anothers
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suffering (1), and the emotional capacity to feel anothers suffering (2). We further propose to
independently analyze the compassion mobilization stage, which refers to the behavioral capacity
to respond to anothers person suffering (3). As various scholars argue (Alzola 2008; Blair et al.
2005;Lawrence2010) there are dispositional and situational limits to each of these capabilities,
which could cause meaningfully different managerial implications, e.g. in terms of selection and
training. We will in turn analyze where such dispositional and situational limits could persist.
Boundaries of Compassion Activation
Dispositional Cognitive Boundaries to Compassion Activation For the notion of com-
passion organizing to be relevant an individual must be capable to notice another persons
suffering. Kanner (1968) discovered that there is a group of individuals, which is incapable of
noticing and interpreting the emotions of people that surround them. He labeled this syndrome
autism, which refers to the consequence of such inability, extreme aloneness (Lehrer 2009).
While scholars debate whether the causes are purely genetic, environmental, or a combination
thereof, there is agreement that autism is caused by a lack of neural development in early
childhood. Rizzolatti et al. (2000), Rizzolatti et al. 2001) for example, suggest that the cortex of
people with autism does not develop and connect a small cluster of cells, called mirror
neurons. According to them, these cells allow us to reflect expressions of others inside our
brain; people suffering from autism, however, are unable to recognize the mental and emotional
states of others. This in turn renders them unable to express compassion towards others, impairs
their ability to make friends, and as a consequence they become outsiders (Health 2010).
Autism is considered a spectrum disorder, which means that there are lighter versions of
autism called high-functioning autism or Asperger Syndrome (Baron-Cohen 1995; Baron-
Cohen et al. 2001) and more severe forms referred to as Autistic disorder, sometimes called
autism or classical ASD (Health 2010). It is estimated that as many as 1 in 150 people are
autistic, with males being four times more likely to be diagnosed with Autism. This adds up to
almost 1.5 million people in the United States alone. Government statistics even suggest that
the rate of autism is rising 1017% annually(Rice 2009). Whatever the reason for such
increases are (better and more pervasive diagnosis, environmental factors, etc.), the limit for
compassion organizing is real. While the severe forms of autism dont seem to be treatable, the
lighter forms allow for some interventions that can ameliorate the capacity to cognitively
notice another persons suffering(Baron-Cohen et al. 2001), by using alternative areas of the
brain that can compensate for the lack of mirror neurons (e.g. Memory).
Proposition 1a: Autism syndroms represent a dispositional, cognitive boundary to com-
passion activation.
Situational Cognitive Boundaries to Compassion Activation While most people do not
suffer from dispositional cognitive disorders such as autism, decades of psychological research
have found that humans are limited information processors (Kahneman et al. 1982; Williamson
1979). Along these lines, experiments have shown that cognitive overload establishes infor-
mation processing problems which require filtering and other heuristics (Kahneman et al.
1982). Such cognitive overload represents a situational limit to compassion activation, as it
potentially prevents people from noticing another persons suffering. According to Waddington
(1996)andWurman(1990) this is a rather common phenomenon. Kirsh (2000)furtherstates
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that cognitive overload is particularly virulent in the workplace as many studies show that
manager and employees suffer from consistent stress because of too much information supply,
too much information demand, and the need to deal with multi-tasking and interruption.
Proposition 1b: Cognitive overload represents a situational, cognitive, individual-level
boundary to compassion activation.
Dispositional Emotional Boundary to Compassion Activation Neuroscientists and
evolutionary biologists argue that emotions are central to our decision making ability (Blair
et al. 2005;Damasio2005). The notion of compassion capability refers to this centrality,
however, there seem to be two general cases in which the capacity to feel another persons
suffering is limited in a dispositional manner. According to neuroscientists (LeDoux 1996), the
first case is caused by insufficiencies of the amygdala (which generates emotions), and the
second with insufficiencies in the prefrontal cortex (which processes such information) (see
also Lawrence 2010).
The first boundary to compassion capability attributed to insufficiencies of the amygdala is
termed psychopathy. Researchers have identified psychopaths, whom biologists and econo-
mists call Bfree-riders^, sociologists Bsociopaths^or Bloose individuals (Nisbet 2003)as
people with a genetic defect (Weber et al. 2008). They are incapable of empathy and
compassion and have no skill set of conscience or morality (Cleckley 1982). Hare (1999)
describes psychopaths as Bsocial predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their
way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty
wallets. Completely lacking in conscience and in feelings for others, they selfishly take what
they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest
sense of guilt or regret ( p. XI).^They have Ban insatiable appetite for power and control (p.
218)^combined with Ba deeply disturbing inability to care about the pain and suffering
experienced by othersin short, a complete lack of empathy (p.6).^
It is argued that a significant portion of the population is indeed unable to generate feelings.
Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists argue that previous hominoids such as the homo
habilines lacked such abilities, and that psychopathy could be a leftover of an evolutionary past
(Lawrence 2010; Rizzolatti 1998). In fact, it is estimated that about 1% of the population does
lack that ability to empathize and generate feeling, despite the ability to notice suffering in
others (Hare 1999; Neumann and Hare 2008). Again, this insufficiency is more common among
men (Blair et al. 2005). Hare estimatesconservatively, he insiststhat Bthere are at least 2
million psychopaths in North America; the citizens of New York City have as many as 100,000
psychopaths among them (p.1-2).^Babiak and Hare (2006) even argue that many of these
psychopaths are able to gain influence and power and that the current corporate environment
allows them to do so effectively (see for a similar argument Bakan 2004; Sutton 2007). In fact,
historians have made the argument that many examples of bad leadership over history can be
traced to psychopathic personalities incl. Hitler, Stalin, and Napoleon (e.g. Neumayr 1995).
It is important to note that while psychopaths do not feel another persons suffering, they
can notice it, while autists cannot notice but generate feelings and possible sense suffering
subconsciously (Lehrer 2009). While many researchers assume that psychopathy is a spectrum
disorder as well (Patrick 2006), some argue it is a discrete genetic defect (Lawrence 2007,
2010). While the verdict is out on either of these positions, the general boundary psychopathy
poses to compassion activation is real.
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The second dispositional limit to emotional processing is based on a problem with the
prefrontal cortex or the frontal lobe. The most famous case of such a boundary condition is
presented by Phineas Gage who survived the impact of an iron rod through his head. As
recounted by Damasio (2005), Gage became asocial and lacked compassion, as he was
incapable to process emotions after the accident, a condition that has been observed by other
patients with similar lesions. While this conditions is rather rare it presents a further disposi-
tional limit to compassion activation, which so far has not been remedied.
Proposition 2a: Individual dispositional boundaries to compassion activation stem from
emotional insufficiencies such as psychopathy of frontal lobe lesions.
Situational Emotional Boundaries to Compassion Activation Hoffman (1981) suggests
that there may be a range of optimal empathic arousal, within which individuals are able to
respond. He also suggests, that there are areas of empathic over-arousal which lead to avoidance
behavior. Such behavior has been found in nurses dealing with terminally ill patients (Stotland
1978). Maslach (1982) describes the various situational limits in which people capable to feel
other peoples suffering stop and turn off such empathic reaction, because of emotional
overload. One such manifestation is emotional exhaustion or burnout. This phenomenon has
been studied particularly in the helping professions, such as nurses, palliative care takers, or
AIDS volunteers. Kinnick et al. (1996) state that in the workplace such emotional overload
manifests itself by the feeling that one is no longer able to give oneself to others, and through an
armor of detachment and depersonalization, which Maslach (1982) characterizes as a cold
indifference to othersneeds and a callous disregard for their feelings.
While emotional overload has been studied as a boundary to compassion activation
specifically in the interpersonal realm, evidence is accruing that emotional overload can be
generated by mass communication patterns as well. Moeller (1999) finds that the mass media
communication of suffering induces compassion fatigue. Issue life cycle theorists further argue
that because of empathy saturation, messages depicting other peoples suffering will not
generate any emotional response and even generate avoidance behavior after a certain number
of repetitions (Downs 1972; Hilgartner and Bosk 1988). It is hence argued that those with the
general capacity to feel other peoples suffering can experience situations which limit com-
passion activation because of emotional overload.
Proposition 2b: Individual situational boundaries to compassion activation stem from
emotional overload.
Boundaries to Compassion Mobilization
Based on the above account, we now to turn to the behavioral dimension of compassion
capability, which refers to the capacity to respond to anothers person suffering.
Dispositional Behavioral Boundaries to Compassion Mobilization It seems intuitive
that the ability to respond to another persons suffering requires mental and physical
dispositions, such as the ability to speak and respond, hug a person, or help to carry a
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person in need, etc. While there are a number of mental and physical disabilities
preventing people from responding to other peoples suffering (Parry and American
Bar Association. Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law 1994), there are
further boundaries for compassion mobilization induced by character and personality
development (Kegan 1982).
Moral philosophers view character as a) a distinctive combination of personal qual-
ities by which someone is known (that is personality) and b) moral strength or integrity
(Wilson 1993). Wilson (1993) further argues those people with the most admirable
character are those who are the best balanced, which in common parlance are referred
to as nice personsor good guys. A nice person, Wilson argues, takes into account the
feelings of others when deciding about his/her actions and does not inflict unjustified
harm on innocent parties. As Wilson (1993) defines it, a good character is not demon-
strated by a life lived according to a rule, since there rarely is a rule by which good
qualities ought to be combined or hard choices resolved; rather it is demonstrated by a
life lived in balance. Lawrence (2010) comes to the same conclusion about good
leadership. Developmental psychologists argue that that kind of character develops over
time (Kegan 1982;Kohlberg1984) and that it predicts a certain kind of relationship
quality people develop. Kegan (1982) and Gilligan (1993) make the point that people on
a certain development level are more likely to behave compassionately because they
have learned to be other oriented. Similarly in any situation in which suffering is non-
routine it seems that persons in the fourth order of consciousness (Kegan 1982)areable
to respond more flexibly and mindfully to other peoplessuffering.
Proposition 3a: Character and personality development can limit compassion
mobilization.
Situational Behavioral Boundaries to Compassion Mobilization There is accumulat-
ed evidence that behavioral responses to other peoples suffering are determined by the
situation (see e.g. Alzola 2008; Davis-Blake and Pfeffer 1986). Drawing on the account
presented by Dutton et al. (2006), compassion mobilization depends on resources (cards,
donations, course material), and therefore any situational limit to an individualsre-
sources present a boundary to compassion capability. Furthermore, compassion mobiliz-
ing as the actual action to relieve pain also requires a certain skill set. In the aftermath of
earthquakes, for example skilled search teams, aid workers, and trauma psychologists are
required. While minor suffering can be alleviated by potentially unskilled people, a lot of
suffering alleviation requires not only resources but specific knowledge. Any shortage of
such knowledge will present a boundary condition for the capability to respond to
suffering and limit the potential for compassion organizing. Finally, as Batson (1990)
argues there are competing concerns that impede compassion mobilization because of
other more pressing demands (including lack of will or fear). As several experiments
show such competing concerns dont have to be egoistical in nature but can also be
induced by authority structures (Milgram 1974;Zimbardo1974)s, time pressures (Darley
and Batson 1973), and group effects (Latane and Rodin 1969).
Proposition 3b: Insufficient Resources, inadequate skills, and competing concerns can
limit compassion mobilization.
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Perspective on Individual Level Boundaries to Compassion Organizing
The various scientific narratives on compassion capability deliver interesting insights regard-
ing the boundaries to compassion organizing. These boundaries are structurally different, and
thus they provide a number of perspectives as to potential remedies (e.g. screening or training).
The accounts of autism and psychopathy support the narrative of compassion as a fiction. In
fact it is argued that homo oeconomicus is a psychopath and therefore economic man is indeed
not able to be compassionate. While it seems that this account is marginally relevant Lawrence
(2010) as well as Babiak and Hare (2006) argue that psychopaths have much more influence in
real life via emotional contagion effects that are enhanced by social structures (see Babiak and
Hare 2006;Bakan2004; Blair et al. 2005; Lawrence 2010; Sutton 2010 for a similar argument).
The fact that autists and psychopaths are exceptions to the rule, however, supports the
narrative for compassion as a quasi default. Almost universal human capacity to notice
(cognitively) and feel (emotionally) is supported by accounts of evolutionary psychologists,
neuropsychologists and anthropologists (Darwin 1909a;Diamond1992;Lehrer2009; Wilson
1993). The behavioral compassion mobilization component allows for the argument of both
positive deviance and a quasi-universal potential.
Clearly, while not a universal default compassion activation can happen and will happen for
most people as a norm (unless cognitively or emotionally overloaded). How they respond to
the activation is a question of motive, which brings in the possibility of compassion organizing
as a positively deviant behavior as well as an aspirational goal.
Developing a Typology of Compassion Capability
As mindsets and habits develop based on situations and dispositions (Dweck 2008), we argue
that certain types of compassion capability can be observed. Based on the above outlined
dispositional and situational boundaries of compassion activation and compassion mobiliza-
tion (Table 1), we develop archetypes to propose a typology of individual-level compassion
Tab l e 1 Boundaries of compassion capability at the individual level
Compassion capability
as the ability to
Level Stage Boundary
type
Proposition Boundary
1) notice cognitive Compassion
Activation
dispositional 1a autism and related
disorders
situational 1b Cognitive overload
2) feel emotional dispositional 2a Psychopathy and related
disorders
Frontal lobe lesions
situational 2b Emotional overload
3) respond behavioral Compassion
Mobilization
dispositional 3a Mental and physical
handicaps
Character and personality
Development
situational 3b Insufficient resources
Inadequate ability
Competing concerns
to anothers suffering. (Dutton et al. 2006,p.60)
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capability. As Dutton et al. (2006) state human agency and social architecture transform
individual compassion into a social reality, we argue that the locus of compassion organizing
resides in individual level compassion capability that organizational structures can support or
counteract in a typological manner. Following that logic, we will base the typology on the
boundaries of individual level compassion capability and then extend it to resulting organizing
modes, providing insights into the boundaries of compassion organizing.
Individual Modes of Compassion Capability
Authentic Indifference The first individual compassion capability mode (see Fig. 1)we
label authentic indifference. This mode represents the absence of compassion activation and
the absence of compassion mobilization. This type of compassion capability can be caused by
cognitive and emotional boundaries to compassion activation, such as autism and related
disorders, psychopathy and related disorders, as well as cognitive and emotional overload. In
contrast to the mode of socialized psychopathy, authentic indifference is manifested by the
absence of any level of compassion mobilization.
People high on the autism spectrum and psychopaths are not able to compassion activate.
Taken together these cases would represent between 1.5%- 2.75% of the population (based on
U.S. estimates; http://www.cdc.gov/) for whom there is no remedy at this point (Baron-Cohen
1995; Patrick 2006). In contrast to socialized psychopathy (next section) the authentic
indifference category includes psychopaths lacking in intelligence that often act in very self
destructive manners. These individuals do not possess the cognitive intelligence to learn social
conventions and often end up as drug addicts or in prison (Blair et al. 2005; Lehrer 2009). In
fact, it is estimated that about 25% of the overall prison population is psychopathic and 50% of
those with murder charge (Lawrence 2007; Lehrer 2009), which highlights the significance of
the authentic indifference mode of compassion capability.
While these examples represent the dispositional cause of authentic indifference, there are
those individuals that express authentic indifference despite a potential for compassion
activation. Those individuals are either cognitively or emotionally overloaded (or both) and
therefore similarly unable to either activate or mobilize their compassion capability. Such
compassion fatigue (Figley 2002;Moeller1999) is arguably increasing in salience. Scholars
argue that given the conditions of modern life, marked by instant information access, perma-
nent connectivity, as well as the increased emotional stimulation a growing number of people
to numb down, and turn indifferent to the suffering occurring around them (Mosley 2000). An
Fig. 1 Typology of individual -level compassion capability
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extreme case of authentic indifference is presented by those in the helping professions that
suffer from burnout. In the state of burnout, they have actually transformed from authentic
compassion to authentic indifference because of emotional overload (Halbesleben and Buckley
2004). It is estimated that overall 37% of the American Workforce is affected by burnout
symptoms (Solman 2010). Whereas these statistics may vary, they further highlight the
relevance of the authentic indifference mode.
In contrast to the dispositional boundaries, there might be interventions that can restore
compassion activation and compassion mobilization in those people suffering from cognitive
and emotional overload. Such interventions could take the form of simple vacations, focused
retreats, meditation, or guided therapies (e.g. Gibelman and Furman 2008).
Socialized Psychopathy While it seems counterintuitive to develop a mode for those that are
unable to activate but mobilize compassion, because the latter presupposes the former, the case
of socialized psychopaths presents an interesting and relevant anomaly (Babiak and Hare
2006; Blair et al. 2005;Hare1999). Socialized psychopaths in contrast to authentic psycho-
paths are able to hide their psychopathy. As Hare (1999) argues they make up for their lack of
emotional capabilities with cognitive capabilities. They are able to learn compassion expres-
sions despite their inability to authentically feel them. They understand that to function well in
society, they need to play along. Babiak and Hare (2006) suggest that socialized psychopaths
are able to fake compassion very well, precisely because they lack any deep feeling.
Socialized psychopaths try to conform to social standards and expectations. While they cannot
care and are only interested in fulfilling their drive to acquire and drive to defend (Lawrence and
Nohria 2002a), they understand that these drives can be served better, when psychopathy is
masked (Lawrence 2010). As such they outwardly try to conform to social expectations, pay lip
service to many agreements, and often raise public attention to their socially desired actions.
While they enter such agreements, they do so to better serve their ultimate motive. As a
consequence they can easily break them as theydonotfeelanysenseofobligationormoral
pain. Some of the most prominent recent examples of such socialized psychopaths are Bernard
Madoff and Jeffrey Skilling. These individuals are very smart cognitively and are able to learn
whatever is necessary to succeed, including common expressions of sympathy, empathy and
compassion. That way they are able to gain trust of very influential and intelligent people, who
they abuse in their quest for power and material success (Blair et al. 2005;Lawrence2010). As is
suggested by Babiak and Hare (2006) socialized psychopaths can function very well in environ-
ments that reward their emotional insufficiency, such as in the corporate business world. Despite
their absolute number (below 1% of the total population) Babiak and Hare (2006) argue that they
are disproportionally attracted to environments that allow them to satisfy their drive for power,
wealth and status. It is estimated that about 6% of the corporate workforce display traits of
socialized psychopathy (Babiak and Hare 2006;Lawrence2010). Sutton (2007) based on a
similar argument, suggest that the number of such people which he labels assholes, can reach up
to 10%. These people respond to suffering only when socially required, and when such
compassion mobilization is considered advantageous to their career success.
According to Patrick (2006), clinicians generally believe that there is no cure for such
socialized psychopaths. As a consequence many authors suggest to screen such people out
entirely, so as to not create a culture of psychopathic contagion (see e.g. Sutton 2007).
Compassion Constipation In analogy to the notion of moral constipation (West and Smiley
2008), the mode of compassion constipation describes the condition in which people experience
Humanist Manag J
compassion activation, but lack compassion mobilization. The reasons for such lack of response to
another persons suffering could reside either in a dispositional inability or in situational limitations.
Despite sound compassion activation, a lack of compassion mobilization could be triggered by
mental or physical handicaps as well as limited character or personality development. This mode of
compassion constipation can be witnessed e.g. when a child is unable to console her mother despite
intact compassion activation. Further, such compassion constipation can be witnessed when people
do not feel capable to respond to otherssuffering because of insufficient resources, inadequate
abilities (perceived or real) and competing concerns.
Scholars such as Goleman (1995) in his work on emotional intelligence suggest that
compassion and bonding need to be learned and refined, despite an innate capability (see
also Gilligan 1993;Kegan1982;Kohlberg1984). With the exception of psychopaths this
assumption applies to the majority of people not affected by cognitive or emotional overload.
However, there is the potential for a reverse learning process that can also lead to compassion
constipation. Cultural contexts, for example, can lead people to suppress their compassion
mobilization. Hofstede (1980,2001) argues that there are organizational cultures high in
masculinity, which place a strong emphasis on competitiveness, assertiveness, ambition, and
the accumulation of wealth and material possessions. Lawrence (2007) e.g. suggests that these
cultural contexts create a type of psychopathic contagion effect. This means that members of
the organization, despite an ability to notice and feel other peoples suffering, suppress the
mobilization of compassion for fear of not fitting in (see e.g. Ely and Meyerson 2008).
Similarly, what Deal and Kennedy (1982,1999) term the Tough-Guy Macho Culture can lead
to such compassion constipation since compassion is considered a signal for weakness.
Overall many of the people classified within the compassion constipation mode, could be
activated to become authentically compassionate by ways of training. Training aimed at character
development, personal maturity, or dealing with perceived and real inadequacies as well as
competing preferences. Such training would however require serious and concerted efforts.
Authentic Compassion The mode of authentic compassion describes the condition in which
people experience compassion activation and mobilize compassion responses for those people
whose suffering they notice. In contrast to the people in compassion constipation mode,
authentic compassionates are not only noticing and feeling the suffering of others, but they
actually respond to the suffering in whatever way they can (see e.g. accounts presented by
Drayton 2006; Yunus 2008). Many of those populating the mode of authentic compassion are
not only able to respond to other peoples suffering, but rather develop a habit to employ their
compassion capability (Elkington and Hartigan 2008). Similar to what Aristotle calls virtue
development, they actively seek ways on how to respond to suffering of those around them
(Bornstein 2007). Prototypes of people in the Authentic Compassion mode are often met
within the helping professions (Richie-Melvan and Vines 2010). Furthermore such people can
be seen in organizations that focus on relieving pain, such as churches, NGOs, or social
enterprises (Bornstein and Hart House 2005; Elkington and Hartigan 2008; Yunus 2008).
Organizing Modes of Compassion Capability
Individual modes of compassion capability are expressed and developed in relational contexts.
Such relational contexts are predominant in organizational entities. These organizational entities
vary according to their structures, goals, and routines, which reflect and influence individual
Humanist Manag J
behavior and the ability to compassion organize. In adopting a focus on organizing, structures and
actions with regard to compassion capability take center stage (Dutton et al. 2006). We develop our
typology (see Fig. 2) based on the interplay of actions which are taken by individuals that possess
human agency and structures reflected by organizational objectives, values, incentive structures,
routines, culture, and surrounding networks.
Based on the individual modes of compassion capability we will now outline the correspond-
ing modes of organizational capability to compassion organize. The ensuing framework suggests
in which organizational contexts compassion organizing is possible, impossible, fake, or sup-
pressed. While we acknowledge that in reality organizing styles will not fall in either category
directly, we argue that there is a tendency based on the structures and people an organizational
environment hosts to largely correspond with one of the archetypal modes.
Psychopathic Organizing In organizational contexts in which people display authentic
indifference, actions will neither activate nor mobilize compassion. We label this mode
psychopathic organizing. Psychopathic organizing is the result of either severe cognitive or
emotional overload (e.g. burnout) or significant influence of autistic or psychopathic individ-
uals in the organizing process. Such individual level authentic indifference can be supported
through organizational structures that allow emotional and cognitive overload, as well as
encourage autistic or psychopathic behavior.
Values that support such psychopathic organizing are oriented towards domination, power, and
wealth (Deal and Kennedy 1982; Dutton et al. 2006;Hofstede2001;Lawrence2010). Furthermore
such values are not concerned with the well being of humanity at large, but only a particular group
such as shareholders or gang members. The values are also strongly geared towards the individual
and are not concerned with relational dimension of human existence (Brickson 2007). In addition,
structures that value and enforce short term relations, which are transactional in nature support
psychopathic organizing (Brickson 2005; Dierksmeier and Pirson 2009).
Routines that support such psychopathic organizing reinforce the above mentioned values, are
geared to the individual and reward efforts towards single minded wealth creation, power
attainment, and domination (e.g. Deal and Kennedy 1999). Such routines exclude concern for
other peoples suffering, in that they become very transactional, focused, specialized, and formal-
ized (Weber and Andreski 1983). Rule orientation and rigidity can further support the process of
psychopathic organizing as described in critiques of hierarchical organizing (Leavitt 2005), the
assembly line (Mayo 1933) or the corporation as organizing mechanism in general (Bakan 2004).
Fig. 2 Typology of compassion capability induced organizing modes
Humanist Manag J
Networks that support such psychopathic organizing are composed of organizations with
similar values and routines. As suggested by Lawrence (2010) and Bakan (2004)marketbased
networks support psychopathic organizing. As price is the only coordinating mechanism,
indifference to other human concerns such as suffering is supported.
As Babiak and Hare (2006) state psychopaths are indeed attracted by the structures described
above, since their genetic dysfunction becomes socially rewarded. Organizational forms that are
transaction as well as command and control oriented are fertile grounds for psychopathic
organizing. Many scholars suggest that in these contexts care and concern for others is actually
limiting performance (Bakan 2004;Lawrence2010; McLean and Elkind 2004). Areas in which
psychopathic organizing is prevalent are organized crime (Gambetta 2009), investment banking
(Lawrence 2010), general trading, and other transactional oriented businesses (such as used car
dealing) as well as within strong hierarchies such as the military (Munson 1916;Patrick2006).
Acquiescent Organizing In organizational contexts in which people display socialized
psychopathy, actions will not activate but possibly mobilize compassion. We label this mode
acquiescent organizing. Acquiescent organizing is the result of significant influence by social-
ized psychopathic individuals in the organizing process. Individual level socialized psychop-
athy can be supported through organizational structures that encourage psychopathic behavior,
but demand external restraints in line with societal expectations of behavioral conduct.
Values that support such acquiescent organizing are very similar to the ones embraced in the
mode of psychopathic organizing. However, while these values correspond to the enacted values,
the espoused values (Argyris and Schön 1978;Simons2002) are in line with societal expectation
of good citizenship. Furthermore such socially acceptable values are actively communicated to
the outside stakeholders in order to mask enacted values and assuage societal concerns.
Routines that support such acquiescent organizing serve the psychopathic enacted values,
and the espoused values that appease concerns with such enacted values. While a first set of
routines will be identical to the ones in the psychopathic organizing mode, the second set of
routines is concerned with the outside image created. The second set of routines contains a
focus on external and possibly internal communication to present the first set of routines as
compliant with the espoused values. To make sure that the message to outside audience is
controlled, public relation routines become crucial (e.g. Cutlip 1995).
Networks that support such acquiescent organizing are composed of organizations that
support the espoused values as well as organizations that share the same enacted values. As
suggested by Vogel (2005) acquiescent organizing often occurs because the network includes
institutions concerned with societal implications, such as regulators, NGOs, or local govern-
ments. In addition, as suggested by Lawrence (2007), and Bakan (2004) the same market
based networks that support psychopathic organizing, support the actions and routines of
acquiescent organizing modes. Again, as price is the only coordinating mechanism, indiffer-
ence to other human concerns is supported.
In organizational contexts acquiescent organizing could be exemplified by organizations
that are by law required to profit maximize, while social expectations require these organiza-
tions to also pay attention to the social good. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is often
viewed as the result of such acquiescent organizing where psychopathic organizations are
required to do what is unnatural to them (Friedman 1970). As a result the CSR activities often
seem little less than exercises of public acquiescence and are criticized as white or green-
washing (Laufer 2003; MacDonald 2008; Munshi and Kurian 2005). Enron presents a prime
example of an organization which embraced acquiescent organizing; it was widely admired for
Humanist Manag J
its corporate governance and corporate social responsibility activities, while psychopathically
pursuing profit without concern for other peoples suffering (McLean and Elkind 2004).
Mechanic Organizing In organizational contexts in which people display compassion
constipation, actions will activate but not mobilize compassion. We label this mode mechanic
organizing. Mechanic organizing is the result of significant influence by compassion consti-
pated individuals in the organizing process. Individual level compassion constipation, howev-
er, is structurally supported by values, routines, and networks that encourage suppression of
compassion mobilization.
Terminal values (Rokeach 1979) that support such mechanic organizing can be manifold.
They can support compassion activation or downplay it (e.g. be in the service of a suffering
part of society or not). Instrumental values (Rokeach 1979), however, do support the suppres-
sion of situation specific compassion mobilization. Such values embrace rationalization and
impersonality. They further support the hierarchy of authority, command and control, written
rules of conduct, and favor specialized division of labor to achieve overall efficiency
(Gawthrop 1997; Weber and Andreski 1983; Weber et al. 2009).
Routines that support such mechanic organizing reinforce the above mentioned instrumen-
tal values, are geared to rationalization and impersonality and exclude concern and care for
individual suffering. Such bureaucratic routines focus on the application of rules first and
foremost and are concerned with general outcomes rather than responses to individual
suffering. The bureaucratic routines require specialized division of labor which supports a
limited perspective of an individual as a depersonalized case to be managed rather than a
human being with human needs to be addressed.
Networks that support such mechanic organizing are rather homogenous and mostly
composed of similar mechanically organizing bureaucratic institutions. The collaboration
between such network members follows similar bureaucratic approaches and is rule rather
than trust based. Compassion mobilization as a consequence is further suppressed by the
resulting network effects.
Compassion Organizing Compassion organizing as described by Dutton et al. is possible only
within a context where human agency is driven by compassion and support structures are supportive
of compassion activation and compassion mobilization. For a further discussion of the values,
routines, and networks supportive of compassion organizing we defer to Dutton et al. (2006).
Concluding Remarks
Given the amount of global and local crises, the concept of compassion organizing presents a
much needed managerial perspective on how to deal with the ensuing suffering. Furthermore,
compassion organizing presents a stepping stone for a renewed, human centered paradigm for
management research. Because of this vast theoretical and practical relevance it is important to
understand the boundary conditions for such a theory and practice to develop.
It is the point of this paper to explore the generality of compassion organizing as a concept
and test the boundaries of its underlying assumptions. While the paper uses the individual as an
entry point to the boundary discussion we extend these insights onto the level of organizing
modes via the creation of compassion capability archetypes. This allows us to examine
Humanist Manag J
alternative modes of compassion organizing that also enable us to understand the potential and
the limit of compassion organizing.
Change processes towards authentic compassion organizing are rare and difficult. To
manage change towards compassion organizing it is crucial to understand which form of
organizing is predominant at the organization in question. In organizations in which psycho-
pathic organizing isthe main orientation it is impossible to get to authentic compassion, because
the compassion ability is missing. All that is possible is changing towards acquiescent orga-
nizing. Organizations that are predominantly mechanistically organized can possibly be turned
into authentic compassion organizers, if the reasons for compassion constipation are identified
and removed. One account that could highlight such a transition is presented by Ely and
Meyerson (2008). They describe how a strongly male-oriented culture was transformed into
an authentically caring culture by focusing on a change in values and routines.
Many of the boundary conditions that undermine compassion organizing unfortunately deal
with major features of our current economic structure. The dominance of market structures for
example induces a psychopathic mode of organizing, and only when certain routines and
values keep the market functions in check can the relational aspects of human organizing
prevail. The prevalence of bureaucratic structures supporting Western-type democracies further
undermine compassion organizing in that they create what Weber termed Bthe polar night of
icy darkness^(Weber et al. 1994). In many organizations that aim at relieving suffering such as
churches or NGOs, similar mechanistic structures seem to develop and allow to undermine
compassion organizing effectiveness (e.g. Ebrahim 2003).
Out of this impasse, however, new forms of organizations are developing. These organi-
zations are trying to combine the effectiveness of market oriented organizations with the
purpose of compassion oriented organizations. Such organizations are interchangeably called
social enterprises (Rangan 2007), for-benefit organizations (Sabeti 2008), humanistic busi-
nesses (Kimakowitz et al. 2010) or sustainable corporations (Senge 2010).
While these efforts are relatively recent it is argued that new support structures for
compassion organizing need to be developed. Some say new organizational forms are required
(Sabeti 2008), others say a new support structures (Yunus 2008), including social stock
exchanges, social rating agencies, compassion oriented media. Finally, it is argued that changes
in the educational support system (Bloom 2006) are equally important to give rise to such a
new generation of compassion organizing individuals and institutions.
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... For well-being to be improved and human suffering to be mitigated requires an empathetic understanding of other people's' suffering, entailing a full cognitive-affective process. Compassion capability is viewed as a prerequisite for compassion organizing (Pirson 2018), which is the collective response to a specific incidence of suffering involving the coordination of individuals' compassion (Dutton et al. 2006). At the human interaction level, this assumes collaboration among individuals aware of and concerned about the suffering. ...
... We posit that these outcomes interact. However, Pirson (2018) argues that compassion may not be hardwired into human capabilities; it is something that needs to be nurtured and learned. Thus, to achieve these collective outcomes, compassion must be coupled with communication and collaboration in order to learn from each other. ...
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Humanistic Management and Transformative Service Research literatures share the common goal of addressing the increasingly growing global challenges faced by humanity. Recently, organizations have been called to further engage in social innovation in service (SIS) in an attempt to address these challenges. However, the existing service literature does not offer explicit processes regarding how to manage these social innovation efforts at the human interaction level. By drawing on both Humanistic Management and Service literatures, this paper develops a conceptual framework to guide the social innovation in service efforts. More specifically, this paper aims to answer a key question of: how can organizations manage human interactions to help maximize social innovation in service (SIS) outcomes? This paper identifies four foundational values (respect, trust, fairness, and inclusion) that should be at the core of the proposed processes (communication, collaboration, and compassion) needed in order to achieve the desired outcomes of SIS (relieving suffering, increasing well-being, and protecting and promoting human dignity). Subsequently, a typology of service organizations is offered with different combinations of processes at the human interaction level, highlighting the synergistic effect of the three identified processes. The proposed framework in this paper is a first step in bridging two disciplines to highlight their potential and role in addressing the global challenges.
... For well-being to be improved and human suffering to be mitigated requires an empathetic understanding of other people's' suffering, entailing a full cognitive-affective process. Compassion capability is viewed as a prerequisite for compassion organizing (Pirson 2018), which is the collective response to a specific incidence of suffering involving the coordination of individuals' compassion (Dutton et al. 2006). At the human interaction level, this assumes collaboration among individuals aware of and concerned about the suffering. ...
... We posit that these outcomes interact. However, Pirson (2018) argues that compassion may not be hardwired into human capabilities; it is something that needs to be nurtured and learned. Thus, to achieve these collective outcomes, compassion must be coupled with communication and collaboration in order to learn from each other. ...
Article
Full-text available
Humanistic Management and Transformative Service Research literatures share the common goal of addressing the increasingly growing global challenges faced by humanity. Recently, organizations have been called to further engage in social innovation in service (SIS) in an attempt to address these challenges. However, the existing service literature does not offer explicit processes regarding how to manage these social innovation efforts at the human interaction level. By drawing on both Humanistic Management and Service literatures, this paper develops a conceptual framework to guide the social innovation in service efforts. More specifically, this paper aims to answer a key question of: how can organizations manage human interactions to help maximize social innovation in service (SIS) outcomes? This paper identifies four foundational values (respect, trust, fairness, and inclusion) that should be at the core of the proposed processes (communication, collaboration, and compassion) needed in order to achieve the desired outcomes of SIS (relieving suffering, increasing well-being, and protecting and promoting human dignity). Subsequently, a typology of service organizations is offered with different combinations of processes at the human interaction level, highlighting the synergistic effect of the three identified processes. The proposed framework in this paper is a first step in bridging two disciplines to highlight their potential and role in addressing the global challenges.
... And while wages may be climbing, they remain lower than levels 30 years ago after accounting for inflation (Economic Policy Institute, 2017). Meanwhile, stress, burnout, and "compassion fatigue" plague not just healthcare (Gerard, 2017a) but a number of industries ( Jo et al., 2017;Pirson, 2017). And perhaps most concerning, workers today express significantly more anxiety about their health and financial security than they did just two years ago (Willis Towers Watson, 2017). ...
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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to draw parallels between universal basic income (UBI) and universal healthcare, highlighting their conceptual alignment and combined implications for health management and organization. Design/methodology/approach: The idea that everyone should receive a set amount of money regardless of employment finds renewed momentum amid increasingly precarious work arrangements and an uncertain job market. Less explored, however, is the connection between this idea and the more established notion of universal healthcare. This paper brings these two ideas together by examining their shared underpinnings in capitalist work relations, and more broadly a global economic system organized by and for corporations at the expense of workers. Findings: The argument is made that the underlying dynamics of contemporary capitalism cannot be relied upon to provide for basic health and wealth. These limitations must be offset with social assurances that not only mitigate capitalism’s liabilities, but also facilitate innovation and sustainable growth. Originality/value: Rarely have UBI and universal healthcare been considered together. This paper examines their shared origins in a capitalist world system and demonstrates their shared justification in a future increasingly devoid of stable work.
... Dutton et al.'s Administrative Science Quarterly 51(1):59-96 (2006) seminal paper offers a much needed perspective as it allows to conceptualize compassion as an organizational focal point. In a paper that was separately reviewed, I set out to examine boundaries to the general applicability of compassion organizing theory (Pirson 2018). I start by examining the assumptions regarding the human capacity for compassion presented by Dutton et al. (2006). ...
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This brief book brings together researchers and practitioners from medicine, nursing, psychiatry, psychology, social work, marriage and the family and others to explain, measure, prevent, and treat compassion fatigue. This the introduction and other front matter for the book.
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Cambridge Core - Texts in Political Thought - Weber: Political Writings - edited by Peter Lassman