Recently, a Community Action team member walked into my office with her confused looking supervisor following behind. The two seated themselves, and, after a bit of small talk, the team member announced, matter-of-factly, “I asked my supervisor to come here with me because I have something to say.” The supervisor and I exchanged glances. It’s almost never good news when a conversation in the Executive Director’s office starts this way. “You’re always asking us,” she began, “what we’ve learned about poverty at Community Action.” That’s true. At least twice a year we ask our team members what their experiences have taught them about our agency, our community, or about poverty in general. I love reading the answers that come across my desk. Sometimes they’re data-driven, like, “I learned that over 70% of our customers last year were employed, but still needed our services.” Sometimes they have a more humanistic tone, such as, “People in poverty aren’t usually lazy. They just need a little help now and then.”
With a serious look on her face, the team member in my office continued. “I’ve been thinking about that question and last night, the answer finally struck me. It was so meaningful to me that I wanted to share it with you both at the same time.” She straightened her posture and continued, “Since I started work here, the most important thing I’ve learned is compassion. I’m not a very patient person sometimes and I like for every little detail to be just right. Working with my supervisor has helped me understand that we can be accountable and compassionate at the same time.” She added, “it really makes a difference to the people we work with.” Technically, compassion means a “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress, with a desire to alleviate it.”
At Community Action, we fight poverty by providing a wide variety of supports to families and communities. And we do so with a sympathetic consciousness of the distresses and problems our customers are experiencing. We meet them where there are and help situate them to alleviate those stressors. It’s unlikely the team member in my office had taken the time to research exactly which word she wanted to use to describe her “Eureka” moment to her supervisor and me, but she certainly, innately, nailed it with, “compassion”. The team member went on to compliment her supervisor for being a positive example and I thanked them both for sharing the gift of that moment with me.
I love the notion that Community Action staff members not only practice compassion with our customers, but that we also role model it for one another. So today, to all the compassionate poverty fighters out there, I say, “Way to #BeCommunityAction!”