Op-Ed

Compassion is good medicine for body, mind, spirit and community

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All religions share the common ethical principle of compassion, which is at the very heart of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The foundational precept of medicine and bioethics — Primum non nocere, “First do no harm” — expresses the same benign intention in caring for the sick.

Given their compassionate professional mission of service, how tragic it is that physicians and clergy are among those at highest risk for stress, vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, substance misuse, family discord, burnout and suicide.

Yet, sadly, they are not alone.

The American Psychiatric Association reports that anxiety in Americans is increasing sharply. A recent Blue Cross Blue Shield report found that major depression is increasing dramatically, especially among millennials and adolescents.

A Cigna insurance survey found that loneliness is at epidemic levels. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that suicide rates have increased sharply. Over 47,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2017. U.S. life expectancy, a snapshot of the nation’s overall health, has declined twice in the last three years, fueled largely by preventable “deaths of despair,” including suicides, drugs and alcohol.

Medicine, public health, religions and society at large are mobilizing to address this epidemic of stress. Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance recently created the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion, grounded in the value that mindfulness and compassion are innate human capacities that support health and well-being.

Stanford Medical School’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education investigates methods for cultivating compassion and promoting altruism within individuals and society through rigorous research and provides a compassion cultivation training program.

What can we do locally?

With the holidays approaching, we’ll be once again faced with a moral crisis: how much do we buy for those who already “have” when we are confronted with the needs of the “have-nots?” The red kettles and angel trees remind us that the holidays are not always happy for those among us who struggle to stay warm, stay fed, and stay alive.

In October 2017, the Urban County Council voted to designate Lexington as a compassionate city, part of the international Charter for Compassion movement. Being a compassionate city means more than a plaque on the wall. It means committing to making compassion a core value of who we are as a community. It means taking the compassion we feel in our hearts and putting it into action with our hands and feet.

The holidays are a perfect time to do this. We are already in a generous spirit of holiday cheer and gift-giving, so why not turn some of that outward to our fellow Lexingtonians in need? Many of us will spend hundreds of dollars on presents that our loved ones want, but we also have the capacity to provide basic goods and services for people in need.

Our generosity doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. Many of us have the resources to address both the wants and the needs of our community.

For many of us, the holidays carry with them religious significance, calling us to be mindful of the ways our faith gives us hope and calls us to care for each other. As a basic tenet in all the world’s major religions, compassion doesn’t exclude or discriminate; it is not judgmental; it knows no religious, socio-economic or political boundaries.

Everyone has the capacity to be compassionate to someone else, simply because the person in need is a human being.

Join the compassionate movement by connecting with other compassionate Lexingtonians at https://www.facebook.com/compassionatelexington and Lex Give Back https://lexgiveback.org/, online tools for supporting acts of kindness, compassion, service and volunteerism all year long, and especially during the week of April 22-28, 2019.

Reach Kory Wilcoxson, senior minister at Crestwood Christian Church in Lexington, at kory@crestwoodchristian.org. Reach John A. Patterson M.D., who operates Mind Body Studio in Lexington, at john@mindbodystudio.org.

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