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From the time of Charles Darwin, it has been understood that empathy — the ability to feel another’s pain (and joy, although we don’t talk about that as much) — is hard-wired in the human brain. Compassion, though — the act of accompanying another person in his or her suffering — is a social construct that is learned.

The graphic here is from the work of Charles Jennings, who studies how people learn at work. He developed the 70-20-10 approach, which suggests we learn 70% “on the job” —,by doing; 20% through our relationships with others and 10% through formal “book” learning. You didn’t become a good cook by reading cookbooks. You became a cook by cooking. Think of it in terms of playing an instrument or a sport, learning to drive or speak a second language — it makes sense. We become compassion by compassioning. And we grow in our compassion by seeking out more difficult situations, practicing our skills, surrounding ourselves with relationships that help us grow and reflecting, alone or with others.

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