The Compassion Revolution


I’m sitting in a large conference room in Melbourne. There are many, many circular tables full of people, and as I look around I realise I don’t know anyone, apart from my husband sitting next to me. And its the first conference we’ve ever been to together. There’s a hum in the room of quiet anticipation. We’ve just climbed several flights of stairs under instructions to use the kiss of each step to practice mindfulness and gratitude. The hum is building – this is something different – is it too early to jump up and hug everyone?

I had already decided to coincide the launch of this website with Mary Freer’s Compassion Revolution conference – what better platform than this.

And when Mary took the platform at the beginning, she pulled everyone together with her comical summative quip: “I needed some help to get this conference going – after all I’ve never started a revolution before” But she definitely knew what she was doing. In her promotion of the “revolution” she described it as gathering together a groundswell of people all taking action to build more compassionate, safe and high quality health and aged care services.

Her vision:

“We urgently need to build a world where we are supported and encouraged to notice the distress in ourselves and others and act to alleviate that distress with the support from those around us.”

– Mary Freer

I knew I was in the right place.

Here are a couple of examples of the outstanding messages that followed over the two days.

Dr James Doty* was a compelling keynote speaker and he sold me on one of his early statements. He said – “every problem in the world is because we don’t have enough compassion/empathy” and then “the world doesn’t need more health care, it needs more compassion” As a health care professional listening to a clinical professor of neurosurgery, I was impressed. He pushed the envelope further by explaining how he turns many people away from surgical options, because what they really need is more compassion!

It was quickly backed up by Adelaide based Dr Fiona Kerr who blew my mind with the science behind compassion. Founder of the Neurotech Institute she talked about how human touch and eye contact have been shown to improve chemical reactions in the brain, and impact on things like pain levels. That is to say that human touch, eye contact, compassion, can be used to reduce the need for pain medication. What does this say about how much focus we place, or don’t place, on human touch in a clinical setting?

With a sense of certainty she also explained that a consistent finding from research is that as soon as we scan two or more brains together while people interact, we see a physical change in both brains.

Therefore, if we assume that a change is a given, the challenge for us what type of change will we create? Will it be a positive one, or a negative one? Our actions, whether we are aware of it or not, physically change the brains of the people around us. Its a humbling thought and really increases the stakes of personal interactions in my mind.

And finally, there was a comment from Dr Doty that really stuck in my mind:

“There should be no person living in poverty without access to shelter and food. We have every bit of money needed to make that happen – what we need is the political will.”

Doesn’t that just say it all when it comes to creating a compassionate world?

You can join the compassion revolution by following Mary’s blog or podcast here

*Mary Freer is a social change maker and a much needed voice for a braver posture of compassion in our health and aged care services across the world.
Mary has a long career in healthcare having worked as a clinical social worker, policy writer, primary care manager, national health executive and now as the Executive Producer of Compassion Revolution and Director of Freerthinking.

*Dr James Doty is the author of the best selling book Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon’s Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart. As director of CCARE, Dr. Doty has collaborated on many research projects focused on compassion and altruism including the use of neuro-economic models to assess altruism, use of the CCARE compassion cultivation training in individuals and its effect, assessment of compassion and altruistic judgment. Presently, he is developing collaborative research projects to assess the effect of compassion training on immunologic and other physiologic determinates of health, the use of mentoring as a method of instilling compassion in students and the use of compassion training to decrease pain.

Learn more about his work at

*Dr Fiona Kerr is founder of the NeuroTech Institute, an independent body working at the intersection of neuroscience, emerging technology and ethical practice.
Fiona advises and works with organisations ranging from US Defense to Cirque du Soleil, with projects including how soldiers interact with autonomous systems in decision making, how to design multimodal gadgets which have a positive cognitive impact, and why face-to-face interaction with a nurse makes a patient heal better. She is an international speaker, appears regularly in media and works across five countries with companies, research bodies and governments such as Finland’s steering committee to design their future AI program.

Learn more about her work at

Authors note: Well I had decided to coincide the launch of this website with the conference, but …. you know what they say about the best laid plans. I’m just about 6 weeks late!

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