The need for compassion in the midst of bureaucracy.

My community organizer work has been particularly frustrating as of late, due to roadblocks and unsuccessful attempts at funding and change for two different projects.  My (and I think many people’s) first instinct is anger, frustration.  I want to find someone to blame.  Not getting what I/we want must be someone’s fault, right?

Not really.  Through several melancholy yet still productive conversations it has become glaringly clear that unsuccessful work with the City is rarely if ever the problem of one person.  In fact, more often than not the immediate City staff are doing the best that their excessive work load and limited job scope allow to help make the work of neighborhoods as fruitful as possible.  Problem is, so much bureaucracy and hierarchy has been created in even the local government that the hands of each individual civil worker are essentially tied when it comes to making more than basic changes to City policy and strategy.  Communication between departments about shared issues is not well established (though it’s getting better), so smaller scale stakeholders sometimes don’t enter into the conversation until the pivotal decision point has been passed.

So what now?  I can’t blame individuals (and in fact like many of the City staff very much), can’t blame particular departments, and can’t upend the system as a whole because 1) such things only occur during riots, revolutions, and the like and often result in chaos, at least for a time and 2) I don’t yet feel prepared to offer a holistic, viable alternative.  What I can do is practice compassion- compassion for the City staff I interact with, for my co-community organizers, for the residents and business owners in my work and home neighborhoods.

I’m not sure what compassion looks like, and I’m certain it manifests differently depending on the situation.  I do know it includes lots of listening, much less speaking than I’m used to, and holding myself accountable to promises that are made.  Hopefully if I can practice compassion in my work it will not only change my internal response to the situation but slowly yet surely will filter into the way that conversations and interactions happen City-wide.

What am I doing?  Breathing and smiling.  Thanks Thich Nhat Hahn.

Meanwhile I’ll be working on that re-visioning the City plan 🙂

One thought on “The need for compassion in the midst of bureaucracy.

  1. Awesome and encouraging post. It reminds me of that old principle you alluded to; we have to surrender expectations before we can be truly compassionate. What a paradox, when we have so many urgent hopes, and things that simply must change in our city. Man, good to read you’re living in the moment though! Thank you for your work by the way.

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