Imagine a solemn courtroom, a space often associated with strict judgments and legal rigidity, suddenly transformed into a sanctuary of compassion. This remarkable shift occurred when a group of judges came together to share deeply personal stories, each illustrating moments of empathy and humanity within their courtrooms.
One judge recounted the heartwarming tale of an imprisoned father who got to lay eyes on his newborn son for the first time. This was made possible by a brave attorney who, against correctional officers’ wishes, carried the infant into the gallery of the courtroom. Another judge shared an equally touching narrative of a mother who, upon seeing her child’s deep connection with a prospective adoptive mother, chose to finalize an adoption right before the trial commenced. A third story showcased the emotions of foster parents who, after a judge’s ruling to send a child home, embraced the child’s parents and offered to support them in any way possible.
These emotional stories didn’t just elicit tears and smiles but were poignant reminders of why these legal professionals chose to dedicate their careers to the foster care system. The conversation began with a simple yet profound question: “When have you witnessed compassion in your courtroom?” And thus, the floodgates opened.
I experienced this transformative moment as part of delivering my Capstone Project during my inaugural training as a Compassion Ambassador through the Applied Compassion Training (ACT) at CCARE Stanford.
Judges rarely get the chance to talk about the emotional toll of their work in the foster care system. Given the chance, however, they seized the opportunity wholeheartedly. It was a signal that I was tapping into a long-overdue dialogue that could revolutionize our interaction with families entangled in the foster care system.
Last year, I was inspired to join the ACT program because I came to a sobering realization: the persistent challenges plaguing the foster care system won’t dissipate unless we fundamentally alter how professionals within the system perceive themselves, their colleagues, and the families they serve. Stories of professional burnout and emotional exhaustion are rampant. Too often, overwhelmed professionals project their own struggles onto their colleagues, creating a toxic environment of incivility and needless confrontation.
Worse still, this emotional burden is often transferred onto the vulnerable families in the system, manifesting in judgment, blame, and humiliation. I committed myself to ACT with the conviction that true partnership with these families can only emerge when professionals confront and address their own emotional pain. Through the ACT program, I’ve learned compassion-based approaches to help address the suffering that is present within the system, along with skills and practices that can help professionals apply compassion to the challenges they’re facing.
Though I am merely at the beginning of this exciting journey—with my initial training with the Judges in New Mexico serving as the first of many steps—I’ve come to realize that the opportunity to sow the seeds of compassion exists everywhere. Since my inaugural training with ACT, I’ve been able to apply the principles and practices of applied compassion to the work I’m doing with judges, attorneys, and law school students. I’ve written articles, hosted webinars for fellow attorneys, integrated compassion-focused exercises into my law school curriculum, and even outlined plans for judicial retreats centered around compassion.
The world is not just ready but eager for this conversation about compassion, and I am grateful to ACT for giving me the skills to contribute to this vital dialogue! I would encourage anyone thinking about how to bring more compassion into your personal or professional life to become an Ambassador of Compassion through the Applied Compassion Training at CCARE Stanford.