Compassion - the heart of service with Nickolas Yu - Happy + Well : Happy + Well

Compassion – the heart of service with Nickolas Yu

Written by on April 3, 2016 in Happiness with 2 Comments


Nickolas-YuNickolas Yu tells us about a time when his father invited his family to dinner in China Town. This was usually a cause for celebration, but something was different this time. As they sat down to eat, his father made an announcement. “Nobody worry, I want to tell you something. I have a cancer. In three parts of my body. Doctor says maybe I have five months to live.” Nickolas started crying. “I said nobody worry!” his father said.

When he went to the hospital, where his father would eventually die, he had an experience with the hospital administration staff that shaped his whole view on medical care.

Arriving in the waiting room, the admin staff member ignored Nickolas and his father. When Nickolas cleared his throat, she held up a hand: “Wait. I’m busy.” The man with the loud Cantonese voice, used to ordering yum cha in busy restaurants, started asking Nickolas, “Wah, why she no see me?” The people in the waiting room who had been watching Jerry Springer realised that the real action was over at the desk.

The admin person told them that his father was ‘not in the book.’ He was meant to be there yesterday. They stood there in dismay, not wanting to wait another six weeks for an appointment as their family grew closer to losing his father. The doctor came out and asked what was wrong. She told them she would see him anyway.

“But he’s not in the book!” the administrator said. The doctor told the admin staff that it was OK, she would see them.

Nickolas and his father got to ask their questions of the doctor, who listened compassionately and gave them information to go away and think about. Afterwards, his father said “This doctor, very good doctor.” When they walked past the admin staff, he said, “But this one, a dumb-dumb.”

The compassionate care that Nickolas received as a teenager is something that he brings to his work at Sydney Local Health District. He uses meditation to support a compassionate workplace.

“The ability to be with people is absolutely crucial,” he says.

We also need to be self-compassionate. “Things are not always going to go our way – that’s when we need to be a good friend to ourselves.”

Nickolas’s program has helped hundreds of hospital and health service workers to practice mindful meditation, kindness and compassion.

“In the end, we need more than personal action. We need organisation and social action,” Nickolas says. “Hard-wiring compassion into organisations can make this change,” he says.

His father ended up living past his ‘use-by date’ – he lived for another five years, not five months. Nickolas asked his father how he did this. Tai-chi, superfood and a sunny mind, he told his son. “What about the Western experimental medicine you received over the last five years?” Nickolas asked.

“That also good.”


Nickolas Yu, Founder, Slow Coach; Program Manager for Staff Wellness and Patient & Family-Centred Care, Sydney Local Health District presented this at Happiness & Its Causes 2016.


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  1. Lyn Rowland says:

    Nickolas Yu was outstanding. A breath of fresh air. Through his stillness and authenticity he bought the art of compassion to life. I could have listened to him for hours. His work places Sydney Local Health District so far ahead of most public health institutions. Congratulations.

  2. Jenny says:

    Nick was so inspiring, I think we all need a bit of his compassionate care in our wokrplaces

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