April 15, 2021

Conspiracies of Kindness: The Craft of Compassion at the Bedside of the Ill, By Michael Ortiz Hill


“How do I, in the midst of chaos, find the thread of awareness?”

A question often asked but frequently unanswered. Yet in his book Conspiracies of Kindness: The Craft of Compassion at the Bedside of the Ill, Michael Ortiz Hill offers a potential solution. Through a “simple minded and stubborn” approach, Ortiz Hill addresses the transformation of disconnect into mindfulness, suffering into compassion, and chaos into peace. He gives special regard to healthcare workers treating chronically ill and terminal patients in their transformation from life to death.

Ortiz Hill writes clearly and with precision, making potentially nebulous concepts concrete and tangible. By use of personal story, case histories, interviews, research, and quotes the author suggests that the art of compassion is a learnable craft able to be broken down “into a set of steps.” Ortiz Hill names the four steps of compassion as: Self Compassion, Compassion for Another, Radical Empathy, and Living Compassion.

Although taking a methodical approach to an emotional topic may become impersonal and analytical, Ortiz Hill creates a unique bled of both Western and Native approaches to learning which allows readers to embrace his ideas without becoming too didactic. The author personalizes the craft of compassion by sharing his own journey.

As a teenager Ortiz Hill was both homeless and an addict. He shares these experiences with humility, candidness and distance without detachment. This writing style invites the reader into a complex and emotional topic without becoming sentimental. The author then follows his teenage story with tales of his life as a nurse, father, husband, student, teacher, and hospice care worker — all relevant to the book’s principles.

Each chapter in Conspiracies of Kindness is further separated into numbered headings. Each smaller section holds a lesson and wisdom of its own, part of and separate from the larger work. Much like a book of poetry, the reader can benefit from reading the smaller inspired sections out of order, revealing necessary wisdom for the moment. Or the reader can consume the book in its entirety beginning to end. This successful format makes the book approachable, easy to read, and concepts effortlessly grasped.

Though the author suggests a practical and spiritual journey which weds the demands of nursing with compassionate action, the book is neither dogmatic nor self-righteous. Ortiz Hill pulls from many different religions, practices, and concepts to achieve a clear message that does not cause the reader to feel as if they are being preached at or judged. Concepts taken from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam show the common thread that compassion shares with all religions. References to Tibetan and Buddhist tenets, poetry from Rilke, Blake and Shakespeare, quotes from George Washington Carver, and philosophy from Aldous Huxley and Carl Jung convey compassion as a journey of all people, not only spiritual leaders.

Ortiz Hill also shares interviews and stories of other healthcare workers. Each account promotes the concept that recognizing “other people’s suffering is an opportunity for self compassion, for we are not different from them.”

The author wisely chooses to express each clear cut story without drama or graphic details. This writing choice keeps the book’s premise from being lost in a potential “Hollywood spectacle” of death. But this simplicity does not detract the reader from connecting emotionally to the anecdotes. Humor and tragedy ride side by side, making them personal to the reader.

Conspiracies of Kindness also refers to “walking the tightrope of institutional nursing” in Western healthcare. Without condemning the workers within the system, Ortiz Hill presents other avenues to shift the system from within the system. He supports co-workers, but does not accept that it is inevitable that the caregiver become despondent. The author shares how the profession has become larger than the individual and therefore separates “the healthcare workers from their hearts and generates burn out.” The endless tasks set before caregivers “encourages depersonalization” and a tightening of the heart rather than compassionate treatment.

With this insightful and honest look into Western healthcare, Ortiz Hill maintains that kindness and compassion are possible within the system. He welcomes the reader to view the institution as a village, where all parts are essential and potential avenues for learning.

Conspiracies of Kindness, although focused on healthcare, is not only for medical caretakers. Each person who reads this book will find through shared stories a wisdom that sings to their own experience and fuels empathy for others. As Ortiz Hill reminds, “Empathy is where two stories run parallel to each other and then meet.”

Michael Ortiz Hill lives in Topanga California with his wife Deena Metzger. He is a registered nurse, Buddhist practitioner, and initiated medicine man with the tribal people of Zimbabwe. He is author of Dreaming the End of the World: Apocalypse as a Rite of Passage; Twin from Another Tribe: The Story of Two Shamanic Healers in Africa and North America; and The Village of the Water Spirits: The Dreams of African Americans. He also leads workshops on the “Craft of Compassion.” For more information visit www.gatheringin.com.