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If we could read the secret history of our enemies,we would find in each person’s story enough suffering and sorrow thereto disarm all hostilities. 

—Longfellow

We don’t talk about compassion a great deal in our culture and ironically, we suffer for it.

If we are dedicated to seeing change take place—in ourselves or in our society—we need to pay attention to practicing compassion as an essential part of both our personal growth and our professional development. Compassion is the ability to connect with suffering, and usually we avert our gaze from or push away another’s suffering—or our own. The opposite of compassion is indifference, as compassion asks us both to feel and to act.

Seeing where we are stuck—in our lives, in our organizations, in our communities—is the first step toward getting unstuck and allowing us to act and have a greater impact. Struggling against or ignoring our challenges often only buy us a little time. In his new book about cultivating mindfulness in nature, Awake in the Wild, Mark Coleman writes that “before we can experience deep compassion for the pain of the earth or humankind or every living species, we must first open to our own suffering.”

If we are committed to changing ourselves and our world, it seems the old adage of “no pain, no gain” provides an opportunity for us to see where we are contracted and ways of breaking those habitual cycles.  If we truly bring all that we are to our work, we bring our pain as well—whether that’s just a bad day, or something deeper.

We’re rarely supported in our work environments to tell the truth and be honest about where things stand, yet this is an essential part of making our organizations more effective. In a fantastic article about this process, Truth or Consequences: The Importance of Organizational Honesty, one of my mentors, Erline Belton lays out the reasons that we are unable to open up in our organizations, the ways that untruths become organizational realities, and the vitality that can come from a process of create more compassionate organizations.  

On a broader level as well, we see the need for compassion as a way of understanding the complex challenges we grapple with on a variety of scales. Canadian environmental philosopher Neil Evernden has written that “we are not in an environmental crisis, we are the environmental crisis.” Compassion allows us a new way of seeing and an invitation to be more truthful. In doing so, we can do some necessary spring cleaning as a way of welcoming the new season. Even if it’s a simple as giving ourselves a break every now and again to slow down, reflect and contemplate a new way forward, bringing compassion to our individual, organizational and cultural roadblocks can create new opportunities for change.

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