Blog entry by Alan Chapman
Compassion - Graham Williams
This is the second interview and quiz in a new 'thought leader' series on the Businessballs blog.
These are interviews of world-leading thinkers ('thought leaders' ) by Alan Chapman - each in a similar format of a few simple questions, and then a quick quiz about the subject.
Graham Williams is interviewed here by Alan Chapman on the subject of Compassion.
N.B. This work is of such great importance and immediate relevance that it is published now prior to final editing, and some improvements and refinements are likely in time.
Graham Williams is among the most wise, brilliant, loving people I've ever known.
He offers his extraordinary wonderful wisdoms, guidance, and concepts for human and organizational understanding and growth, in many different ways, through many outlets, publications and works.
Graham Williams is example and role-model - a teacher who transcends the teachings of other people's ideas - so that we might best think of his showing the 'Graham Williams' way to live and be.
I first found Graham through his storytelling, and his teachings of the powers of stories, several years ago.
I encourage everyone to explore his work, for example at: http://www.haloandnoose.com/
What is Compassion?
English psychologist Paul Gilbert defines compassion as “... a basic kindness, with deep awareness of the suffering of oneself and of other living beings, coupled with the wish and effort to relieve it”. (Gilbert, P. 2013) I would extend this beyond one individual showing compassion to another - to incorporate a collective sharing of compassion between giver and receiver and vice versa, and also to embrace a worldview that includes family, home and means of sustenance in their widest senses:
Our “ Family” or all of society viewed as a cohesive, attending community of all living, sentient beings,
Our “ Home” which is the universe and planet that sustains us. It is all of nature. A place where our living is characterised by eco-centricity and responsible, compassionate stewardship.
Our “ Means”, which is provided in an economy that is circular not linear, where the focus is on compassionate extraction, harvesting, manufacturing, distributing and simple using/ re-using, sharing and reinventing resources in a way that sustains and regenerates.
Some of this is illustrated in the following story where we can trace a progression from dislike and anger, to an awareness of suffering, to a development of sympathy/pity (for another/others), to empathy (with another/others), to a state of compassion and the urge to carry out an ethical
action of love (a bridge), to help relieve the suffering. Then action is taken and has a knock-on effect. Compassion becomes a collective phenomenon.
“In 1944 the mother of the poet Yevtushenko travelled from Siberia to Moscow, where she witnessed a procession of 20, 000 German prisoners of war marching through the streets. The generals strutted at their head, oozing contempt, determined to show that they still considered themselves superior.
‘The bastards smell of perfume’, someone shouted. The crowd yelled its hatred. The women waved their clenched fists in anger, and the police had great difficulty in holding them back.
But when the Russians saw how pitifully thin and ragged the ordinary German soldiers were, dirty, battered and completely miserable, many of them hobbling on crutches, the street became silent.
Suddenly, an elderly woman broke through the cordon and held out a crust of bread to one of the soldiers.
Then from every side, other woman copied her, giving food, cigarettes, whatever they had with them.
The soldiers were no longer enemies. They were people”.
(Zeldin, T. 1998)
SCENE OF A STORY THAT IS TO FOLLOW
AWARENESS OF PLIGHT.
IN THIS SILENT, LIMINAL SPACE WE SENSE THE EMERGENCE OF
COMPASSION AND AN URGE TO ACT
GIVING, LOVE, SELF-EMPTYING (‘kenosis’) IN ACTION.
TRANSCENDED. COMPASSION BRIDGES THE SUPERIOR: INFERIOR GAP
Why is compassion important?
As humanity as evolved over the ages and gained in consciousness, learned to cooperate, look after each other, bonded in families and communities, we’ve learned to be compassionate. Neuroscientist Rick Hansen says that “Love is woven into your day because it's woven into your DNA: as our ancestors evolved over the last several million years, many scientists believe that love, broadly defined, has been the primary driving force behind the evolution of the brain”. (Hansen, Rick. 2013)
The Dalai Lama has often stated that “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive”.
Zia H. Shah, MD and Chief Editor of the Muslim Times, sees compassion as a bridge between people, and points out that, according to the Quran, “… the litmus test for true belief and genuine worship is that it leads to compassionate living”. (Shah, Z.H. 2013)
The Charter of Compassion proclaims that “We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world … Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity”. (Charter of Compassion. 2009).
We know that something in the human condition allows for conflict, genocide, atrocities, concentration camps, the easy acceptance of ‘collateral damage’ during wars, anarchy and looting, gross deception and fake news, unbelievable cruelty and abuses, selfish ‘me first’ and ‘me only’ thinking, a desire to control others. And we also know that something in the human condition embraces an incredible appreciation of beauty, creativity, truth-seeking, bonding, sacrificial compassion, and selflessness.
As we reimagine, approach and engage with an uncertain future, what do we see? Will the scales tip towards us becoming a more compassionate species?
You sound concerned. Are you?
Because there are signs that compassion is on the wane. More and more people are being caught up in the ‘me first, look after number one, me only’ mind-set. This is the antithesis of serving others and of being compassionate.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, super-fast, complex, high-tech and low- touch could lead to greater disconnection between people, hasten transhumanism? Dwindling natural resources (water, food, clean air) might well put more emphasis on survival and on ‘us versus them’. The coronavirus pandemic has ushered in social distancing and with it a new term coined by therapists: “stranger anxiety”.
We are seeing the bystander effect happening to a greater extent. One example:
In August, 2016 BBC World News TV broadcast images of a man in Delhi who was knocked over by a vehicle. The driver stopped to have a quick look, then travelled on. Witnesses and passers-by paid no heed to the man’s plight. After an hour, someone walked to where he lay and stole his cell phone. The man died later, unattended. (BBC. 2016)
Research by Sara Konrath at the University of Michigan and others indicates that we are inclining towards becoming less empathic. (Weikle, B 2019)
And Dr Amy Bradley of Hult Ashridge Executive Education believes that compassion is overlooked in most organisations - where there is a trend towards dehumanisation and a transaction-paradigm rather than an interaction-paradigm. (Bradley, A. 2019)
What do you think we should be doing about this?
Compassion is not something that can be taught intellectually. Rather it is what singer, poet Leonard Cohen termed “a revelation of the heart”. Here are three of the things we can do to nurture soft hearts:
Deepen our Understanding and Awareness
“If you do not understand, you cannot love”. (Thich Nhat Hanh. 2020)
Perspective: we are all an inextricably interconnected and interdependent part of the web of life, which we share (across past, present, future boundaries) with other species, nature, the planet. We are only a tiny blip in the immensity of universal time and space - as individuals, and as a species.
Thomas Merton explains from his perspective as a Trappist monk:
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world…” (Merton, T. 2014)
Put yourself in another’s shoes at every opportunity. Rachel Naomi Remen, is a medical doctor with a chronic illness. She acts from a place of understanding:
"Before every session I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this man has that I cannot share with him, no fear I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep his wound, he does not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever his story, he no longer needs to be alone with it. This is what will allow his healing to begin". (Remen, R. 1996)
Develop personal practices that suit you, to internalise and practice your compassion
Practice makes better, if not perfect!
Meditation is a way of ‘subduing’ the egoic self in stillness and silence, and we can then enter more specifically into practices such as lovingkindness meditation - to direct love and compassion to self and all sentient beings. Other helpful practices may include reflection, contemplation, prayer, labyrinth walks, time in nature, yoga, chanting of mantras, icon gazing, attentive listening to music and to others, practicing simplicity, expressing gratitude and journaling, and active imagination exercises.
There is untold power in forgiveness, in freeing our minds of past resentments and anxieties about the future to allow for more compassion in the present.
Remember that compassion doesn’t elevate us. It is not an individual, superior ‘helping’ or ‘giving’, self-serving attribute or property. Rather, it is something that equalises us. It is above the personal. It can be seen as a non-dualistic dynamic shared between ‘giver’ and ‘receiver’, a sharing of ‘one mind’, an equal connectedness or relationship - so that the collective, the whole is healed. Pioneering theologian Cynthia Bourgeault teaches that “ Compassion doesn't belong to the individual, it is an emergent property of the whole". (Bourgeault, C. 2017)
Use bridging stories to spread a climate of compassion
In our brain, synapses are the gaps between neurons. Connection-activity in the synaptic space is vital. Using the brain neuron and synapse analogy, psychologist Louis Cozolino coined the term “social synapse” to refer to the gaps between people, and the vital importance of our gap activity. (Cozolino, L. 2006) In today’s World where many share what William James the pioneering psychologist called a “torn-to-pieces-hood”, bridging stories forge connections, facilitate acceptance of each other, allow engagement and learning, and reinforce a prosocial and compassionate mindset. (Williams, G. et al 2020)
In brief, stories that transcend walls and build bridges are non-egoic, relational rather than transactional. At all levels from personal to nation-state. In moving to a new way of sharing our stories, we:
Research thoroughly, both the topic and the listening audiences’ cultural sensitivity and worldview, prepare our hearts and forgive,
Reach out, approach and engage with sensitivity, choose non-violent language, listen deeply to the other’s story within flexible frames. (Empathy walks and humble enquiry may be aids to building the bridge).
Welcome what flows between tellers and listeners at the unseen, unheard, unknown, mysterious level. This includes an understanding of a reality that sees the mind as not belonging to a single individual, but instead as “an emergent, self-organising, embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information”. (Siegel, D. 2017); that consists of a deep, invisible “implicate” order (which we will never fully comprehend and understand and) which lies below and beyond our observed “explicate” reality - as conceptualised by quantum physicist Daniel Bohm; and allowing for the phenomenon of morphic resonance as developed by scientist Rupert Sheldrake - the extended mind and an inexplicable ‘unconscious knowing’ of where the real and the imagined intersect. (Sheldrake, R. 2020)
Expect Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff’s ‘law of three’ outcome, where two opposing stories may result in a new, unforeseen third story. A teaching from Jesus is that if a seed (‘for’) falls to the ground (‘against’), then only with water & sunlight (a reconciling force) will there be a sprout (birth of the new). (Bourgeault, C. 2013)
And live your stories. The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous encapsulates for us the core aspect of being fully human as we attempt to recover the compassion that we are in danger of losing:
"Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough. You have to act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be. It may mean the loss of many nights’ sleep, great interference with your pleasures, interruptions to your business. It may mean sharing your money and your home, counselling frantic spouses and relatives, innumerable trips to court, hospitals, jails and asylums … Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others”. (“J”. 1996)
QUIZ QUESTIONS for teaching, sharing, spreading a compassionate worldview
Is compassion a feeling, emotion, state of being, or way of living?
Essentially, is compassion about helping others one-on-one? Yes or No
Which religions are most well known for teaching compassion?
Where is compassion most needed in our damaged, divided World: in our families, communities, institutions, nations? In our workplaces? Where diversity and hatred exist side by side, by migrants, politicians, those in the helping professions, ourselves?
It is all of these
Yes, but it is also a collectively shared state. Compassion may be exercised towards people, animals, nature - and guide our giving and receiving, working, and earning
Compassion is a characteristic of humankind. It transcends and is incorporated as a primary value and practised by every religion
Compassion is needed more than ever in every single, place, situation, event, interaction in our deeply interconnected world as we move into an uncertain, different future
AN OPTIONAL REFLECTION
A Samaritan comes across a robbed, beaten-up man lying on the notorious ‘Way of Blood’ road from Jerusalem to Jericho, bleeding and dying. The dying man is assumed to be Jewish, a member of a race that at that time avoided and hated half-breed, outcast Samaritans.
But the Samaritan (unlike a Priest and member of an elite Jewish tribe associated with the priesthood who had passed the man earlier) doesn’t cross to the other side of the road and become a bystander or bypasser, doesn’t practice any social or physical distancing, perhaps risks catching a virus, and goes to the man’s aid, pours expensive wine and oil on his wounds, bandages them. He puts the wounded man on his donkey. His journey is thus interrupted and slowed down, placing himself at risk of attack by robbers.
He takes the wounded man to an inn, looks after him, then leaves the next day, paying the inn keeper and giving instructions that the man be cared for until the Samaritan’s return, when he will reimburse the innkeeper for any extra expenses incurred. Not in a superior or “I am giving to you” or “you owe me” way.
Put yourself in the shoes of the wounded man. You are not the ‘hero’ of the story giving assistance to another. You are the victim, receiving compassion from someone from a race and class that you detest, who has a very different worldview and beliefs, and is a threat to what you stand for.
Imagine: you have been rendered impotent, are totally dependent on his help, on this unwanted neighbours’ compassion.
Are you able to love this helping stranger as you love yourself, unconditionally?
BBC World News (2016) Delhi Hit-And-Run Victim Robbed As He Lays Dying 1th August, 2016 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-37043744
Bourgeault, Cynthia (2013) The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity ShambhalaBourgeault, Cynthia (2017) The Heart of Compassion 2017 Festival of Faiths https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=dl8qaVRiK5U
Bradley, Amy (2019) The Human Moment: the positive power of compassion in the workplace LID Publishing
Charter for Compassion (2009)
Cozolino, L (2006) The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: attachment and the developing social brain Norton & Company, Inc. NY
Gilbert, Paul (2013) The Compassionate Mind: a new approach to life’s challenges Constable, London
Hansen, Rick (2013) Trust in Love Just One Thing Newsletter, 17 July
“J,” (1996) A Simple Program: A Contemporary Translation of the Book “Alcoholics Anonymous” Hyperion
Merton, Thomas (2014) Adapted by Thomas Moore Conjectures of a guilty bystander Image
Remen, Rachel Naomi MD (1996) Kitchen Table Wisdom The Berkley Publishing Group (Penguin)
Shah, Zia H (2013) Two Hundred Verses about Compassionate Living in the Quran Muslim Times, October 29th, 2013
Sheldrake, Rupert (2020) Morphic Resonance https://www.sheldrake.org/research/morphic-resonance
Siegel, Daniel J. MD Mind: a journey to the heart of being human W.W.Norton & Company 2017
Thich Nhat Hanh (2020, February) To Practice Mindfulness Is to Return to Life: on mindfulness, harnessing compassion, and cherishing life lIONS rOAR, February, 2020 From For a Future To Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Wonderful Precepts published by Parallax Press; reprinted with permission
Weikle, Brandie (2019) How to cultivate compassion Reader’s Digest
Williams, Graham, Gargiulo, Terrence & Banhegyi, Steve (2020) From walls to Bridges with Story: exploring ways of countering the societal, economic and environmental impacts of negative, belittling, divisive, harmful and false narratives A draft manuscript for an Encyclopaedia of Business Storytelling to be published by World Scientific Publishers.
Zeldin, Theodore (1998) An Intimate History of Humanity Vintage