“The fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars, but in ourselves!”
The central sacred revelation of the Grail Mystery and the greatest and most profound teaching of Gautama the Buddha meet in a single question, “What ails thee O King?” In the seed of that question lies the very nature of compassion. This is the quality and virtue that is so highly valued by Buddhism and many other religions and philosophies. It is the deep emotion, experience and response to the suffering of others and it motivates a passive or active desire to nurture and assist rather than to ignore or dominate. Our schools for too long have been teaching us “what to think” rather than “how to think.” We could learn from the Buddha. He explained that all suffering stems from self centric or self obsessive thinking. The dominant Cartesian thought of our time is, ”I think therefore I am.” The implication here is clear, it is that I am my thoughts. Once I have made this decision culturally and subconsciously I become subject to the tyranny of my thinking. These runaway self obsessed thoughts can tend to lead us to create, in our imagination, a situation where we suffer a complete loss of relationship with a loved one, or of our health or wealth. Henry David Thoreau in his masterpiece Walden writes, ”Most men (I am sure he includes women) live lives of quiet desperation!” And with his usual brilliance Mark Twain quips, “ I have lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened!”
So what has all this got to do with compassion, or even leadership? It is simply this. When we are in self obsessed thinking we are not handling the problem. It is always personal. We ask, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? It’s not fair, this always happens to me, it must be my karma, it must be my stars alignment and on and on. Not only is it not dealing with the problem but it confines us to our obsessive and chaotic thinking and separates us by distraction from the ones we love most. Simply put we become incapable of compassion in this state. Many philosophies talk about right action. Right action can only come from right wisdom and right wisdom stems from the recognition that compassion needs to be the keystone for all decisions. The deep understanding that I am a flowing river of consciousness in which thoughts arise and cease frees me from the tyranny of chaotic anxiety centred thinking, and enables me to look at problems clearly. If we were truly educated how to think this way then a compassionate life would become automatic as we acknowledged our shared human heritage in the river of consciousness and life. Thus if an eight year old in a playground said to another child, “I hate you, I really hate you!” the former would reply, “I can see you are suffering, Would you like a chocolate, can I help you, can we talk?”
The really great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi are actually led by compassion. They both chose right action through right wisdom. That is true leadership. They see an injustice and become deeply compassionate with the victim of that injustice. It might be economic, social or other discrimination which is causing suffering. They strive for peaceful non violent solutions as they seek long term wise solutions. Others lead us into war, separation and more chaos. Truth and Reconciliation or Gulags and Gitmo it is our choice!
We currently live in awesome times where right wisdom is needed everywhere to help us evolve our expression of humanity from its current divisive, tribal, conflictual and barbaric tendency to one of an abundant and harmonious global family sharing the great wealth of nature as stewards and guardians. Without compassion such a state is unachievable. It is compassion that will drive the next evolutionary turn in business and politics. It is a more harmonious expression of our true nature.
In conclusion a practical example. When I sat on the executive committee of the Intercontinental Hotel Group we created a social and environmental manual for hotels which was subsequently adopted by HRH Prince Charles as the “Prince’s Manual.” It is now active in over four million hotel bedrooms worldwide. The social agenda encouraged hotels to source locally where possible. That is a kind of passive compassion where you support people who can already help themselves. I am now involved in a 3,000 bed hotel project in the Caribbean where we have moved to active compassion. Instead of flying in everything from abroad we will organise the islanders to provide the eggs, milk, butter, poultry, bacon etc directly to the hotels. We will do this through providing infrastructure to the locals, organising them to create cooperatives and arranging central buying agencies for the hotels. In this way we will lift literally tens of thousands of islanders out of poverty.
That is a leadership model infused with active compassion.
It is the future!