August 5, 2011

Developing a Ripple Effect of Compassionate Instinct

Over the past month I have been savoring a collection of essays from Greater Good magazine published in the book The Compassionate Instinct. Featuring educational, scientific, political, and spiritual leaders, each author promotes an individual call to action as a pathway for developing a societal compassionate instinct.

In the final article, "The Banality of Heroism" by psychology researchers Zeno Franco and Philip Zimbardo, the following paragraph encapsulates the concept of developing this compassionate instinct:

" is important not to fear interpersonal conflict and to develop the personal hardiness necessary to stand firm for principles we cherish. In fact, we shouldn't think of difficult interactions as conflicts but rather as attempts to challenge other people to support their own principles and ideology."

This statement resonates with me as it encourages meaningful interaction that advances societal compassion. In fact, it is what I work on helping my students develop in the classes I teach. In my courses we continuously explore our own values and beliefs and then apply these to how we develop our organizational and leadership practices. I've heard from students that my classes have the reputation of "being deep".

As an instructor and a strategic planning consultant I am becoming ever more comfortable encouraging this type of discussion, one that develops a social compassion. However, I am still learning to express my voice in personal relationships. As an intuitive and feeling person (Myers-Briggs Type ENFJ) I am drawn into observing how people behave and interact. But when I am conflicted by the discontinuity of their actions, or observe that they are unable to pinpoint the source of their feelings of disconnection, I do not move towards interpersonal conflict. Instead, I remain silent. It may take days, months or even years for me to process the conflict of principles and ideologies that were off-kilter with their actions and behaviors. By that point a discussion feels pointless as I have either continued allowing this person treat myself or others without compassion, or I have passively ended our relationship. This approach is a missed opportunity for personal and societal evolution.

What if I were to initiate a dialogue in the moment, instead of locking my thoughts away for future contemplation? To do this I need to practice separating the fear of rejection that I harbor with the opportunity to develop a deeper connection. Perhaps the end result would still be a parting of ways, but at least we would both have exercised an exploration of values that results in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. I predict that this approach will result in clarity of personal values, for each of us, and have a ripple effect of developing a compassionate instinct in all our interactions.