March 2015

Be Compassionate

We're All Human

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
- Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

“The lotus is the most beautiful flower, whose petals open one by one. But it will only grow in the mud. In order to grow and gain wisdom, first you must have the mud—the obstacles of life and its suffering. ... The mud speaks of the common ground that humans share, no matter what our stations in life. ... Whether we have it all or we have nothing, we are all faced with the same obstacles: sadness, loss, illness, dying and death. If we are to strive as human beings to gain more wisdom, more kindness and more compassion, we must have the intention to grow as a lotus and open each petal one by one.”
- Goldie Hawn

Compassion is an important part of all aspects of life.

Compassion, the ability to feel for another and want the best for that person, is closely linked to self-compassion. This became most apparent to me during a period of intense self-work I pursued. Two insights were momentous and seemed to link together. One was my recognition that I had pain about myself, not just for others. My creative behavior teacher suggested that I give myself a margin of error. The ability to give myself even a tiny break away from perfectionism, coupled with acknowledging my own internal suffering, allowed me to be compassionate toward myself. As I cultivated this inside myself, I became less harsh toward others.

This, then, is our focus for the month: the cultivation of compassion in conversations, both toward the self and toward the other.

As we turn back to Sally and Donna, it is quite apparent that Sally does not exude compassion for others or toward herself. Sally's friend, Alex, seems to show compassion as does her boss, Tom.

Donna, on the other hand, exudes compassion. She also has cultivated the ability to be compassionate toward herself. She acknowledges how her own self-development in this realm has helped her be compassionate toward others.

As you enter their worlds again, look for obvious and subtle ways in which all the characters display compassion toward themselves or toward others.

While Sally and Larry are at dinner making small talk, Sally's phone rings. She looks at her caller ID and sees that it is Alex. She definitely does not want to talk to Alex so she doesn't answer it. Alex leaves a message. Suddenly, Sally's mood shifts. She goes back to the conversation with Alex earlier that day when she felt like strangling him. Just thinking about it, she gets angry. Her nostrils flare and her breathing gets short.

“What in the world is going on?” Larry asks, looking at Sally in a way that is simultaneously inquisitive and scolding.

“Now don't you start being uppity with me buster!” Sally retorts. “I don't need you getting on my case. Not in the least, so lay off.”

“Sally, you are really being unreasonable,” Larry responds. “I simply want to find out what is going on with you. You've been on edge for weeks and tonight is no different. What in the world is getting you so upset? Whatever it is, it isn't worth it. A few minutes ago, you were fine. Then the phone rang. What is going on?”

Sally takes a deep breath. “The call was from Alex,” Sally says. “He's joined the dark side.” Sally smiles for the first time since Alex's call. “It's like he drank the Kool-Aid too. He speaks gibberish. And he thinks I'm the one with the problem. He thinks I should give Tom a chance tomorrow morning. He said I shouldn't walk out, that I should give them all a chance.”

Larry scrutinizes his wife for a moment, then he speaks. “Well, whatever you want to do is fine with me. I just want you to be happy. Since you've been in this crazy job, you've been miserable. And when you're miserable, I'm miserable. So, actually, now that I think about it, I say, go. Go and go fast. What does Alex know anyway?”

Now Sally scrutinizes Larry. “You just care about yourself. You don't care about me and what's good for me.” Sally turns away from Larry, pouting and angry.

“Sally, now stop pouting,” Larry says. “That is not true and you know it. How can you say that about me? I'm your biggest fan. Of course I care about you. But I know that you haven't been happy. I just want you to be happy. And it seems that this place is making you miserable. I haven't heard you say one good thing about anyone there. Why in the world would you stay if your head hunter found you a job and wants to place you? It seems perfect. Why is what Alex thinks so important anyway?”

Sally is holding back tears and anger. She doesn't know what to do with all the emotions that are bombarding her. She clenches her jaw even more and spits out, “You're just like them. No one understands me. Let's go home.”

Larry is exasperated. He hates when she gets like this. He doesn't know how to console her or how to ward off her attacks. This is not his favorite part of their marriage. When Sally gets like this, he has learned to lay low and let her blow through it.

Sally storms out of the restaurant and pouts in the car, waiting for Larry. They drive home in icy silence.

While we wait to see what happens between Sally and her boss, Tom, let's catch up with Donna...

Donna leaves the meeting feeling great about herself, her team, and the organization. She is on cloud nine. She sits down at her desk and checks emails. There's an urgent email from one of her direct reports. The email is very short and to the point. The funding is at risk of being pulled for the project on which Emily, who is a star member of Donna's team, has been working.

Donna is shocked. She thought that everything was going well with the project. They've been meeting their milestones and they're on budget. She has no idea what could be going on. She goes to Emily's office immediately.

Emily is sitting at her desk stunned. She's reading emails, trying to make sense of the news. As Donna walks in, Emily gets up and goes toward her, shaking her head.

“I am so sorry,” Emily begins. “I had no idea this project was in trouble. I really thought everything was fine. It turns out, there were risks that weren't being addressed sufficiently and the funder is getting cold feet. I really don't blame them. Now that I understand what's going on, I feel terrible that I wasn't on top of it more. I feel like it is all my fault. I'm so sorry.”

Donna, nodding, says, “I can understand that you're surprised and upset. Tell me what happened that catalyzed the funding issue and we'll look for solutions. Which project team members should be part of the solution?”

“I'd rather talk about the situation with you first and then bring the team together,” Emily says. Donna nods agreement.

Emily and Donna sit down together. Emily starts slowly. She describes how she has been working with this project team. Now, in retrospect, she realizes that she gave them too much latitude and wasn't rigorous enough with them.

“Right now, as I've been thinking about my behavior, I realize that I wanted to be liked and so I wasn't hard enough on them,” Emily explains. “Now it's blown up and it's my fault. I might have been able to prevent this if I had been more rigorous with them. I feel so bad.”

Donna takes a moment to digest what she's heard.

“Emily, thank you for being so open with me,” Donna responds. “I really appreciate it. And I, too, understand the trap of wanting people to like you. You're absolutely right about it making you a less effective leader. I'd like to hear your thoughts on how you want to handle this with the team and then with the funder.”

Emily sighs deeply. “Donna, thank you for being so understanding. I was concerned about telling you, but I realized that it was for the best. I really want to work on this aspect of myself so that I can be a better leader. I know that if I'm able to be harder on the team regarding high standards, it doesn't mean that I have to be mean about it. Sometimes, I think I get those two things all muddled. Anyway, more about that later. Now, about the team...” Emily goes on to describe how she wants to talk with the team, what changes she wants to implement, and how she wants to put more rigor into their process regarding managing risk.

Donna asks a bunch of questions, then Emily begins to think through how she's going to approach the funder. Donna offers a few suggestions and then says, “Well Emily, it seems like you have this under control. Keep me posted as to how your project meeting goes and how the conversation with your funder goes. From what I hear, I think you caught it soon enough and you and your team will be able to pull it out of the bag. In terms of your learning as a leader, I'm sure this will be a momentous occasion.”

“You're right about that for sure,” Emily responds. “And, Donna, I can't thank you enough for your understanding, your wisdom, and your guidance. I look forward to giving you a good follow-up story soon.”

The two women part, both feeling good about themselves, each other, and the health of the project.

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