As I hear and reflect upon so much of the national dialogue, particularly in the political arena I grow increasingly concerned about the dissonance that is occurring among our leaders. The extreme level of polarization has moved our country to a place of division, exclusion, fear tactics, intimidation, humiliation and significant discord. Even discussions on key issues that are important to our most vulnerable populations have become sources of division.
Although I understand that diversity of opinion and healthy disagreements can spurn us to think broadly, it appears to me that we have created an environment where good discussions from different perspectives have turned into high threat and disrespect.
In that fear part of the brain we tend to not be creative. We can feel like we have to either fight or leave. This can result in less ability to find solutions to some of our most difficult problems like opioid overdoses, a struggling education system, suicide, violent crime and other social problems. Rather than solution-based discussions and outcomes we end up in a stalemate that only propagates more of the same negative discord.
What I fail to hear in these rather polarizing discussions is a sense of genuine compassion.
Compassion as a general character quality presupposes a level of empathy that is committed to alleviate the pain and suffering of those who we know are struggling. I have taught leaders that a key quality of leadership is compassion described as “empathy in action.” In other words, we understand that strong leaders are able to hear feedback, empathize with the impact of the issues on those we serve and come up with help, solutions or strategizes that alleviate the suffering and/or problems we face with resolve and hope.
Leaders who have compassion will sacrifice, be creative and even compromise some of their thinking and ideologies so that they can mutually arrive at healthy discoveries and opportunities for positive change and real-world solutions to difficult problems. It is not just about legislation, money, programs and who gets the credit. Rather it instills a strong sense of unifying cooperation, negotiation and even concessions in order to improve the condition of our relationships, families, communities and society so as to ease the suffering and pain that is so prominent around us.
Good leaders recognize that bringing together individuals with a diverse set of values can be challenging but also strengthening. In order to be able to do that effectively and create environments of hope, change, trust and growth there has to be the core character of compassion for one another so we can reach beyond our differences and make changes that will bring us to innovations and resolve to some of our most difficult and perplexing societal problems.
Without the core relational competency of compassion there will be little to no opportunity to move from stagnation and isolation to a unifying system of care that we can all be proud of and part of. That will be healing to our children, our citizens and our country.
A great starting point is to bridge our polarizing perspectives through leaders who are willing to join together, find common ground through compassionate approaches and create new opportunities for overcoming the difficult obstacles before us. We need to fill the compassion gap like never before!
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO