The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of our inherent interconnectedness with each other, with nature and the fragility of life on this planet. Even before the pandemic, we could witness significant disruptions to planetary health such as climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, social inequality, affecting our lives at all levels: our environment, our political structures, our economy, our communities, our sense of safety, health and well-being are all impacted.
The pandemic and its aftermath of social unrest and anger about social, economic and racial inequality, has altered people’s life to the core; many worry for their livelihood, yet at the same time they are facing the upmost responsibility of someone’s else’s life. Emotions such as a sense of responsibility, connection and compassion towards other beings have become very real and tangible. This severely clashes with the ’I‘ way if thinking – no longer can one distance oneself from the suffering of another.
Now, this brings us something that is very significant: it reveals the most pressing issue of today: how to deal effectively with the interconnected nature of life? How can we cultivate the compassionate response that this interconnectedness required? Said differently, the task of our civilization now is to learn to develop connected and compassionate leadership.
There is good news: the answer can be found in the new emerging science of the mind, which has developed at the crossroads between psychology, neuro-science, systems thinking and pedagogy, inspired by the philosophy and practice of contemplative traditions.
This emerging science reveals the potential of a new learning philosophy, rooted on a holistic and positive understanding of human nature: the transformative potential of the human mind. The learning philosophy is derived from converging insights from contemplative traditions and modern science, which tend to agree that human beings have an untapped potential to develop their mental and emotional capacity. This capacity can be used for the agency of transformative and positive collective action, thus creating a more harmonious and compassionate future for humanity. This agency can also be defined as leadership.
This leadership potential is innate to the human mind. By developing the full capacity of the heart and brain, human beings can learn to positively contribute to themselves, their relationships and the world. This capacity can grow to the level of developing the leadership that will create social, political and economic systems that serve collective human well-being, and preserve vital ecosystems for optimum resilience of all of life. In essence, what we are talking about is a highly evolved form of leadership, expanding the definition beyond how it is commonly understood. We define this as Compassionate Leadership.
The development of the capacity of Compassionate Leadership entails a form of learning that goes beyond cognitive learning, what is traditionally taught at school and university. Rather, it involves learning that cultivates all human faculties, including the somatic, emotional, social, and spiritual dimensions. It is a form of learning that has ‘awareness’ at its base (which is different from yet encompasses rational thinking), and fully acknowledges and enables the potential of ‘awareness-training’ such as mindfulness, which can extend one’s capacity of awareness from oneself, to others, our communities and larger systems.
A person who has cultivated this level of compassionate leadership knows how to evolve one’s individual awareness, with sufficient degree of mental and emotional resilience, and from here evolve one’s collective awareness through our relationships, our organizations and the larger systems around us. I would argue that it is precisely this sort of leadership that will be needed in the challenging post-COVID-19 world.
The New Conscious Times, in partnership with the European Platform for Compassionate Leadership (EUPCL), will offer a series of events and articles on Compassionate Leadership. These are drawn from dialogues with leaders in business, society and academia, including H.H. the Dalai Lama and Dr Daniel Siegel whose dialogue is recorded in this issue of NCT, and a number of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates who have demonstrated compassionate leadership in their lives and work. These dialogues will be backed up by a series of training sessions, aimed at helping leaders to cultivate the qualities of compassionate leadership.
 More can be read about this on www.eupcl.org. Also in the forthcoming book by Sander Tideman and Muriel Arts: “Triple Value – How compassionate leadership can unleash the shared purpose between business and society”, Taylor & Francis.