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Leadership and Compassion

Dan Goleman | 14:25


Thank you so much. I'm glad I could be here, at least for this part of the conference, it's such a wonderful thing to have a conference on empathy and compassion. There should be many more of them in many more places many more times.

I'd like to talk about leadership and compassion. And I would like to expand our definition and understanding of both of those words. For me, a leader is anyone who has a spear of influence, and we all do in our lives somewhere. And as you'll see, over the course, from my remarks, my idea of compassion includes but goes beyond giving explicit giving or giving in more subtle ways. Let me start with a story about a social psychology experiment that was done at the Princeton Theological Seminary with divinity students.

Some of you may know this study, it's quite famous. The students were told they were going to give a practice sermon and be evaluated on the sermon. And they're each given a Bible topic, and then some time to prepare and then told to go to another building, and give the sermon, half of them were given the parable of the Good Samaritan, the man who stopped to help the stranger in need by the side of the road. And the other half were given random Bible topics, then one at a time they go over to the other building as they go over there. Each of them passes someone who's bent over and pain and moaning.

The question is, do you stop to help? The real question is, does it matter? If you're pondering the parable of the Good Samaritan? Answer?

No. It made almost no difference. The real factor was how much time pressure people felt they were under. And this is somewhat the story of our lives. I mean, we're all pressured. And we all have many, many opportunities to help. But we may not notice them. There is a spectrum that runs from first noticing the person and the need, tuning in a tuning, empathizing, understanding what's happening to the person from their point of view.

And then, if they are indeed having compassion for them, and then taking action, each of those is a distinct and separate step in a causal sequence. And that's rather alarming because if noticing is the first step, a tension is a mental faculty under siege today. If you go out to dinner at a restaurant, a romantic restaurant, you'll see a couple sitting at a table together, each of them looking at their phone rather than each other's eyes, something is very wrong. We were now paying more attention to our email and texts, and tweets and so on, when we should be doing other things getting on with our lives.

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