• May 29, 2008

“Companies have a real soul, and grow real compassion amongst its constituencies.”

Rev. Thierry asked me to talk about expe­ri­ences of Compassion in busi­ness and I have been searching long and hard to find exam­ples and to maybe better under­stand what Compassion is about. The first thing that struck me was that « Com­pas­sion » has the same ety­mo­log­ical root as « pa­tience », and busi­nessmen are hardly patient people. It was thus very dif­fi­cult for me to find the link between pas­sion, Compassion and busi­ness.

There is of course – and we are sur­rounded by exam­ples – the busi­ness of com­pas­sion, as opposed to Compassion in busi­ness. There are many char­i­ties and non-profits orga­ni­za­tions that are nowa­days pro­fes­sion­ally man­aged , by statis­tics; where the only thing that mat­ters is how many con­tacts do they have– not the number of hearts, but the number of people, the number of houses, the number of this or that, the per­cent­ages of people that have a cer­tain dis­ease. It is all about num­bers. These orga­ni­za­tions are man­aged to achieve growth and vis­i­bility and often become inward looking for­get­ting their orig­inal pur­pose, to sup­port suf­fering indi­vid­uals. They bring good con­science and self-sat­is­fac­tion to the donors rather than serving the needy people.

Recently, I read in the Harvard magazine an amazing essay about how people can be influ­enced by images. If you show images of a suf­fering child or of a suf­fering indi­vidual, people will react saying “you know, I will give much money to save that child or that suf­fering person". Then you show a pic­ture of two people, and the exper­i­ment demon­strates that people will give you 17% less. For some reason, they are more involved when it comes to one indi­vidual rather than when they are two. And then if you show a pic­ture of a crowd, people will actu­ally give 50% less than the amount they would have given for one iso­lated person. I thought that was inter­esting. It is inter­esting because it reveals some­thing about Compassion which must con­sist in a one-on-one expe­ri­ence. There is that very per­sonal dimen­sion in Compassion. Compassion can there­fore be under­stood as the will­ing­ness to help that specific soul, that specific heart, that specific body.

Businessmen are not com­fort­able with Compassion. Over years, we have been taught in busi­ness schools (Harvard busi­ness school among others – we talk about Harvard because of the impor­tance of its pub­li­ca­tions) that busi­nessmen are meant to serve the share­holders who must be their sole con­cern.They were taught they were liable towards share­holders only. In this sense, busi­nessmen are a-moral enti­ties, cor­po­ra­tions that serve a single pur­pose, the cre­ation of wealth. They forget that busi­ness is actu­ally the corner stone of our society, and that it can serve many dif­ferent causes. Business deals with a whole world that embraces var­ious actors such as the employees and the sup­pliers but also the cus­tomers and, of course, the share­holders.

It seems to me that the society is more and more aware of the destruc­tion of nature - busi­nessmen daily tackle the issue of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment-. They should deepen this anal­ysis and include- and there is hope that per­haps, one day they will – the human dimen­sion, the human dig­nity. We must under­stand that the indi­vidual -the human as a body (as an animal), but also the human as a soul- is some­thing excep­tional that needs to be respected and pre­served, just as nature. And I can only hope that the con­cept of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment will one day encom­pass those other dimen­sions of human nature, con­science and feel­ings.

What does dif­fer­en­tiate, or per­haps, what does bring together com­pa­nies such as Verizon, Goldman Sachs, Bank of New York or Price Waterhouse? There are com­pa­nies in which the leader, the CEO has made a par­tic­ular com­mit­ment to Compassion. He/she has made a per­sonal com­mit­ment and encour­ages his/her fel­lows in doing so, in hope that they will in turn involve the people underneath them. These com­pa­nies are com­mitted to devel­oping the com­pas­sion dimen­sion amongst their employees, are com­mitted to expanding on the aware­ness and the ful­fill­ment of human dig­nity within their com­pa­nies. The CEOs of these com­pa­nies gen­er­ally have made a per­sonal com­mit­ment not in terms of money but in terms of time, often to a one-on-one rela­tion­ship with a person in need. Unlike most com­pa­nies, which con­tribute some­what blindly to a large spec­trum of char­i­table orga­ni­za­tions but without the employees’ per­sonal involve­ment, the above men­tioned com­pa­nies have a real soul, and spread Compassion among their mem­bers. These com­pa­nies improve the social well-being by devel­oping the sense of respon­si­bility of the com­mu­nity and pro­mote healthy sus­tain­able social and human basic values as well. These com­pa­nies and their CEOs also under­stand that Compassion, just as love and many other human feel­ings, can actu­ally be taught. It is not abstract, it is some­thing one can actu­ally exper­i­ment. One who feels Compassion receives in return. The expe­ri­ence of Compassion results in a feed­back pro­cess. If you start once helping some­body, reaching out and feeling what you get in return, it becomes a drug: you want to expe­ri­ence it again and again. I think that a center such as the ICCC (International Center for a Culture of Compassion) could be an excel­lent place to teach Compassion to the cor­po­rate world.

I am con­vinced that’s a won­derful objec­tive. I strongly believe in it.

Antoine Treuille

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