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.