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Compassion is not the soft option

A polar bear can cover 50 meters in under 3 seconds. It lives with permanent hunger and is always on the hunt for food.  Sensibly, the prey of a polar bear will always try to escape – to run or swim away. Myself and my two expedition team mates represented some 420,000 calories – that […]

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A polar bear can cover 50 meters in under 3 seconds.

It lives with permanent hunger and is always on the hunt for food. 

Sensibly, the prey of a polar bear will always try to escape – to run or swim away.

Myself and my two expedition team mates represented some 420,000 calories – that is enough to keep the polar bear happy for over 3 weeks.

We made a potentially fatal error of surprising a young male polar bear.

We stared at each other over 100 meters of badly broken sea ice. Stalemate!

With huge compassion we resolutely walked toward the polar bear. 

Compassion made us attack a polar bear.

Compassion led us all to live.

Let me explain.

The Dalai Lama describes compassion as “empathy with positive action”. It is the definition I use in all my work and the foundation of compassionate leadership. (The empathy I talk about is understanding the other rather then necessarily emotionally feeling another’s pain, but that is another blog).  When you translate “understanding with positive action” into the principles of leadership you get the definition of compassionate leadership “securing the best for all”

The best for all in this situation was to stay alive

To have killed the polar bear was unthinkable. I could not have lived with myself knowing that my vanity and indulgence of trespassing on their land led to the bears death.

And I was also reluctant to offer myself on the alter of bear survival –  or my colleagues for that matter.

So, compassion – understanding with positive action

I understood:

  • The bear was hungry
  • It can run much faster than I can ski
  • My colleagues could ski faster than me too
  • I had a gun – to be precise – Phil had the gun
  • To kill the bear would have been so totally and utterly wrong
  • Normally, the prey would try to escape and so trigger an instinctive hunt and chase response from the bear

With that understanding I acted positively:

  • I did not kill it
  • I did not encourage it to kill me (or my mates)
  • We did something the bear was not expecting
  • We resolutely marched toward it!! 

Un-nerved, the bear turned and walked away.

Facing the bear, we backed away.

We both went on our separate journeys.

We all lived to fight another day.

Compassion let us live.

What is your polar bear?

Your challenge that needs facing?

A threat that could harm you if ignored, but could harm you more if challenged in the wrong way? 

You cannot run away and you cannot attack.

And nor should you do either.

Treat it with compassion

Firm and fair

Tough and kind

Through compassion we can ALL thrive

Compassion – understanding with positive action

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