Meeting Complexity with Compassion

user Darren Gold
calendar

When I was in my early thirties, something very interesting happened to me. I changed my mind. I had been invited to attend the annual Milken Conference in Los Angeles. The event is sponsored by the Milken Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank focused on global health, education, and economic policy. The conference is held over multiple days, offering participants the opportunity to attend talks in different formats across a wide range of topics.

On one particular day at the event, I chose to attend a breakout discussion on the legalization of drugs. This wasn’t a topic that particularly interested me, and to be honest, I was pretty closed-minded about the idea. I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, a period of time that marked the launch of the war on drugs. As a teenager, I was bombarded with messages warning of the dangers of drug usage: the “this is your brain on drugs” public service announcement featuring an egg being cooked in a frying pan; pleas from First Lady Nancy Reagan to “just say no” to drugs; LAPD cruisers that displayed bumper stickers promoting DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Organization). The crusade against drugs arguably reached its pinnacle in 1988 when Congress authorized a new federal department led by the new position of drug czar. Notably, the statute expressly prohibited the use of federal funds to study the legalization of drugs. For many at the turn of the twenty-first century, to even entertain the notion of legalizing drugs felt immoral and dangerous.

To say that I came into this session with a fixed point of view was an understatement. Nevertheless, over the course of the hour, something magical happened. It was a small session, attended by only about twenty people. The speaker was a deep subject matter expert. He dispassionately presented the findings of numerous comparative studies that showed the absence of any negative effects from legalizing drugs in a handful of Western European countries. In some cases, in fact, the research showed that drug usage declined following legalization. I don’t know whether it was this particular expert, the overwhelming weight of the research findings, or my own emerging intellectual maturity. Whatever it was, my mind was blown wide open that day. I came in self-righteous and certain about an issue I hadn’t really spent time examining deeply. I left with a deep appreciation of the nuances and subtleties of an inherently complex issue.

To be sure, I had had moments before in college and the early part of my career where I learned something new that changed my mind. But there was something about this experience that was different. Looking back, I believe the event marked the entry into a new stage of moral and cognitive development that allowed me to see myself, others, and the world with more complexity and, perhaps more importantly, more compassion. In the years that followed, I have noticed my thinking on a wide range of subjects mature. For example, I have moved from an almost fanatical, unquestioning support of the free market to a place where I can appreciate both the virtues of capitalism and its inherent limitations. I have evolved from a strict constructionist view of the Constitution (so ardent was I in law school that a professor playfully named a principle of constitutional interpretation after me) to a point of view that both respects the original intent of our founders and believes there is and must be room for our constitution to evolve to meet the changing needs of our country.

Why do I mention all of this? Two words – complexity and compassion. We are more polarized than ever today because these two critical ingredients are in such short supply. By complexity, I mean the developmental maturity to suspend certainty and self-righteousness in order to see the subtleties of an issue and appreciate the other point of view. By compassion, I mean the ability to empathize with the person holding the point of view that you disagree with, as reprehensible or wrong as that point of view may seem to you. My experience in that session gave me an early taste of both ingredients. It allowed me to see the many shades of grey of an issue that I had been perceiving as black and white. It was as if I had put on a magical set of glasses and was able to see the world totally differently. And because I had had this experience, I could now see the possibility of wisdom from an opposite point of view. In fact, I could no longer ignore the fact that virtually every alternative view has within it some seed of wisdom and truth. I now had the capacity to treat with compassion those who, like me, saw the world through the black and white lens of certainty.

Complexity and compassion are the essential ingredients of a healthy, well-functioning society. Where have you been so certain about something only to fundamentally evolve your point of view? And how can you leverage that experience to approach the issues of our time with greater nuance and empathy? We cannot expect a better world unless we are first willing to change how we currently see it.

Back to TriumIQ

Let’s Talk

Contact Us

Trium IQ

Interview with Andrew Blum on His Recognition as a Top 25 Consultant

We are thrilled to announce that our Founder and CEO, Andrew Blum, was named a Top 25…

Read

Trium Founder and CEO, Andrew Blum Recognized by Consulting Magazine as a Top 25 Consultant

San Francisco, Ca. (19 October 2020) – The Trium Group, a pioneering management consultancy that uniquely integrates strategy…

Read

Winning the Long Game: Developing a Strategy Mindset

This article was originally published in Real Leaders magazine. Winston Churchill famously said, “It’s always wise to…

Read

How My Old Dog Taught Me a New Trick about Team Performance

Who doesn’t like a good dog story? This is also a leadership lesson that resonated strongly for…

Read
Artemis Patrick, Sephora

VIDEO | Our Clients Speak to the Impact of Trium Coaching

Our clients share the reasons they selected Trium as their partner in executive coaching, leadership development, and more.

Watch

5 Key Workouts for Building Management Muscle

Now more than ever, managers adept at creating environments that inspire others to achieve at a higher level are…

Read
Photo credit to Drew Garcia

Leading When the World is on Fire

Autumn is typically that time of year associated with gathering the harvest and leaves falling to the…

Read

VIDEO | How to Measure the Impact of Executive Coaching

Trium Founder and CEO, Andrew Blum provides the REAL value of executive coaching.

Watch

The Art of Delivering Inspirational Feedback

This article was recently published in Real Leaders. Giving direct, difficult feedback is one of the most…

Read

Resilient Teams Lead from “And,” Not “Either/Or”

This article recently appeared in Real Leaders.  If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we…

Read

VIDEO | Executive Coaching from Gandalf

Trium Founder and CEO, Andrew Blum shares insight from Gandalf.

Watch

What if it’s Better to Be Wrong than to Be Right?

When we do work around innovation and strategy with our clients, at some point the dialogue turns…

Read

After the Adrenaline, the Actual: Moving from Crisis to Business as Usual

As another Zoom meeting came to a close and I shut my laptop for the day, I…

Read

Your Strategy and Team Building Should be Like Yin and Yang (not Apples and Oranges)

“I know it’s critical, but we spend a lot of time on this and I’m frustrated because…

Read

Are You Enabling Destructive Leadership?

This article by Annette Templeton was recently featured in Psychology Today. Working in today’s world has become…

Read

Faster, Better, Happier: Why it’s Essential to Put People First

Most companies — large and small — don’t seek outside help when things are going well. Often,…

Read