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

The Case for Congruent Leadership

Extraordinary leaders regularly ask one very powerful question, “What am I doing or not doing that is…

Read

3 Ways Leaders Can Make Difficult Conversations Feel Easier

Leaders are expected to act as the guiding lights and role models for everyone else. And every leader, no…

Read

The Gift of ADHD: How My Son Taught Me To Be a Better Leader and Coach

I have a 15-year-old son who is a wonderful, intelligent, sensitive being who, in many ways, is…

Read

How to win in a post-pandemic future

Now that we are turning our collective gaze away from the immediate global crisis, it’s time to…

Read

The Paradox of Leadership

At its core, leadership is about the ability to leverage paradox. There are five polarities that are…

Read

“Maturity begins when one lives for others” – Hermann Hesse

Reflections on my new role as Founder and Chairman of The Trium Group I founded Trium in 1998 inspired…

Read

How to Effectively Leverage Executive Coaching: 3 Steps to Hiring a Coach

I lead the executive coaching practice at The Trium Group, where we serve senior leaders and their…

Read

How to Make Your Post-pandemic Leadership Offsite a Huge Success

With vaccination rates climbing, many companies are now considering how they’ll get their leadership teams working together…

Read

What Good Leaders Do When Replacing Bad Leaders

Those who are replacing poor or controversial leaders have a special challenge. Every leader who fills a…

Read

Catching Up with Reality

One of the great challenges that all human beings face is aligning their behavior with reality. This has…

Read

Focus on Your Other Hand

In the last year, as leaders have been navigating unprecedented levels of uncertainty and anxiety, our clients…

Read

Want to Be a Great Leader? Be a Great Coach

It’s no secret that the Bay Area is one of the highest-priced labor markets in the country,…

Read

How to Build Strategy When “Set it and Forget it” Won’t Work

This piece was written by Doug Randall and originally published on Real Leaders. A global pandemic. Civil…

Read

Your Only Job: Be Kind. Be Present. Be Clear.

As a management consultant, I get asked for advice all the time on a wide range of…

Read

What We Can Learn From Joe Biden About Purpose

Regardless of your political persuasion or orientation, it would be difficult to not admire Joe Biden’s journey….

Read

A Trium POV on The Purpose of Work

Andrew Blum reframes what work is all about and offers a different way of viewing work that…

Watch