Benevolence and Leadership. Valuable? Possible?

Jul 31

A recent post on the Business Spirituality LinkedIn site asked: “What difference can a benevolent leader bring to people and organizations? Is it possible to be benevolent without being naive?”

I’m not sure benevolence is the right word here. Benevolence, to me, implies giving to others, sometimes without including myself in the benevolence. I find myself preferring the word compassion. The word compassion, to me, has more of a sense of having walked in the shoes of the other, having experienced their suffering, and supporting all of us in moving toward a more joyful, purposeful life. Compassion is essential to good leadership.

One of my life long lessons has been learning how to expand into my own spiritual understanding and power and then use that spiritual understanding and power to support others as they expand into the fully developed, unique individuals they are intended to be. Supporting them does not mean giving them whatever they want. Often, it means challenging their current thought processes or flat out saying ‘no.’ This is the role of the spiritual warrior.

I was very fortunate to have had two wonderful parents. Both were teachers. Both were fair and compassionate. Both valued order and structure, and yet, there was always space for play and creativity in our home. My parents truly led by example. Because I was happy, I never questioned their leadership. I knew I was loved, respected, and valued. I did what they told me to do simply because I trusted them.

Then I moved out into the rest of the world and discovered, over and over, through painful experience after painful experience, that not everyone was as kind, benevolent, compassionate and fair as my parents. Other people said negative things about me, verbally abused me, bullied me, and betrayed my trust. I had to learn how to protect myself from all this negative energy. I had to learn how to detach mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically. I had to learn how to release my fear. I had to learn how to refocus my outrage from judging and blaming the bullies and abusers to shifting the energy of that outrage into being just, fair, and accountable. As painful and sometimes terrifying as it often was, I had to learn how to say ‘no’, I will not enable and support that conduct. I will not stay in a relationship where I am not respected. I will move out of relationships where I am verbally abused. I simply deserve better.

For me, finding the balance between benevolence and naivete requires a constantly shifting awareness of the energy dynamics of any situation. I can then change those dynamics by changing myself. It always requires staying in integrity with my own values of compassion, non-violence, mutual respect, and accountability.

I’ve walked in the shoes of the other. I’ve experienced their suffering. How can I be anything but compassionate toward us all?

Abuser and Victim

Apr 12

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Matt. 7:16.

A friend recently asked a fascinating question: “How do I respond to people whose actions are cruel and hurtful but who say that what they are doing is part of their greater purpose?”

This question has so many aspects. Like so many other things in life, the answers become clearer when we ask clearer questions. Let’s explore a few.

Are the people who say they are living their greater purpose being cruel and hurtful to you or to others?

If to you, by all means find a way of protecting yourself. You serve neither yourself nor others by staying in the relationship and allowing yourself to be abused.

There is always a cooperative dynamic going on between an abuser and a victim. The abuser needs to hurt others to temporarily increase his feelings of power and importance. (Abusers are people with low self-esteem.) The victim indirectly supports the abuse by maintaining the relationship and making herself available to be abused.

If you choose to remain in an abusive relationship for whatever reason, get clear on why you are staying. Are you financially dependent on the abuser? Do you have children together? Is your own self-esteem so low that you think you can’t survive without this relationship? Do you love and trust too much? Do you believe in commitment at all costs?

Once you get clear on why you are staying, you will also be clear on what really matters to you. Maybe it’s financial self-sufficiency. Maybe it’s your children. Then you can find other ways to manifest what matters without having to subject yourself to abuse. While you may choose to stay temporarily, you can begin to plan your escape.

If you do stay, you will have to make moment-to-moment choices about how to respond to the abuse. What kind of abuse is it? Verbal put-downs? Screaming? Throwing objects? Hitting? Rape? All are potentially damaging, but you’re not going to change the abuser directly. Your power and effectiveness lie in changing yourself.

By changing yourself, the dynamics of your relationship with the abuser change. As a result, you may change him indirectly. Changing the abuser cannot, however, be your motivation. Aim instead to improve your own life and to focus on the things that matter to you personally.

Whatever you do, keep a calm head, make your own choices, and don’t allow the abuser to suck you into his game. You will only escalate the ugliness.

Can you say, “Please stop that. I don’t like it when you act that way?” Can you say, “You seem very angry. What is it you need? I’d be happy to help if I can.” Can you simply walk away? There are shelters for abused women. (Are there also shelters for abused men?) Or do you want to learn krav maga, karate, or other self-defense techniques?

If you are perceiving others as victims, you are in much trickier and more difficult dynamics. Instead of one relationship, there are now three: Abuser to victim, you to abuser, and you to victim.

Again you simply have to make moment-by-moment choices as to how you are going to respond depending on the resources you have available (time, money, energy) and the context of the situation. Do you confront the abuser? Do you encourage the victim to stop enabling a dysfunctional relationship? Do you detach and allow the abuser and victim to work through their relationship and personal growth issues on their own?

There is something else going on here. Sometimes pain is necessary for growth.

When I think of my own life, it was only when I felt driven to divorce that I developed the courage to became a lawyer. It was only when I was filled with terror that I was willing to humble myself and ask for help from a Power I couldn’t see or understand. It was only when I was horribly abused that I learned to take care of myself first and others second. It was only when I lived in a no-recourse culture (the police and legal systems were totally ineffective) that I learned self-preservation, fortitude, creativity and patience. It was only when I became so angry that I could have murdered that I learned how to shift my focus away from things that anger me to people and environments that bring me peace.

As far as people saying they are living their greater purpose, how do they know? Why should you believe them? What do you believe? About them? About yourself?

Judgment or Discernment?

Mar 14

Can we make a distinction between judgment and discernment?

Judgment, to me, means pointing a finger of blame, seeing myself as superior, separating myself from another. Discernment, on the other hand, means simply noticing – noticing how others are acting, how they are speaking, how they are relating, and simultaneously noticing my own thoughts and emotions. Then, I can decide how I am going to act (or not) in a particular situation.

There is always a dynamic going on, a dance of consciousness if you will, both within myself and between me and another. I absolutely need to pay attention to that dance so that I can dance as well as possible. If I dance well, I become a co-creator with my Maker. Together, we create a peaceful, powerful, prosperous planet.

Have I experienced rage? Absolutely! Have I experienced terror? Absolutely! But having experienced these emotions, what am I going to do with them?

I truly cannot know the torture another person has experienced. Who am I to judge him? However, it is vital that I notice how his conduct affects me so that I take appropriate action to protect myself and the things I value.

I recently returned to the States after three years in Honduras and three-and-a-half years in Panama. It is interesting to discern some cultural differences. These are, of course, generalizations.

In the States, those who act out their pain with violence are generally behind bars. Those who move out of dysfunctional relationships, instead of reacting with violence, live relatively free and harmonious lives. This does not mean their lives are unchallenging.

In all the Central and South American countries with which I am familiar, there are few effective governmental, legal, or police systems in place to dissuade people from acting out their pain with violence. Nor are there educational systems in place to give children the skills they need to live productive, non-violent lives. As a result, pain acted out with violence frequently rules. There is little trust and little security. The people who live behind bars and high walls in these societies are the people who redirect their pain to productive, non-violent activities, not the ones who act out their pain with violence.

What have I done with my own rage and terror? Stopped, looked at it, briefly considered acting out on it, and then, with a combination of grief, anguish and relief, turned away and followed a new, more productive path.

Is God Real?

Oct 24

A visitor to another website of mine,, asked, “Is God real?”

What a fascinating question! What does this question mean? 

What does the word “God” mean? Are we talking about an old man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud with a thunderbolt in his hand waiting to punish sinners? Are we talking about a king sitting on a throne? Are we talking about something we’ve been told is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, but something that remains a mystery? Are we talking about nature: the chatter of a squirrel, a gorgeous rainbow, a babbling brook, a magnificent sunset? Are we talking about an energy, like electricity, that we can’t see but somehow know is there because we can see the results – the lights go on?

Getting clear on what we mean by the word “God” allows each of us to clarify for ourselves our own answer to the question “Is God real?

Maybe it’s more useful to ask, “In what sense is God real or unreal to me?” You may decide that sunsets and babbling brooks are real, but an old man with a long white beard sitting on a cloud with a thunderbolt in his hand is not.

A friend of mine who was struggling over a similar question suddenly realized she could believe in God when she substituted the word “good” for the word “God.” She somehow knew what good was, even though she didn’t know what God was.

What do we mean by the word “real”? Is it what everyone agrees to call real? Or is it what feels real and makes sense to each of us?

If you and I are both looking at, smelling and touching a daffodil, we would probably agree that the daffodil is real. On the other hand, in the fourteenth century, most human beings agreed that the earth was flat. Was the earth really flat, just because everybody thought it was?

So what does it mean to say that something is real? 

I would encourage you to explore this question in a way that seems appropriate to you and come up with your own answers. You might try setting aside some focused time to journal. The answers you come up with for you are the ones that you will be comfortable with and the ones that will work for you. You might even be able to say with authority, “This is what I believe.”

My answer? From an intellectual perspective, I don’t know. I certainly can’t prove there is or isn’t a God.

However, I have chosen to believe that there is some energy or power greater than myself that somehow supports me and directs my life in miraculous ways that I could never figure out on our own. I have chosen to believe because it has been the only way I can cope with terror. My choice to believe has come from a place of sheer desperation, from hitting such a low spot that I’ve known I simply can’t cope by myself. I’ve had to let go and ask for help, and I wasn’t going to ask other humans.  They were the ones who betrayed me.

I know from observation that when I choose to believe, my life suddenly becomes more harmonious and centered and I can deal with life’s challenges more courageously. Is this really real? I don’t know. It surely feels real.

Sometimes, “making the connection” feels like turning the dial of a radio. At first, I get nothing but static. Then, suddenly, I’m tuned into a crystal clear channel that guides my actions easily and effortlessly. Do I know where I’m going? No. I simply trust that there is much more to this wonderful life we’ve been given than any of us can begin to fathom.