The Way of Compassion

My Least Popular Post? Compassion for Tony Hayward, BP CEO

By September 1, 2010 12 Comments

Yes, compassion for Tony Hayward, BP CEO. I’ve got loads of it, and I ask you to have it too.
The oil spill boils my blood. I’ve cried about it, ranted about it, shuddered and shook my head. I’ve been angry, sad, shocked.
Like so many of us, I’ve asked: How could we let this happen to our planet? How could we bestow so much power to individuals out for private corporate interests? How could we allow disasters like this — without even putting emergency plans in place? How can we be so short sighted, prioritizing economic growth over the health of our ecosystem?
Of course, I’m just one of hundreds of millions of individuals feeling this way. In our frustration and pain, most of us got very angry at Tony Hayward, the executive accountable for BP’s actions.
My goodness, he made it easy for us. First there was the, “I want my life back” gaffe. Then the parade of PR tactics: lying about the size of the spill and withholding critical information from scientists. There was Hayward’s colleague’s unbelievable “small people” speech and his own rude, defiant behavior with our questioning lawmakers.
I don’t know Tony Hayward, but let’s say, for the sake of this article, say he’s the guy he seems to be: mind-bogglingly selfish, arrogant, unfeeling. Let’s even assume he has a cruel disregard for the earth and the people harmed by the spill.
The question for each of us is: How do you react to such a human being in your midst? How do you react to the “bad guys”? Hayward, reckless and greedy Wall Street princes, corrupt politicians?
You can hate. You can rage. You can wish vengeance.
Or you can have compassion. Yes, compassion for Tony Hayward, and others like him.

Compassion is not

We are all novices about compassion, and we mostly misunderstand each other when we talk about it. So let me first make clear a few things I don’t mean when I use the term:
I don’t mean I “feel sorry for” Tony Hayward.
I don’t mean I want to hang out with him or be his friend.
I don’t mean I feel any less solidarity with the people and animals victimized by his and BP’s choices.
I don’t mean that I think what he did is okay, or that we should sit back and do nothing about it.
I want Hayward and BP held accountable. I want them to pay a serious price, and I want our country to put in place all kinds of measures to prevent this kind of corporate negligence from happening again.

Compassion is

Compassion isn’t at odds with any of that.
It’s about whether I have anger and hate running through my veins or not.
It’s about humility, about whether I assume I’m made of something better than Tony Hayward. Can I know that had I been born into his life — with his personality and DNA, and experiences — that I would have been any more ethical or caring? I can’t know that.
The foundation of my compassion is this: I believe that no baby is born with an instinct to harm the earth and other human beings. Something happened along the way to Tony Hayward and others like him – something that I don’t believe any human being wants to choose. It’s something that comes from and then creates a lot of pain. I believe that people will choose caring for others – not harming them – whenever they have the emotional capacity to do so.
From that conviction – that every human being is doing the best they can within their emotional capacity — compassion is the natural and rational response.

Compassion and solutions

I also believe it’s practical, that a compassionate response is how we’ll create a world where things like the BP oil spill don’t happen. To create real solutions, we have to understand the real problems. We have to understand the perpetrators. That requires calm curiosity and thoughtful inquiry. From a place of hate and anger, we don’t have the ability to see them or the situation clearly. We are too busy demonizing. We don’t have the ability to be curious, open-minded – because anger and hate rest in a sure conviction of who is wrong, who is bad. Curiosity is all about not-knowing, about looking to find out.
To acquire the kind of real understanding that effective solutions (psychological, political, economic) stem from, we need some measure of empathy, openness, non-judgment in learning about what created the tragedies in our midst — whether oppression, cruelty or wanton disregard for the earth.
That’s what I believe. It’s not popular, I know.


If compassion seems insane or out of reach to you, then I ask this: go for curiosity. Replace hatred or rage with curiosity. Curiosity about how “bad guys” got to be that way. Deep, impassioned curiosity about what creates the systems that give them so much power.
There are no demons on this planet, and no enemies. There are only human beings like you and me, being shaped by forces we have yet to understand. Every insight that will make our planet more enlightened, more humane, begins in empathy, in compassion.

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Jay Schryer says:

    Well said, Tara, Well said indeed. Pouring anger and hatred against the people of BP, or even the corporation itself only adds fuel to the fire. It doesn’t help, and it only serves to make the world a darker and more unpleasant place than it already was. Only through compassion and understanding can we heal each other, and heal the world.

    Everyone deserves our compassion. Every single person on the planet deserves compassion. The oil executives, the lawyers, and all criminals including the murderers, rapists, and crack dealers.

    We shouldn’t excuse the behavior, or rationalize the decisions, but we can honor the human being and hope that they can find love to fill their wounded spaces. And, we can hold them accountable: “I understand that you were in pain, but you could have chosen better. Please choose better next time.”

  • We do have the choice to extend compassion to the person, even if we disagree with his or her actions.

    Thanks for the important reminder Tara.


  • Topi says:

    Hi Tara,
    I know that I don’t want to be like these people, and yet viewing them and their actions with hate and anger is the first step towards become like them. So, for me compassions (by your definition) is the only option. And in using curiosity to understand more, we learn more about this situation, and how to avoid it in the future. It’s bigger than just the people. So, the choice is to learn and evolve, or to stay in the same place and repeat history. Pretty simple choice, to my mind. Thanks, as always, for a new perspective.

  • Melinda says:


    Great post and I so agree. The one thing I tell myself when I judge others (as I, like most people, tend to want to do) is that I don’t know the whole story. I have no idea what’s going on in their heads, what their lives have been like, what “the rest of the story” might be. I have a blog post in my queue that’s about just that – how little we really know about the people around us, and how much our opinions might change if we knew more.

    I remember seeing a woman on a reality show who’d obviously had plastic surgery and appeared kind of overly aggressively. It would have been easy to disregard her as an arrogant bitch, which is how she came off. However, it turned out that a few years before she’d been raped by a masked intruder who had cut her face with a knife. Suddenly her plastic surgery and aggressiveness took on a whole different meaning.

    So thanks for having the courage to have compassion!


  • @PeterBeddows says:

    Well said Tara:
    Aside from any other consideration – and there is no denying that this was a horrendous disaster; should never have happened; they should have been properly prepared to handle it quickly, etc., the plain simple fact is that neither BP nor Exxon (Valdez) nor Tony Hayward and his co-conspirators (using that word in the very loosest sense) or, if you prefer, his collaborators which includes all of us and our government, would have had the opportunity to create situations leading up to such disasters IF WE, THE CONSUMERS, WERE NOT SO ADDICTED TO OUR AUTOMOBILES AND LIFESTYLES THAT DEPEND UPON OIL.

    Fundamentally, life as we know it here in the Western World could not exist without OIL. So actually we are ALL RESPONSIBLE for such disasters whether we are able to admit it or not. Hence we really need to have compassion not only for Hayward but for our own selfishly inclined selves across the board … unless you happen to be a bodhisattva!

  • Tara says:

    Fabulous point. Thanks for sharing.

  • Tara says:

    Thanks Melinda. Very powerful and I think it creates such a cleaner, less encumbered state of mind too – to not be cluttered with all those judgments and opinions about others and rest in the not knowing, not judging.

  • Tara says:

    So well put. I agree – this has so much to do with what allows us to not repeat history, to perpetuate the same old suffering. And it’s soooo much bigger than the individuals involved – seems like we often neglect looking at the big “why’s” and focus on who is the bad guy.

  • Tara says:

    Thanks Alex, for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  • Tara says:

    Thanks Jay. I’m so with you on the sentiment that everyone deserves our compassion. I would also say that we can help people find a way to fill their wounded spaces. Until they’ve done that, I don’t know that they can choose better. You know?

  • Annemieke says:

    Fantastic post! And I really like the replacement of rage with curiosity.

  • Gemma says:

    I agree with you Tara for the most part, however, wanting them to be held accountable comes from the ego. It’s best to remain detached, and just be an observer. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel compassion, but wanting them to be held accountable is a back door for the ego. They WILL be held accountable one way or other at some point when the time/conditions are right.

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