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 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.