A Time for Compassion
World leaders Queen Noor of Jordan, Rabbi Irwin Kula and the Sakyong, Jamgön Miphon Rinpoche, joined members of the Tufts community to discuss the power of compassion.
Medford/Somerville, Mass. [09.29.08] As the nation anxiously waits for November's election to determine the next leader of the United States, members of the Tufts community filled Cohen Auditorium to discuss a worldwide need for leadership that is based on compassion.
On Sept. 25, Tufts hosted a panel discussion on "Compassionate Leadership," featuring Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan, Rabbi Irwin Kula and the Sakyong, Jamgön Miphon Rinpoche. Moderated by venture capitalist and philanthropist Jerry Murdockthe hour-long discussion focused on the need for individuals to open their minds and share responsibility.
"The world has never had a greater need for compassionate leadership," President Lawrence S. Bacow said at the opening of the event. "If we are to successfully address the challenges of the 21st century, and leave the world a better place than we found it, we need good people with the wisdom, intelligence, creativity, courage, experience and compassion to exercise leadership at all levels."
The panelists first spoke together about compassionate leadership at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado.They designed their tour to universities including NYU and Tufts as an opportunity to engage college students in a dialogue as many of them prepare for their first presidential election.
The night's discussion opened with the panelists' thoughts on being leaders in a world that is, in the mind's of some, "falling apart". For Kula, who is President of CLAL:The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, in New York City, the first step to success is assuming personal responsibility.
"When you think about it, falling apart then coming together is always happening," Kula said. "So the real question, not only from a leadership perspective but from a personal perspective, is who we are in that drama, and how we are experiencing ourselves in that drama."
Kula added, "When we begin to stop looking for someone else [to blame] we create environments where people actually are asked to face up to our problems and we are invited to take responsibility in our share of producing the problem."
Agreeing with Kula's idea of assuming personal responsibility, the Sakyong said that in order to expect certain qualities and ideals in a leader, individuals must display the same qualities in their own lives.
"We ourselves need to have more strength, character and genuineness and exhibit the quality of compassion if we are going to expect our leaders to exhibit these qualities," the world leader of Shambhala Buddhism said. "It's hard for us to be doing whatever we want and say the leaders should be doing this."
According to Queen Noor, being an effective leader is a matter of finding common ground.
Leaders who "reach across ethnic [and] ideological lines [and past] emotion--hatred and fear--[are] the kind I have found most inspiring around the world," Her Majesty said. "It is where you come together to find common ground. We all need to search for it, and begin to build a future that seemed impossible a short time before."
"Leadership comes from completely unexpected places," Kula added. "That movement to see that it comes from unexpected places is what opens up to new solutions. You wind up in the most devastated areas, and it turns out in that situation people are able to discover their own capacities."
Looking forward to the process of choosing a good leader, Kula said it shouldn't be about finding someone who shares your views 100 percent of the time.
"You have to listen for the partial truths especially in the voices of the people with whom you disagree," Kula said. "That's what we have been missing for the most part, because rather than listening to the partial truth in the other side you tend to demonize them, and it turns out that however you polarize, the partial truth from the other side is the truth you need to learn the most."
"The future is not completely determined," the Sakyong said. "If we put our minds to it right now, we are actually planting the seeds that will affect the future.Do we want those seeds to be more oppression or self serving? Or do we want to direct them toward more warmth?"
As the world continues to become more interdependent, Queen Noor said that the U.S. presidential election-and its outcome-is of interest to not only Americans but to people all over the world.
"This is a real choice this year and the rest of the world is looking at this election with more interest than any American election before, wondering will we get the kind of leader who not only can be good for America at a time when they will be facing enormous challenges, but also who will be good for the world," she said. "Our worlds are so interdependent now that other countries are as interested as most Americans."
Her Majesty added, "All of you must vote."
Looking at what the country needs versus what individuals want in their next leader, Kula said Americans have to find a place where the need and want coexist.
"If your leader is telling you stuff that you agree with all the time, that is not the leader you need," Kula said. "We the people have to make a decision that we are going to be comfortable being told the truth, and as long as you're not comfortable being told the truth we will get poor leadership."
"Everyone has to be engaged," Noor added. "It doesn't matter what part of the world you're in, it doesn't matter what your political system is or how [powerless] you feel, you can still have an impact on a process that could ultimately move things forward."Even in adverse circumstances, she said, "you can never ever give up and stop trying. The most dramatic changes have come from those who continue to try under the most seemingly impossible situations."
Profile by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications.