#55 Compassionate Easter eggs

The Easter break for 2019 has been and gone and as life begins to quicken pace (can it get any faster!), the school run kicks in, and the final days of summer/autumn holidays draw to a close. This also brings a time that is worthy of some reflection. I really enjoyed the Easter reading from The School of Life which as part of their reflection highlighted the link between ‘eggs and compassion’.

I know I am not the first to be making a call to action by saying what the world needs now is ‘more compassion’. More acclaimed writers such as Hugh Mackay in his recent book ‘Australia Reimagined’ and Australia Day address 2019 has said it best:

As a starting point, I believe we need a radical culture-shift in the direction of more compassion-more kindness, more tolerance, more generosity, more forgiveness, greater mutual respect- in our public and private lives. We need to abandon the relentless and fruitless quest for personal happiness and, adopt, as a way of life, a greater responsiveness to the needs of those around us.

It was this adopting and being responsive to the needs of others that The School of Life article also outlined suggesting it is so much easier to be compassionate to a recently hatched egg or in the replicate of humans for anyone aged four and under “We forgive a two year old things we’d deeply resent in an adult’.

The School of Life article goes on to describe how eggs come in many shapes and sizes and all share the same point of the beginning or starting point. Bringing together the need to be more compassionate and understanding that our fellow adults have all shared the action of a starting point could assist us in being more compassionate. Unfortunately, not everyone’s childhood was the same, but we do at least share one commonality as everyone was once a child.

Having spent two decades of my professional career leading children organisations and early intervention programs I know there are some qualities that both children and adults share with regards to compassion. Whether you are a child or an adult everyone benefits from more kindness, more tolerance, more generosity, more forgiveness and greater mutual respect. All these qualities are the ones as described by Hugh Mackay as a starting point for compassion.

In my research I even expanded my understanding around compassion with the newly formed world of compassion science. Albeit in its early days I concluded how the fusions of literatures are going to provide opportunities for blended learnings. For example, my research found a place between policy implementation and complex adaptive systems theory. Two polarised literatures that when combined have quite a lot to offer each other hence the importance of the principles of opposites within any compassion setting.

It is the blend of opposing knowledge that the kind of compassion that is more suitable for the fast-moving times and uncertainty of the 21st century can actually begin to take hold.

So, taking our minds back to The School of Life metaphor of eggs I draw your attention to the eggs that are in the picture of this Blog. I often travel around Sydney using trains and on some pre-Easter travel, I found some chocolate Easter eggs placed at the train turnstiles. My reaction to this was quite divided just like the battle between our left and right sided brains when working out how compassionate to be in any given situation. For example, my left brain being more analytical as it is designed to assess risk and noted the possible risk of eating something where its source was unknown. There was no obvious person nearby who appeared to be the owner of these Easter eggs and my decision to leave them alone was also shared by many others who in noting the eggs also kept walking.

In contrast to this I felt the emotions of my right brain which not only could taste the enjoyable chocolate of these offerings but felt the kindness of whoever had left them there. I must admit in this scenario my right brain consideration was more fleeting and had I seen others act in a different way maybe I would have been more akin with my right brain reaction – to take an Easter egg and enjoy! Instead the left-brain decision took priority and although I stopped to take the photo, I kept walking.

In this scenario the struggle between our left and right brain and particularly at a time where the call for more compassion is at a high, I am drawn to the work of Dr Jill Bolte Taylor an American neuroanatomist. In Bolte Taylor’s inspiring work of combining her studies with her own real personal experiences of having to regrow her left brain I am reminded of the importance of understanding the principles of opposites.

The principles of opposites is something I also found in my own research with it being key to building any rapport or reducing relationship tensions or at an organisational or system level reducing silos. The tension that is found between the left and right brain can offer some lifelong learnings as in the beginning (well the beginning of human kind development) life was extremely right brain focused and individuals were very focused on their actions being what was best for the collective or tribe. Turner -Jenson explains this extremely well in her work of CultuRecode

The Cultural empires of the past still exist. They may have modified their instinctive behaviours due to modern environments, but they all still exist inside us

As I further reflect on the period of time when the human race was extremely right brain orientated the changes began as folk became more educated such as being able to read, thus increasing their knowledge. Along with this came industrialisation and an expansion of all things left brain orientated. I don’t write about this as a bad thing but do note how that during the increase of the left-brain period the levels of compassion have reduced. This combined with the fact that the pace of change has also increased brings us to the dilemmas as defined by the link between eggs and compassion – something is missing.

It is easy to describe our current times as being extremely left brain orientated and I agree with Bolte Taylor that now is the time for a whole brain approach and maybe we had to make the shift from right brain to being too left brain to even be aware that there is an even better place somewhere in the middle i.e. the whole brain.

In referring to my Easter egg train experience maybe the place of the whole brain is to engage both brains and know that whilst there are some risks of sharing the act of giving to others does not have to be a risk that prevents compassionate action. I guess that means next time I see Easter eggs being left at the turnstiles my reaction might just be one of my whole brain involving celebration of the compassion they represent and calculation of the risk being minimised enabling more compassionate action – this is what I refer to as the Balance Point!

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