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Breaking Down Barriers in a Divided World – The Power of Compassion

By Vanessa Khan



“When it rains, it pours” seems to be a common theme of 2020. This year has been truly eye-opening in terms of what we are capable of handling. Collectively, we are struggling to come to terms and cope with the constant bombardment of current events. We have been reeling with a myriad of emotions from anger, fatigue, confusion, isolation and disconnect. However, amidst the turmoil we must refocus and remember the lessons that this era can teach us. We are becoming resilient. Humanity is evolving and striving for change, and change is a painful process. Social and political movements inspire disruption and change. Throughout history, tumultuous events have been the catalyst to changing the status quo and creating bridges for acceptance. While it may seem like we are trapped in a world wrought with fear and anger, we can move forward. How? The answer is with small actions rooted in compassion. Only by shining a light on compassion and empathy are we able to focus on removing the barriers that separate us. As we prepare to re-introduce ourselves to the new “normal”, let’s take a moment to assess our compassion footprint (much like the “carbon footprint” concept) and where we can enhance compassion in our day to day lives:


A) Compassion through Leadership

As we continue to evolve, our employment culture will evolve with us. Traditional societal norms and status quo leadership conventions included an employee’s title, department, and power of influence within the organization. Organizational leaders and entrepreneurs started understanding the value of hiring employees and consultants with different perspectives and experiences to solve existing problems. Thus, we witnessed a culture of bullying and intimidation evolve into a team-focused mindset. Employees from diverse backgrounds were promoted into leadership roles, contributed a fresh perspective, and shifted tactics to embrace compassion, inclusion, positive encouragement, and connectivity to colleagues by fostering the culture to build interpersonal relationships. Compassionate leadership encourages a sense of belonging, contributing to a cause, and participating in something bigger than yourself. Do you need to be in a leadership role to inspire a compassionate work culture? I want to challenge the existing status quo and introduce a concept that leadership can happen at all levels of an organization. Leadership and influence are a state of mind; it is how you carry yourself, the values that you instill, and how you inspire and motivate teammates and colleagues. As you progress in your career, I encourage you to lead and continue to influence and shape your work culture through actions rooted in compassion.


B) Compassion through Daily Interactions

The surge of emotions we are experiencing such as anxiety, fear, exhaustion, and anger are heightened by conversations of returning to the office during a pandemic. We can have a positive impact and encourage a positive transition back to the office by demonstrating compassion and empathy to everyone returning to the workforce. When we begin to embrace our morning routine, be mindful of the person who is serving you a cup of coffee, those commuting via transit, or driving alongside you during your commute. Kindness and compassion are critical to combat fear, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. We are all fighting our own personal battles that may feel like we are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. Many of us are fighting against barriers that include disproportionate salaries, the perception of juggling family and career, and inequity. Empathetic conversations are valuable to alleviate stresses caused by an oversaturation of current events and pandemic culture. How does one demonstrate empathy in a conversation? Unless we can understand and identify with a person’s perspective, we ought to refrain from using words such as “I understand”. Fostering an empathetic and compassionate conversation includes listening to a person’s perspective, giving them a chance to vent/ breathe in a safe space, and incorporating phrases of validation; “I’m sorry this is a difficult time. How can we make this better?” In using these phrases, you are giving them space to dissect and analyze their perspective and providing an opportunity for them to come up with a solution as opposed to trying to find solutions for them.


C) Compassion for Yourself

Many of us are too busy to think about our own health and wellness, much less any type of self-care. Thus, we place ourselves at the bottom of our ever-growing, all-consuming To Do list. We experience chronic fatigue, stress, and burnout before re-evaluating our own personal needs. How many times have we struggled against ourselves? Whether it is our own emotions, thoughts, or intentions, we often downplay and struggle to give credence to what we are experiencing. We never truly allow ourselves the space to accept compassion and empathy for “the self” like we do for others. As we continue to grapple with a lack of normalcy, being compassionate to others also encompasses being compassionate to yourself. It means embracing methods of self-care such as:

  • Be your own filter: A mental break from media outlets can boost mood and improve stress levels. It is not solely your responsibility to take on the burdens of the world.

  • Giving a voice to how you are feeling: It is alright to recognize, validate, and normalize your emotions.

  • Be your biggest advocate, as opposed to your worst critic: Continue to celebrate successes and forgive yourself when needed.


Historically society has given way to tremendous movements for progress and eventually acceptance during the most trying times. The ever-present division of opinions, civil unrest, and mounting casualties are cyclical occurrences that humanity initiates when change is needed to correct an unethical status quo. During these movements, history documents the power of compassion through unity which led to the abolishment of previously accepted practices (i.e. slavery, unfair voting practices, etc.). We have seen the power of education to combat the fear of the unknown. Let’s start breaking down the barriers that divide us by embracing the notion that humans have more similarities than differences. Remain confident that we will experience an era of change, acceptance, and an unwillingness to return to what was considered “normal”. Instead of striving for “normal”, let’s strive for better through caring and compassion.


Our Take the Lead Role for your Whole Self webinars talk about leadership, empathy, caring and compassion.


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