“You’re a total idiot! No one in their right mind thinks that way.”
Those words were from a conversation happening at the far end of the coffee shop. A conversatiion that kept getting louder and louder. Everyone in the shop knew the people back there were talking about immigration.
The “idiot” fellow had shared that immigrants deserved compassion. From the ugly debate and name-calling his words produced, it was obvious he was in the minority.
I was recently involved in a similar but less passionate discussion about regarding leadership. My conversation partner believed the best leaders were the ones who kicked butt and took names. I believe the best leaders practice tough empathy because effective leaders are both tough and tender.
My conversation partner was one of many in a long string of people who got worked up about leaders being tender and humane. That’s for wussies was their thinking.
Why are caring and connection so threatening?
Time for research.
I looked into emotion, fear, love, neuroscience, psychology, leadership, and change management.
Not defaulting to fear
Machiavelli’s words about fear—that it was more reliable because it can be “maintained by dread of punishment, which never fails” and that “it was safer to be feared than loved” popped up several places.
Safer. What a fascinating word choice. Machiavelli didn’t say fear was better than love, just safer.
Funny how a single word can unlock a whole new line of pondering—what’s so unsafe about a leader who cares?
A couple of answers popped into mind:
Expressing love does makes us vulnerable. We have to get close; fear can be elicited from a distance.
Detachment doesn’t ask for an emotional investment, empathy does.
Reaching out is harder and riskier than walking away. We put ourselves on the line.
My pushback to these thoughts? Fear and love aren’t forever either/or choices. People need them both.
Sometimes we need a warm heart; others times a cool head. Sometimes we need a boot in our bottom; other times it’s the comforting hug. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree, but not be disagreeable towards those who see things differently.
How can we learn to replace defaulting to fear with seeking to understand and doing what’s right for the situation?
I found these words from Umair Haque, author, economist, and Director of the London-based Havas Media Lab that helped me answer that question:
Those who truly wish to be leaders in an age of discontent—not merely its demagogues, bullies, hecklers, and tyrants—will have to turn reject and refuse ruling through fear, and toward leading with love.
Leading through love means overcoming the ever-present temptation to abuse and belittle people, to guilt and shame them, to mock and taunt them — to force them into line.
It means creating the conditions for them to grow into following the principles that you espouse. It means not just arguing tendentiously with nor patronizingly explaining to people things that they are not ready to, equipped to, nor prepared to understand, but putting faith in people — even those who damn you — first, always, everywhere.
Wow. Those are some powerful thoughts on getting right with fear and love.
After reading Umair’s words, I thought about the fellas in the coffee shop as well as my colleague and I.
In those situations, no one was getting through to anyone. No heads or hearts were being changed. All anyone was doing was making noise. Rattling our sabers of fear, certainly not extending compassion or empathy or promoting goodness.
Create a chain reaction of goodness
To find the sweet spot of respect without defaulting to fear, it’s necessary to:
- Honor and respect other’s right to think, feel, and act differently.
- Accept that we’re not always right.
- Not allow evil and hatred to make us numb to what’s good, paraphrasing Henry Adam’s remark that evil is done by those who think they are doing good.
- Be mindful when words and phrases like either/or, should, or need to be control our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
- Assure we’re practicing both logic and emotion as we chart our lives.
My promise to myself? To replace my wagging finger with grace and aim for creating a chain reaction of goodness.
Image credit before quote added: Pixabay