Empathy in the dock
I have spent several years talking with leaders about the importance of empathy. Being able to walk around in the shoes of others and engage imaginatively with several perspectives seemed to me to be important – especially as we emerged from 2008 and the most egregious parades of egotistical leadership. It’s 2020 and I’ve changed my mind. The dial has since gone the other way and frankly I see too much ‘empathy’ - or pseudo-empathy - leading to stasis and deferral, to cultures of no action. Times are complicated. There is always someone who will be offended, will disagree, be challenged or even hurt by what palpably needs to be done. Counterintuitively then, I see this as a moment for responsible leaders to make enemies – enemies of those of us who deny, resist, even equivocate about the need to act now, particularly as regards climate and inequality. It’s not a moment for even-handedness. This is a moment for responsible leaders to insist on loss for all of us – loss of our too-easy freedoms, our wastrel selves, our carbon substance abuse. Why? Because we are addicted to comfort and we need leaders to insist - in our governments, our companies, our societies and in our families. This is a moment also for leaders to bring pain and disruption to all of us – disruption of our habits and ways of living and working, disruption to all the flying and the meeting and the eating that we cherish. If you are a leader, don’t empathise for or with us. Don’t emote. By the exercise of your moral imagination make us understand for ourselves the damage we could undo and see for ourselves vividly the world we could regenerate.