My two beloved homes - the United States and United Kingdom - are enflamed with pain and rage, resulting in shocking murders in Orlando, US and Yorkshire, UK that betray a deep lack of unity in our nations. Perhaps more worrying, at a systemic level, is equally shocking rhetoric from our 'leaders' - whether Trump in the US or Farage in the Uk - peddling the memes of separation, lack and survival of the fittest that our egos, when under threat, like to lap up.
Jo Cox, the British MP who was murdered last week, was a contemporary of mine at Cambridge University. This leader made a point of turning compassion from something we talk about privately - perhaps in embarrassment; perhaps in fear that we will expose our intrinsic human vulnerability - to something that can, and must, find its way to the heart of politics and the center of leadership. If you are called to, you can donate to the Jo Cox Memorial Fund if you are inspired by her work in compassion-led action.
All of us are leaders and all of us are in politics, whether we think it or not.
As people go to the polls today in the UK to decide whether to stay or leave the European Union, I hope Brits find a way into their heart and choose whatever they believe will bring most compassion and connection into the world.
With politics locked in ever-decreasing circles, I believe that whether we are capitalist or Maoist, if our worldview emanates from a philosophy of separation not connection, we can never lead lasting, transformative change. The time has come to break through the stalemate and unlock a politics that is enflamed by our shared heart not stale ideologies and habitual fear and loathing.
Politics is always about change. Yet systems are a concretization of the beliefs, habits and moods of people. So if we want to change the world, we have to change people. Here is where most leaders go wrong.
People only change, for good, when both hearts and minds shift, causing behaviors to change permanently.
The belief that most materialists have that society can be changed simply through either laws, regulation and force (stick); or financial incentives like tax or welfare (carrot) reveals a startling lack of insights into how people’s hearts and minds work and are transformed. By skipping over our messy, complex and unpredictable human emotions and spiritual yearnings - usually driven to sabotage both self and system by hidden trauma and stress - conservative stalwarts and progressive activists alike doom themselves to failure.
We are utterly emotional beings, who learn, communicate, and engage because of the stories and experiences that touch our hearts and give us meaning. To build on Einstein, we can only solve problems by having breakthroughs in consciousness in the domain in which the problem occurs. To try and solve an emotional problem with behavioral tools can never, ever work – no matter how much money we pour into the programs. It is a category error.
All the rationalist and technocrats can offer us is a clinical Cartesianism that leads them to focus on (the means of) production, performance, efficiency and consumption rather than on healing the trauma that drives selfishness, avarice and violence. The materialists, from Marx to the non-profits leaders of today, have a theory of change driven by metaphors from the world of machines. Yet we are organisms; not algorithms. Little wonder depression, anxiety, anguish, fear-driven greed, and aggression is so rampant, and costing us the Earth. Quite literally.
The Communist dream was born to destroy an inherently selfish Capitalist system; but was in fact rooted in the same mistaken, mechanistic belief about human beings. Both, like the scientific project they arose from, removed the subjective, conscious, emotional self.
The irrational faith in rationality – even though science itself has shown us to be eminently emotional creatures – holds back all those leaders who want to make the world a better place. Little wonder we seem to have more social and environmental problems – in the global North as much as the South – after decades of extremely high spending on programs designed to disappear them.
How can a welfare program break through addiction if we don’t work at the level of pain and suffering that drives most serious addiction? How can we solve homelessness or long-term unemployment if we don’t engage with the emotional (as well as structural) root causes: A lack of self-esteem, confidence and life skills. How can we make a dent on poverty if we don’t work on the greed and graft that diverts so much money and so many resources away from those who are starving?
Western reformers – rooted in the individualist, scientist, atheist paradigm – have been wedded to a promise of rational progress since the Enlightenment. Whilst we definitely live longer lives, the jury is out on whether we are any happier. Decade after decade sees new social welfare, criminal justice and international aid programs designed and implemented by such rationalists. They are clearly failing to deliver the impacts desired. The emotionally-traumatized still abuse, hurt and reoffend, despite billions spent on retributive punishment. The disempowered remain unemployed and underemployed, no matter how many initiatives are launched to get them back to work. The war on drugs keeps failing because it too has failed to treat the root cause of all these ills: emotional and spiritual despair.
We need a politics that is responsive to the actual emotional, spiritual and physical needs of the people it deigns to serve; creative enough to engage fruitfully in the fast-paced modern world that demands constant innovation and collaborative ingenuity; and grounded enough in something bigger than egos to avoid the interminable, internecine and insanely dull conflicts that ham-string the progressive movements on both sides of the Atlantic.
We need a politics rooted in, driven by, and aiming for love.
You can read the long read version of this article, which goes much deeper into how we got here and what we can all do about it, here.