“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do; but what I hate, I do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-19).
With these words, St Paul captures a feeling that everyone has surely experienced at one time or another. Try as we might to be a good person, time and again we find ourselves doing and saying things that leave us disappointed. However well-intentioned we may be, self-mastery remains elusive.
There are numerous and competing factors that might get in the way of our noble intentions, especially within working life. External pressures like deadlines or our toxic workplace culture can cause us to treat people with short shrift, whether that be our colleagues or those waiting for us when we get home for the day. Yet sometimes our internal landscape can be just as problematic, steering us into mental cul-de-sacs that blind us to our actions until we end up repeating the same pattern.
When we are in a position of leadership, the ability to control our emotions and direct them in a positive way makes for a far healthier and happier environment for those around us. We are in a far better position to do this if we start from a place of genuine self-acceptance; not seeking external validation for our imperfections or failings but acknowledging and owning them in the first instance. Self-acceptance does not mean adopting an uncritical view that serves to excuse all of our shortcomings and reinforce a false mental image of a stable, ideal personality. Instead, it means accepting that we, like all humas, are specifically imperfect by definition. If we can accept this of ourselves and really feel it, it becomes far easier to extend this compassion to others.
Patient understanding leads us into real wisdom about how best to interact with others, and compassion begins to act as a feedback loop of positive reinforcement. When we show compassion to others, it becomes easier to feel it for ourselves, and vice versa. Unlike the usual language of business, we are not acquiring a new ‘skillset’ in developing this practice, instead we are uncovering what was already innate within us – the expansive feeling of empathy and acceptance that becomes occluded by the social masks we are forced to don as we move through the world.
Of course, the other word for this feeling is ‘love’; perhaps the most fundamental human feeling of all. When we have respect, compassion, and love for ourselves, it becomes easier to act in accordance with our higher motivations and intentions. Our actions become the realisation of an innate inner reality, one that transcends the petty emotional milieu of our social world.