The Storm is Here: What You Leave to Your Children Depends on Compassion not Empathy

Empathy takes you to compassion’s door. But you must open it and go through, and into the storms if you want to leave a better world for your children.

Stepping into Compassion

It means you’re going into a situation that doesn’t feel good. And that is just tough to do sometimes.

It’s always uncomfortable and scary when you step into compassion. It means that something’s not right and you’ll have to be vulnerable in your risk to help. It means that someone needs your help, and you are in a position to directly or indirectly help them, and your convenience of going about in the security of your daily life will be disrupted. It means you’re going into a situation that doesn’t feel good. And that is just tough to do sometimes. It’s when you’re feeling deep empathy and feel powerless to do anything. Ultimately, you may even have to face your own complicity. One thing’s for sure, doing nothing ensures that you will be leaving, or even passing the problem on to your children.

Recently, a friend, a black man, spoke about some racism that made him feel unsafe in his own home. Someone came to his front door and got into his face about some music he was playing at a moderate level in his backyard. In the confrontation, she asked if he was a renter? He was angry about the insinuation, and then fearful that systemic racism could invade the safety of his own home. My gut wrenched. And I felt powerless to help him.

I’ve never had somebody walk up to my front door, in confrontation, and then ask if I was a renter. Further, I’d never considereded that, as I stood my ground, they’d call the police based upon the judgments of my skin color. I’d never considered that the police, upon coming to my house, would consider me a high risk, because I’m a white guy. That’s white privilege and it’s f*#&ed-up that black men and women aren’t granted that same standard. It’s some really incompassionate bias. It adds to the suffering of black lives, in their homes, at work, and at play.

Some would say the problem is unconscious bias and we need to make people aware. It’s not unconscious. No, the problem is that we lack compassion.

We have tons of empathy to do posts on Instagram. However, to really change this requires stepping courageously into compassion, through the door into their world, and then, to take action in the moment to change it for the better, for them. For their children. That could mean, standing with a black woman, in the moment of subtle or explicit racism. Apologizing for what you thought was a funny ethnic joke. Making a stand for someone in your company being overlooked because of their race. Calling bullshit on somebody’s prejudiced decision or attitude in a pubic space. Or, accepting being called out on your own bias that you might not have been aware of.

If you don’t go here, you’ll be leaving a world without compassion to your’s or other’s children. And worse, they’ll enter that world without your example and means to turn their own empathy into the actions needed to heal it.

Crossing the threshold

Over the last week, I’ve had several friends express deep empathy for their black brothers and sisters suffering from systemic racism. Here’s what it boiled down to.

Talk to somebody about your own fears (step one)

Choose this person carefully. Pick someone who will go with you in curiosity, and challenge you to go to your better place. Do not pick someone who’ll reinforce staying in the security of your private empathy. This puts at least one of your feet on the compassion threshold. Had a couple of friends that said they wanted to reach out to their black coworkers and friends tell me they were afraid that they might say the wrong thing, and be thought of as racist or that insensitive guy or gal. I commented back, “so you’re afraid of what someone might think of you because of your skin color?” The point was well taken by them.

Step over the threshold and get personal (step two)

Connect and talk with the person or people that you’re feeling that empathy for, people you actually know. This puts one of your feet over that threshold. You see, it’s easy to ignore the inhumanity of a situation when it’s not personal. So, get personal and put at least one of your feet into their world. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and scary, and it may not be what you’re used to. Fact is, from the sidelines, you’ll never know what to do to help, so step into their game and find out. You don’t need to walk in their shoes, but you do need to walk over the bridge with them.

Listen with without your “but” (step three)

Buts are judgment when you’re listening to somebody. The moment you hear yourself go, “but…” when they’re telling you about something, you’ve halted any deeper understanding. You’ve gone from curious to judgment. The end goal here is to do your empathy justice and you’re simply listening for how you can help them, from their perspective and from your abilities. If you’re still not sure how you can help, ask, “how can I help, what can I do to change your world for the better?” There is no other way to enter and change another’s world than to show up through your compassionate ear. This is where you find what you can do, even when you thought there was nothing you could do. Sometimes you’ll even find, “listening without your buts,” was the needed compassion.

Take compassionate steps out into the storm (step four)

Once you’ve heard, and I mean really heard, you’ll know what to do in compassion. It will be clear between you and them. Take action to help remove their suffering. It may be an immediate action, or it’ll prep you for a future action now that you’ll have made a commitment to them. You will know what to do.

My compassionate steps as a result of stepping toward James’ story:

  • I wrote this for the people who are stuck and not sure what do

  • When a vote is needed to remove a person who has an unchangeable implicit racist bias from political office, I will vote

  • I will actively seek out my black brothers and sisters for how I can be compassionate in action for their struggle

  • When I encounter racism in my daily life I will stand against it instead of walking by

My ask of you

So, I ask you to make a better world for today’s children and those to come. Face the discomfort of the storm. Step into their world with your love and empathy. Listen with no buts. Take compassionate steps for them. The privacy of your empathy is of no good consequence to our black sisters and brothers deserving and needing your compassion. Together, with love and compassion, we’ll get through this storm.


Paul Haury
Paul Haury
Belonging Coach & Evangelist for Heart-Based Leadership in Workplace Culture & Happiness. I’m a coach, a mentor, an optimist that nerds-out on all things in the social-behavioral and neurosciences for what motivates us in how we can be better, and, get us to with whom and where we belong. The paths that get us there follow roads of vulnerable togetherness, kind and honest challenges in personal accountability, and a deep curious appreciation for being wholly human in full potential. It’s here, where we land on the good side of our fears and aspirations, and make our dreams happen. We’ll never do anything as well, as when we’re doing what we’re doing with and for those we love. I help people create their own unique spaces to go farther and higher in their individual brilliance than they ever could alone.

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  1. Paul, thanks. Yes, the list goes on. Each of us lives in where we are today. And we each must reach out to the person “in front of” us as a person who is likely doing the best they can in this moment. However badly that may look…

    I work to forgive. So that I can be loving and kind. And the reality is, the “however badly” need not change us.

    THough we may need to walk away often :-)


  2. Thank you Paul for being vulnerable and courageous to write this. I did not think about the distinction you made between empathy and compassion like you laid out here. Thank you for that. Listen without the “BUT” is so important too. I am still seeing a lot of buts or excuses to defend ourselves. Great steps we can all take. And of course welcome to this community. We need your good heart+mind combination here!

  3. In order to open up to others and solve its age-old problems, the world needs more compassion.
    Only those who are compassionate take an active feeling, strive to act and change things. Does everything possible to mitigate the suffering of others. Compassion implies a dynamic, proactive feeling, an action that starts from emotions but seeks a defined goal: to improve the situation of others.
    On the other hand, when one feels compassion, the word itself already indicates a certain propensity to do, to lean forward, to seek contact. This word comes from the Latin “cum passio” and could be translated as “to suffer together”.
    Compassion is that natural and automatic response that has allowed us to survive as a species. It has also been shown that 2- and 3-year-olds exhibit compassionate behavior towards peers even in the absence of rewards. It’s a reaction, a kind of instinctive response.
    Today, unfortunately, compassion tends to disappear and often due to conditioning and social pressure.
    Charles Darwin explained in his writings that societies in which compassion is more pronounced enjoy greater possibilities for evolution. These are his words: “Social or maternal instincts like compassion are better than any other. Communities that include a greater number of compassionate members will thrive more, because this trait promotes the survival and well-being of the species ”.

    • Thanks for that added depth Aldo. Yes, and I love the translation of, “to suffer together.” And the other remarkable thing about that is, when we’re in the state of compassion, or in the acts of compassion, we actually experience less pain and fear, both physically and emotionally.

      We just gotta quit rewarding dis-compassionate ways in our business world.

  4. Paul, thanks for stepping out in courage and compassion. Yes, being there and listening matters. For all ‘isms not just racism. Because the person in front of you is a human being of infinite value. And is likely struggling with something in their life. Including invisible disabilities, illnesses, imminent loss of loved ones who are suffering diseases and on and on. Listening leads to natural tiny actions in the moment. Tiny things that build up!