How does compassion enter our everyday life decision-making? Does it at all? Last night I had the opportunity to attend “A Conversation Among Presidents” held at Georgia Tech’s Academy of Medicine. The list of presidents was:
Dr. Elizabeth Kiss – President, Agnes Scott College
Dr. G.P. “Bud” Peterson – President, Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum – President, Spelman College
Dr. James W. Wagner – President, Emory University
Dr. John Silvanus Wilson, Jr. – President, Morehouse College
The Morehouse President said that the culture of a college campus should be cultivated from the top-down. It should be emitted in such a way that the students can’t help but soak it in and digest it. Morehouse prides itself on helping form “Morehouse Men” and I can say that the Morehouse men I know have that Morehouse attitude. The same goes for Spelman College. The Spelman alumnae I know have a particular attitude about themselves – an attitude that says, “I’ll strive to serve and change the world.” Alumni I know from Georgia Tech have a particular way of thinking. I mean, they are engineers, after all. Even if they graduated with a degree in something other than engineering, they still have a methodical way of thinking with hearts and minds bigger than themselves. I don’t know many alumnae from Agnes Scott but the few I do know and from the stories I have heard, Agnes Scott women are also influenced in such a way that disciplines are formed, gratitude is always given, and service is always a priority.
But, when I juxtapose Emory to the four schools I just named, Emory is actually the least unknown to me. I can’t seem to put my finger on what makes an Emory person distinct. This is strange and slightly uncomfortable for me to admit, because if you didn’t know, I go to Emory!! It’s strange because I’ve spent almost two years on Emory’s campus and haven’t been able to draw conclusions like I have for Morehouse, Spelman, Tech, and Agnes Scott. It’s slightly uncomfortable because I initially think, “What the heck is wrong with me?? I have been going to school at Emory for 2 years!” Maybe the grass is always greener on the other side. Maybe Emory really doesn’t have a campus culture like those other schools. Maybe the top-down feature has been attempted but isn’t really working. I’m not confessing that Emory hasn’t been a good place for me. It has. I just can’t really distinctly say that an Emory person is like ___.
So the top-down feature works with some schools. But what about the bottom-up? I believe that compassion and decision-making is something that doesn’t begin with the faculty and staff and then moves its way down to the students. It starts with us – it starts with the conversation we have with ourselves. I can’t argue that compassion should start with our parents, because some people don’t have parents. I can’t argue that compassion should start with our day care providers or kindergarten teachers, because some people will never have the opportunity to go to day care or school. I can’t argue that compassion should be influenced by our friends, because some people don’t have friends. How compassion and decision-making become married starts with ourselves.
You see if you who are reading this blog post you are probably doing pretty dang good in life compared to those who don’t even have access to internet and computer. You are already in a place in which your decisions matter and have an effect. Because you are able to read this, you have the ability to reflect on how you make decisions in life. If compassion – nothing else – is at the center of our hearts, it will be at the center of our decision-making. This notion of compassion, made famous via the Buddha – isn’t something reserved for Buddhists. We are our biggest problem. Besides our own selfish tendencies, if emitting compassion has any barriers, they are only as wide as our universe.
So start with yourself and ask, “When I make an everyday decision, where does compassion lie?” I hope compassion is or begins to make its way into our hearts. And I hope that it finds its place and stays.