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Robert Rinnooy Kan

Three questions about compassion

Is the number of people that act with above-average compassion, equal to the number of people that stay below that average? If that were true then compassion would be measurable, calling into existence a "compassion median". I don't believe this is the case.

Still, I like the term "the compassion median". Our fellowmen determine whether we have acted with or without sufficient compassion. The first question, "Is my behaviour under or above the compassion median?" thereby invites one to reflect upon one’s own behaviour through the eyes of others. This invitation to reflect on one’s own performance increases one’s capability for self cleansing and thereby the likelihood of intrinsic behavioural improvement.

The experience of governance of the past 400 years –for the sake of convenience, I have taken the incorporation date of the VOC in 1602 as a starting point– show that regulation and codes of conduct have limited value when it comes to influencing the behaviour of an elected leader. Perhaps we should, therefore, elect our leaders while bearing in mind their track record in showing compassion for others.

The second question "When was the last time that you acted with compassion according to a colleague/subordinate/client/family member/friend/enemy?" may not only be posed to a candidate in a job interview, but also to any other person regardless of his or her role in society. Every day. Every week. Every month. Every year. Nothing prevents someone from regularly asking oneself that question.

Naturally, the third and final (counter) question subsequently arises, "But what is meant by compassion?" The curiosity about the answer to that question in itself increases the chance of more compassionate behaviour. Especially when we submit our answer for review by others.

It makes us all jointly responsible.

Patty Voorsmit

Bob van der Mast

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Robert Rinnooy Kan, corporate governance consultant, lawyer, entrepreneur (chairman)