Compassion At Work

by Joey Leslie

We are in a conference room outside of Detroit this past August when a woman I’ve been randomly paired with – let’s refer to her as Grace- starts spilling her guts to me about her mother. She is crying as she tells me her elderly mom hasn’t spoken to her in years even though Grace is, in large part, her only lifeline. Grace pays the mortgage on the house her mother won’t allow her into. She pays the phone bill even though they aren’t on speaking terms. The list goes on. 

Grace says she might as well be an only child because her siblings stopped helping her out years ago. Her father is a sweet man, but he’s ailing, too, and his voice gets lost in the fray of hard feelings.

Then we hear Dr. Shawne Duperon call out, “Switch!”

Just like that, it’s my turn to embrace vulnerability. But there’s a twist. I’m to respond to Grace as if I were her mother. It’s my job, in this activity, to give her the apology her mother will not.. the apology she’ll never receive.

I have 10 seconds to look Grace in her mascara-smudged blue eyes and speak on behalf of her mom and more than 20 years of pain. I’m panicking, at a loss for words as Grace and I lean into each other instinctively as to not miss a word or a feeling in this crowded, emotionally-charged room where about 75 other people are doing the same thing.

Then I hear myself say, “My dear, I am so sorry I have hurt you…”

From there, my words flowed easily and felt like the truth – A gift. In less than one minute, the healing had begun for us both.

It may sound like a scene from a ‘feelings retreat,’ and to the uninitiated, it can feel exactly as such. But this activity aptly called “The Apology,” was a part of a High- Pressure Communications Bootcamp created and led by Dr. Shawne Duperon for high-level business leaders.

Dr. Shawne, as she’s affectionately called, a six-time EMMY® Award Winner, one-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize, and a world-class communicator with a Ph.D. in Gossip (literally) said, the popular Bootcamp is designed to show leaders the importance and impact of taking risks.

“You’re going to screw up… ,” she said. “It’s part of being human; it’s part of being a leader. Risk-taking allows for agility, disruption, and problem-solving. It’s inevitable that it won’t always go the way you planned. The key is how quickly can you forgive yourself and others, to get back on track.”

With activities, tools, and strategies designed to help leaders embrace vulnerability, empathy, and compassion, Dr. Shawne gives people permission to take empathy into all areas of their lives – especially the workplace.

Her client roster includes forward-thinking companies such as Bosch, Corteva and General Motors (GM) where Reginald Humphrey, GM’s Asst. Director of Supplier Engagement has helped make Dr. Shawne’s tools and practices a part of the corporate culture.

Humphrey said compassion and forgiveness are key characteristics of great business leaders but are often overlooked and undervalued.

“As a leader, you are consistently faced with risk-taking, and you need to find innovative methods to solve problems and cultivate new ideas,” Humphrey said. “You have to be able to forgive yourself and others in this disruptive business environment in order to encourage creativity that delivers competitive and innovative solutions. We [at GM] embrace this perspective, which is why we support progressive conversations like ‘forgiveness as a leader.’”

Humphrey first participated in Dr. Shawne’s workshop in 2017 during a conference held by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). He was Board Chairman of the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council at that time and found the activities so impactful he has since sponsored workshops that include these conversations for Women Business Enterprises across the United States.

The signature tool of Project Forgive, ‘The Apology’ is now being practiced in corporations, not-for- profit organizations, associations, and universities around the world.

THE RISE OF PROJECT FORGIVE

Project Forgive started as a short video created by Dr. Shawne to initiate a conversation on forgiveness. No politics, no religion, just an authentic inquiry of what forgiveness means to people across the globe.

The video’s compelling story is about a man – a friend of Dr. Shawne’s – who lost his wife and children to a drunk driver and responded with unexpected compassion. The video went viral to tens of thousands of screens across the globe.

Since then, Project Forgive has been officially endorsed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and has grown to reach millions of people each month in social media and tens of thousands via Facebook Live broadcasts.

Its impact was so powerful and far-reaching that Project Forgive was honored with a 2016 Nobel Peace Prize nomination for the progressive and authentic conversations it caused globally.

This unprecedented response was the catalyst for the Project Forgive Foundation, a 501c3 non-religious, non- partisan organization, committed to causing community impact in mental health.

The organization’s programs and tools are designed to empower teachers, probation officers, and other community leaders who are most involved with developing, teaching, and mentoring kids.

To support the continued growth and work around the world, the group recently launched “The Apology” Necklace, a $25 sterling silver dove necklace crafted exclusively as a fundraiser for the Project Forgive Foundation.

Available at ProjectForgive.org, Dr. Shawne says the dove necklace represents bringing diverse communities together by developing and advancing skills for people who have direct and daily interaction with children.

It comes packaged with Project Forgive’s most-requested tool – the 3-step process to accept the apology you’ll never receive – and 100% of all proceeds go directly to Project Forgive.

Next up is a soon-to-be-released, non-religious, non- partisan documentary that explores forgiveness: the myths; the health implications of choosing to forgive (or not to); and the real stories of people who have overcome pain, bitterness, and anger and found joy.

PIVOT POINTS

Like most good things, Dr. Shawne’s “The Apology” was born out of necessity. But it is because of her willingness to accept, if not embrace, her own vulnerability that the power of her work has been able to help so many others.

Yes, Dr. Shawne is consistently rated among the top speakers and trainers globally and has been featured on major media such as CNN, ABC, NBC, CBC, and Inc. Magazine.

Meanwhile, in this last year, she lost her father and sister to cancer. Her brother and mother are facing terminal cancer today. And her relationship with her mother can be described as ‘challenging’ for about as far back as Dr. Shawne can remember.

“My background includes childhood trauma and sexual abuse,” she said. “My mother carried a lot of guilt; I carried a lot of shame.

By practicing her own philosophies relentlessly, she has been able to release much of the pain and resentment that has defined her relationship with her mom for so many years.

“We’ve worked as a mother-daughter team to move through the years of betrayal, pain, and anguish,” she said. “Our relationship is far from perfect, and we have come full circle with respect, love, and appreciation for each others’ journey.”

In that way, “The Apology” serves as a pivot point. And for entrepreneurs like author Randy Gage – whose story is featured in the upcoming Project Forgive documentary – it’s the difference between deciding to be the victor in your story or the victim.

Gage knows firsthand that forgiveness is a powerful tool.

While living in Miami during the “Cocaine Cowboy” days, Gage was shot in a robbery attempt and left for dead in the street. Fortunately, doctors saved his life with emergency surgery. Unfortunately, they also removed his healthy appendix because, as one doctor explained it, “we were in there anyway.”

This left Gage with two choices to make: how to feel toward the person who put a bullet in him and how to feel about the person who saved him but stole his organ in the process.

Gage reasoned that to hang on to hate or revenge against the man who tried to kill him would have poisoned his mind and prevented a complete recovery. To hang on to resentment for the people who kept him alive would be choosing to hang on to victimhood.

Ultimately he chose to forgive them both.

“I too have been powerless over an addiction,” Gage said. “The man who shot me was operating in an entirely different life track, but he unknowingly offered me an opportunity for great personal growth and my life has been enriched greatly because of him. I also realized that the doctors had done the best they could with what they had to work with and with the consciousness they had at that moment.”

Since then, Gage has written multiple NYT Best Sellers and delivers power speeches and seminars on stages around the world.

He frequently speaks in the corporate world, sharing his story of how compassion and forgiveness are not simply topics for New Age workshops but are actual requirements for success in business.

Much like Dr. Shawne, Gage recognizes that it’s often most difficult – and most important – to forgive ourselves, a topic which he addresses in his popular “Prosperity Podcast.”

“I came to understand that no matter how bad I thought I was, I intuitively knew that I must forgive myself and move on or I would continue to manifest a life of misery, limitation, and lack,” Gage said. “When someone comes to me, and his or her prosperity seems blocked, this is where I look first. Only once they forgive themselves can they become successful.”

For more information on Project Forgive, please visit projectforgive.org

MORE GOOD NEWS

While business leaders such as GM’s Humphrey are finding ways to bring compassion into the workplace, thought leaders like Randy Harris are finding ways to put more compassion out into the world.

When Harris launched the website UnderstandingCompassion.com in 2015, he set out to showcase random acts of kindness taking place around the world, and to celebrate the people behind them.

He believes people want – and need – to know about the good things happening in the world.

“In our first year we had numerous posts on social media reach over 1 million shares and videos topping 10, 30, and 80 million views,” Harris said. “It showed us that people are really seeking positive stories and information in the media.”

Harris said the website now receives around 1 million visitors monthly and reaches more than 300 million people monthly through social media.

Popular stories on the site include that of
a terminally-ill, 91-year-old woman who knitted thousands of winter hats for the homeless while she was in the hospital and two children who asked their dad to stop their car so they could help a disabled stranger shovel snow from his sidewalk. Harris said stories about celebrities are popular as well, in part because people appreciate seeing wealthy people put their money toward making the world a better place. Bonus points if they do it without drawing attention to themselves.

“It’s very common to see people commenting that they were moved to tears by how beautiful these acts of kindness were,” Harris said. “Many people who regularly read stories of kindness and compassion find themselves being kinder to strangers in their daily lives as well, which is what we’re all about.”