Compassion is an essential element of good leadership. On a fundamental level, compassion requires: listening, serving those in need, and rebuilding trust. These qualities serve as pillars of good leadership and embody the type of leadership the village needs now; particularly, as our community enters a phase of healing from the pandemic, business and economic recovery, and healing our planet through environmental efforts.

We see the need for compassion most acutely in the context of political discourse.  From the drafting of the Constitution and the heated debates that took place in the Federalist Papers, political debate has been a longstanding tradition in our democracy. Impassioned political discourse is central to the way we communicate viewpoints and understand other perspectives. As a community, Oak Parkers have long held the belief that hearing all sides is an important way to understand the full scope of an issue. In addition, political discourse is a way for candidates to be transparent about their policy ideas and intentions so that voters can understand who they are voting for in the election.

In this election cycle, however, we have witnessed a devolution in the tone and nature of political discourse. While politics has always had an impassioned and at times heated tone, we have seen political discourse become much more hostile and divisive. If our political conversations are going to be productive and solution-focused, they need to start with listening. This involves listening with the clear intent to understand another’s perspective, in a way that is unbiased. 

Second, it includes a genuine concern for one another and the willingness to sit in the discomfort of an experience that is different from your own. In addition, it is a rejection of a leadership framework based on power and control. Instead it allows for leadership that is focused on serving the community. 

Lastly, compassion-centered politics engages a level of trust-building that is important to gaining traction on the issues that divide us. When we operate from a perspective of compassion, we encourage even greater participation in political discourse. Segments of our community who are often excluded from the discussion can gain trust by participating in the discourse. This leads to more comprehensive representation as voices that have previously been silenced or discouraged can now be heard. 

Compassion-centered leadership calls us to a higher level of leadership. As we end our current local election cycle, we will look to leadership that is ready to address issues on community safety, environmental responsibility, budget shortfalls and a business community still recovering economic losses. Making hard policy decisions, particularly for a diverse electorate like Oak Park, can be difficult. 

Compassion-centered politics gives us a roadmap for discussions to be productive. It will provide a space for disagreement that does not fall into the trap of divisive and polarized conversations. Let us hold ourselves and our leaders accountable for moving us through this phase of divisiveness and elect officials who can lead us toward healing. We all deserve it.

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