Anderson Cooper, a high-profile television journalist in the U.S., is best known for his direct questions, his uncompromising commitment to getting to the truth of what is going on, and his deep compassion for the human condition. As a co-host for the recent Mindfulness in America Summitin New York City, he was interviewed by Karen May, Vice-President for People at Google. Giving us a rare glimpse into the personal Anderson Cooper, he shared some of what he has learned in his remarkable journey and who he strives to be. The highlight of the interview for me was when he spoke of seeing with soft eyes.
Cooper defines seeing with soft eyes as “not allowing your eyes to be hardened by what they see, and viewing everything as nonjudgmentally as possible.” He grew up learning about loss. His father died when he was ten years old. Eleven years later, his older brother committed suicide. Throughout his journalism career, he has been drawn to people who are navigating profound loss, whether through war, humanitarian crises, violence in society, or through personal tragedy. He continues to put himself in places where, in his words, humanity is happening.
Navigating life today can get overwhelming. When humanity is happening – when we witness or feel the raw emotion of the human experience – sometimes we don’t know how to cope. In the moment, it might seem easier (or emotionally safer) to shut our feelings down, to harden our gaze, to walk away from our hearts, and just push on through. We do whatever we have to do in order to get through the situation.
Yet does that really serve us? What if we could be present – really present – with soft eyes?
The more we shut down feelings, the more disconnected we become from ourselves, from the people around us, and from life. We become hardened to the human experience. Our rational mind tells us that we are protecting ourselves. If we don’t feel – if we stay away from the heart – then there is no conflict and no pain, right? We tell ourselves that we can avoid messy interactions and protect everyone involved from uncomfortable or inconvenient emotions. If we disconnect, we can make the tough decisions and push through until we get the result we want.
Yet we don’t notice the deeper consequences. We don’t notice that disconnecting is becoming our habit – our coping mechanism. And we don’t notice how much energy it costs us to keep the walls up around our hearts.
Closing off our hearts and keeping the various aspects of our personal lives and work in little compartments comes with enormous cost. It hardens our vision and perception. It robs us of energy we need for creation and manifestation. It poisons relationships. Every decision and action becomes tainted by our need for protection and our fear to feel. And we lose the “whole-picture” awareness and the wise perspective of the heart.
The irony is, of course, that we are running away from the very part of us that could give us a true sense of clarity, authentic power, strength, and resilience. The heart brings all of the parts of us together into wholeness. Through our wholeness, we are able to access a greater wisdom. We discover a way forward. We become resourceful.
Whether as individuals, as companies or organizations, or as countries, our authentic power comes from our sense of connection with one another and the world around us. We find that connection when we see with soft eyes – when we engage with life from an open heart and mind, an awareness that everything is in some way connected to everything else, and a willingness to be present and work with whatever feelings arise.
Although things are slowly changing, too often company cultures view this kind of awareness and approach as the “soft skills.”
Yet what if it is only by seeing with the compassion and big-picture awareness of soft eyes – from the wisdom of our hearts – that we can reach our greatest potential? What if the “soft skills” are actually our most authentic and, in fact, most essential “power” skills?
Power with others rather than power over others. Power to be co-creative and innovative. Power to imagine something beyond what we already know. Power to connect the dots and build relationships. Power to transform challenges into opportunities. Power to bounce back when we get knocked down.
It’s through seeing with soft eyes that we can recognize our interconnection with all that is. When our eyes get hard – when we disconnect from the heart – we lose a sense of our interdependentrelationship with the world around us. We stop noticing that other people’s circumstances impact our own. As a society, we make choices and decisions that result in ecosystems being destroyed for the prosperity of a few, wars being fought based on greed and the pursuit of power. Seeing with hard eyes can only create a world where, in the end, everyone loses.
Whether as individuals, corporations, or nations, we cannot afford to disconnect from the heart any longer. We cannot afford to see with hard eyes. Time is of the essence. The enormous challenges we face are messengers asking us to pay attention. We have opportunities every day to make different choices.
Seeing with soft eyes alone will not make everything right in the world. However, it’s a starting point. The more we are willing to feel and embrace the power of the heart in both our personal and professional relationships, projects, and negotiations, the more we can access entirely new levels of clarity and understanding about where to go, who to be, and what to do.
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