“What is most personal is most general”—Carl Rogers.

If we dig deep, beneath the superficialities, we will find that others have the same basic needs, interests and concerns—whether physical, emotional or spiritual—as we do. Understanding and realizing this aspect of human psychology is fundamental to great leadership.

Once when Mahatma Gandhi was boarding a train, one of his footwear slipped and fell back on the railway platform. The train moved ahead before he could retrieve it. In the quick seconds that followed, Gandhi related his current misery of having single footwear to the misery of the person who would later find the other footwear on the platform. Gandhi quickly shoved the one that he had out of the moving train. The second footwear of the pair feUnderstand feelingsll on the platform some distance away from the first. Now the person who would find the first could also find the second. Gandhi felt relieved. This incident exemplifies Gandhi’s ability to connect other’s feelings with his own.

Dr. Stephen Covey, whom Time magazine recognized as one of 25 most influential Americans, also stood apart in his ability to relate to the pain that most people suffered at their workplaces or at home. Putting himself in the shoes of the masses, he came out with solutions that when published became best-sellers.

‘I feel pleasure in a certain situation and pain in another. Similarly, anyone else would feel similar emotions when put into those situations.’ It sounds simple to understand, but it isn’t so. Take for example the non-vegetarian population. Most non-vegetarians are non-vegetarians because they don’t relate to the fact that the animal on their dining table underwent the same pain that they would go through if their throat were slit.

The Vedas point out this lack of empathy a symptom of tamo-guna, or the dark state of consciousness—we seem to understand other’s feelings, but we somehow fail to understand them. Most people’s consciousness is covered by darkness, to one degree or another. According to the Bhagavad Gita, the exceptions are only the ones who have attained spiritual perfection. ‘He is a perfect yogi who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress, O Arjuna!’ (Bhagavad Gita 6.32)

Spirituality is indispensable in order to be able to connect to other’s feelings to any considerable level. Gandhi and Covey, the examples that we discussed earlier, were spiritualists in their own way. Gandhi spent a major portion of his day in his prayer room and Covey was a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Spiritual practices begin to connect you to your real self. From that dimension of reality you learn to see the equality of all beings, and their connection with the self. And from that dimension of reality you can relate the feelings of all beings to the feelings of the self. The whole process unveils in a mystical effect with progressive practice.

Close association of advanced spiritualists can help a lot; you witness the science in action. (In my case I have the good fortune of Radhanath Swami’s association) And gradually you too get habituated to see the world as they see—with empathy.

So, somehow connect to other’s feelings. Why? Firstly, we will find in doing it fulfillment of the soul’s real nature. And secondly, we will find in doing it fulfillment of our leadership roles. Because, leadership is about entering people’s hearts and people open their hearts when they feel they are understood; but you can’t give them that feel unless you are able to connect to their deepest emotions.

Published by Gopinath Chandra

Gopinath Chandra is a resident of Radhagopinath Ashram that’s run under the guidance of Radhanath Swami in Mumbai. For many years he has been the privileged observer of Radhanath Swami’s leadership principles in action, be it in the sphere of ashram development, community building, social service, or environmentalism. Gopinath Chandra keen observational ability, coupled with his analytical brain groomed at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), allows him to be a fast learner. And on this blog he generously shares leadership lessons he has assimilated over the years.

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  1. All the great saints like HH Radhanath Swami always understand the troubles of others and hence they preach out of their compassionate nature.

  2. These articles have changed my perspective of leaders and the act of leadership. After reading these articles I feel I am too far away with the internals and my focus has always been on external. Thanks for this wonderful article.

  3. These days people find it difficult to connect to each other due to their busy schedule or a smart phone. What actually is required is as stated to connect to the real self that is to turn towards spirituality.

  4. Leadership is about entering people’s hearts and people open their hearts when they feel they are understood; but you can’t give them that feel unless you are able to connect to their deepest emotions…this punch line has described the gist of being a leader. You have to have empathy to gain the trust within the hearts of masses. This article has well connected real life examples showing the impact of understanding empathetic behavior and it’s result on our society. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Wonderful incident from the life of Mahatma Gandhi about slipper falling, he could relate to other persons problem when he will find his slipper. Also author nicely connects this to explain how non vegetarianism is faulty and lacks understanding others feelings.

  6. This is a really heart touching article. An elevated person is Parasukha sukhi and Paradukha dukhi – other’s pains are his pains and his joy is seeing other’s happy – this can happen only when we start feeling for others by getting into their shoes when we deeply connect our hearts to them through the common connection of Paramatma.
    Thanks for the article and the story of Gandhi.

  7. Empathy for others is a big characteristic of a realized soul like Radhanath swami! He is the embodiment of true love and affection for every living being.

  8. Understanding the emotions of team members for a leader is the best way to connect with them. This is very nice article.

  9. …leadership is about entering people’s hearts and people open their hearts when they feel they are understood; but you can’t give them that feel unless you are able to connect to their deepest emotions… Thank you Radhanath Swami Maharaj.

  10. Daily spiritual practices helps one genuinely connect with others in terms of understanding their emotional, spiritual and physical needs and also a true expression of empathy

  11. Nice story of Gandhi in the beginning and nice lessons given in the article.
    Thank you very much

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