Ten steps to wisdom and compassion in times of crisis


The world’s great religions and philosophies offer us solace and strategies during crises and chaos. In recent years I have worked with colleagues to apply some of the foundational principles of Buddhism at a secular level to journalism, ethics, communication and teaching.

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That research might have benefits for others as we face threats to our health and finances.

This 10-step approach can offer a blueprint for leadership in life, work and education for those who might not already possess a guiding religious, moral or ethical compass.

  1. The getting of wisdom: There’s much more to wisdom than just being smart. It is much closer to ‘emotional intelligence’ with a key factor being compassion for the welfare and feelings of other beings. A key to wisdom is routine reflection on each of the elements here.
  2. Perspective: The starting point is to acknowledge that suffering and stress are inevitable in our lives, and that it pays to reflect on their source – attachment to the people and things we love (including our own egos), ignorance of the information we need, and aversion to situations we fear. Things cause us pain each day, and life is punctuated by major moments of suffering interspersed with periods of joy. Knowing and accepting this might help ease suffering when it arises.
  3. Key understandings: The psychological literature supports this perspective on life’s ups and downs, and further demonstrates even small acts of kindness can improve the mental health of both the giver and receiver.
  4. Considering intent: Our big decisions – and even many of the smaller ones – can benefit from us exploring our real motivations. Why am I thinking of doing this? What’s really driving it? Is it self-advancement or self-gratification or am I trying to enhance the welfare of others?
  5. Wise livelihood: Many of us are reconsidering our jobs, careers and routines. How does this recalibration sit with our moral compass and our work ethics? Can our practices be better tailored to ease the suffering of others, or at least not add to it?
  6. Thoughtful communication: Our speech, social media use and even our body language are crucial to our relationships to others and the wider world. A short reflection before any communication shows wisdom and can contribute to the well-being of others, especially when we know so many others are anxious and troubled right now. If some leaders had paused to reflect, they might not have spoken certain words in recent weeks.
  7. Acting carefully: Speech is just one of our actions. What we do also has impacts on others, as we have learned in recent times as hoarding and distancing have suddenly appeared on our social radars. If we think before we act we can ease suffering and contribute to the happiness of others. For example, we might act to turn off the news if it is causing anxiety in our household.
  8. Maintaining effort: As we already know, all of this can take considerable effort on a range of fronts. We are being called upon to pause to reflect before we do many things we would have done without a thought just weeks ago – a handshake, a hug, touching our faces and going to the shops.
  9. Being mindful: If we can build into our daily routine just a few moments of reflection – perhaps a formal period of meditation or note-taking or a thoughtful walk, we can train ourselves to be mindful of our own thoughts and actions and their ripple effect on those close by and far away. The spread of this pandemic has involved the ripple effect of the acts of others globally, and our acts of kindness can have a similar ripple effect.
  10. Finding your ‘flow’: Just like the classical pianist or the Olympic champion, we can get ‘in the zone’ or ‘in the flow’ by combining the above strategies in our work and our lives. Practised repeatedly and effectively, we can all become maestros of wisdom and compassion even in the midst of crises – by doing what we do best to the limit of our abilities, by assessing our core talents and perhaps applying them in new ways, and by becoming kindness ambassadors by easing the burden of others.

For some of my related research, please see:

Pearson, M., McMahon, C., O’Donovan, A. and O’Shannessy, D. (2019), ‘Building journalists’ resilience through mindfulness strategies’. Journalism. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1464884919833253

Pearson, M., McMahon, C., and O’Donovan, A. (2018) ‘Potential benefits of teaching mindfulness to journalism students’. Asia Pacific Media Educator (December). 28:2: https://doi.org/10.1177/1326365X18800080

Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.

© Mark Pearson 2020 – the moral right of the author has been asserted.

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Filed under cognitive reflection, journalism, journalism education, media ethics, media literacy, meditation, mindful journalism, reflective practice, social media

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