Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth Consulting

Since last week’s eruption of fresh conflict in Israel and Palestine, I, like many others, have felt a deep heaviness. There is so much trauma and uncertainty. Each day brings news of heightened pain and deepened division. 

What does compassionate leadership look like in view of this latest* global crisis?

What can leaders within organizations, neighborhoods, congregations (etc.) say? Do? Offer?

First, let us acknowledge that nothing is nearly enough. When there’s this much trauma and violence; when the history is this deeply etched with pain and injustice; when the future looks this opaque—then clearly, no one leader will bring resolution, end suffering, quell fear, or dispel uncertainty.

Yet, silence from leaders in times of amplified geopolitical distress can deepen peoples’ anxiety and pain. I believe compassionate leadership involves saying, doing, and/or offering something to acknowledge the distress wrought by the crisis, and to offer some support and guidance.

If you are one of those leaders, how might that look? Where might you begin?

Below I offer some possible starting points. None are enough, and none meet the needs of everyone. But perhaps one or two might serve as a place to begin as you seek to communicate care and support in troubled times.

Eight Strategies for Leading with Compassion in View of the Israel-Palestine Conflict

  1. Appropriately acknowledge your own emotions. It’s okay to name your emotional response to the situation—perhaps sadness, dismay, overwhelm, or something else. When leaders are appropriately vulnerable, it creates space and permission for others to be fully human. Strive to communicate your emotional response in a way that conveys self-awareness and solidarity, rather than neediness. That way, folks aren’t left feeling like they need to take care of you.
  2. Encourage slowing down and caring for self and others. Heightened fear, uncertainty, and emotional distress can take atoll. Encourage people to slow down and create space for tending to their emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual needs, as well as the needs of others.
  3. Encourage a deeper understanding. As with nearly every important topic these days, the current crisis in the Middle East is politically sensitive and very complex. Encourage folks to educate themselves, resist hype, and seek deeper understanding of the historical, cultural, social, and political dimensions of the conflict. Wisdom often comes from being curious, considering multiple angles, asking critical questions, appreciating nuance, and analyzing with both head and heart.
  4. Normalize grief and lament. The word compassion comes from the Latin cum + pati, meaning, “to suffer with.” People often find comfort in a leader giving them permission to really feel compassion – that is, to grieve and lament the suffering of others. Such emotions are a key part of what make us human, and in moments like these, we all need to hold onto our humanity.
  5. Offer resources for parents of young children. Parents often wonder whether, when, and how to talk to their children about violence, terrorism, and war. There are many helpful resources available. Take time to research several options that have been written by verified mental health experts, and provide links to them.
  6. Encourage and redirect peoples’ urges to help. The current situation in Israel and Palestine is one that none of us can do anything about, at least directly and immediately. It will be up to world leaders to work to bring resolution and end suffering. Yet, many people feel the urge to help somehow. Remind folks that there remain many options for helping people who suffer from violence, hunger, homelessness, and trauma—and many of them are close to home, in our own communities. While giving to aid organizations that can (we hope) help people affected by the war in the Middle East is a good idea, it’s also a good idea to help those nearby.
  7. Encourage people to care for their spiritual needs. With media outlets blasting awful images of the conflict, all of us are affected by the horror of this situation. Profound questions naturally arise—questions of life and death, meaning and truth, good and evil, justice and injustice, purpose and hope. These questions emerge from some of the deepest spiritual needs we have as people. Urge folks to tend to them, and perhaps process them with a trusted spiritual leader and/or community.
  8. Provide space (if appropriate) for people to process and listen. It can be a great comfort for people to have a safe space to share, listen, and provide support. Because of the sensitive and potentially polarizing nature of the topic, it can help to set down some ground rules, such as: “Refrain from fixing, saving, or setting straight others;” “presume welcome and extend welcome;” “speak for yourself and not on behalf of another person or group;” and “if the dialogue gets tricky, ask an open question instead of arguing a point.”**

Compassionate leadership means strong spine + large heart, in equal measure. In these deeply troubled times, let both courage and love guide you as you guide others.

About Andrea

Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth is Founder and CEO of Hollingsworth Consulting, author of the bestselling book The Compassion Advantage (2024), and one of today’s leading global experts on compassionate leadership. Since 2008, she has been studying, speaking, and writing about the science and spirituality of human emotions and relationships. Her articles have been published more than a dozen times in peer-reviewed journals, and she has taught at prestigious institutions like Princeton, Boston University, and Loyola University Chicago. In addition, Dr. Andrea has delivered talks to audiences at some of the top-ranked universities in the world—including Cambridge University in England and Heidelberg University in Germany.

Dr. Andrea spends most of her time inspiring leaders and teams to use The Compassion Advantage to build supercharged organizations through cultures of care— especially in times of challenge and change. Andrea lives with her family in Minnesota where she cheers hard at her son’s soccer games and relishes every opportunity to visit the north shore of Lake Superior.