Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth Consulting

Think of someone who’s behaved badly around you lately. Maybe it was an ornery cashier at the grocery store. Maybe it was a driver who cut you off. Maybe it was your partner or colleague who said something that struck you as offhandedly callous, or even cruel.

What all went into their bad behavior? What led up to it? Do you know? Are you aware?

You’re probably aware of some of it—especially if you’re close to them. But a crucial

part of awareness is being aware of the limits of our awareness. 

Every person, however bad their behavior, has been formed by a history of anguished and joyful moments that have brought them to the present time and place. This history is either totally or mostly opaque to us, and it is largely opaque to the person as well. I’ve come to believe there is something profoundly special, even sacred, about this opaqueness. 

The 20th century philosopher Simone Weil is famous for her writings on the unknowability of God. But she also talked a lot about the unknowability of other people:

“Justice. To be continually ready to admit that another person is something other than what we read when they are there (or when we think about them)… perhaps something altogether different.”

Simone Weil

We “read” others as best we can, but our interpretations are often woefully wrong. Weil believed justice requires constant awareness of the always partial (sometimes totally mistaken) nature of our knowledge of other people. 

What’s required, according to Weil, is attention. By the word “attention,” she meant: a curious and open attitude wherein we wait to be surprised by the other person, and militantly curb our natural eagerness to prejudge. This kind of awareness immediately humanizes and dignifies the other person rather than confining them to the violence of a predetermined set of assumptions and expectations.

For Weil, tending in this manner goes beyond mere ethics, and touches on spirituality. Why? Because humble, open-hearted, nonjudgmental attention to another person acknowledges them as a reflection of divine mystery—or what, as a Platonic philosopher, she often termed “the Good.”

What can Weil’s philosophy offer today’s leaders?

I believe there is an invitation here for a certain quality and depth of attention. It’s more than asking engaging questions. It’s more than putting down your phone. It’s more than eye contact and head nods. All that helps, of course. But when we cultivate genuine reverence for the mystery and sacredness contained in the faces and stories of other people, we dignify them. We understand them anew. And we open new avenues for their ongoing healing, growth, development, and wholeness.

People—especially people in pain—are hungry to be tended and witnessed in this way. For it is the only kind of attention that has the power to humanize, heal, and empower those entrusted to our guidance and care.

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.