Don't you have to be ruthless to be successful?

by Anna Colao, 16 To Live By founder and author

It’s a chilly morning alongside the River Thames, and an air of change is brewing as over 250 young people from all over London gather in the South Bank Centre for the youth session of the Empathy and Compassion in Society conference. The conference is about to present a mixture of scientists, researchers, ex-offenders and educators to the lively and diverse future generation of the city.

The main question we presented to the young people was: don’t you have to be ruthless to be successful? After a short discussion of definitions, the floor was open, cameras rolling and speakers ready! Ari Cowan from the USA opened by sharing the compelling story of his past and how he has transformed his life from violence and anger to become an advocate for compassion and an award-winning peacemaker. The atmosphere was relaxed but excited as Tania Singer took the stage to show us what the brain looks like before and after empathy training. We watched a video used in Tania’s research and shared our reactions.

At this point we took the first of two mind breaks. The first one was focused on relaxing the mind and practicing mindfulness by paying attention to the breath. The second was aimed at developing empathy and a deeper understanding of the universal nature of human suffering.