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  • Joan van den Brink

Extract from 'The Three Companions'

I believe that courage, compassion and wisdom are three qualities that work hand in hand to enable us to approach difficult, emotive and sensitive situations in ways that empower the parties involved to have meaningful conversations. These dialogues lead to greater understanding of the situation, increased self-insights and eventually lasting change.

Using courage, compassion and wisdom – which I call the Three Companions – is both a skill and a way of being that is valuable in all aspects of our lives. They can be employed to tackle big issues such as inclusion, equity and belonging, mental health, the environment and sustainability, homelessness and much more. The Three Companions also equip us to handle smaller issues such as our day-to-day disappointments and upsets, and difficult conversations. In the workplace, there is an increased focus on inclusion (and diversity) and providing opportunities to level the playing field for disadvantaged groups. To be truly effective in tackling this complex issue, it is important to create the conditions in which people can speak up and share their experiences in the workplace without fear of judgement, ridicule or recrimination. Employing the Three Companions allows individuals to create a welcoming and safe space in which to have a discourse. They are able to truly see and hear each other and gain insights into those of their behaviours that lead to some people feeling hurt and excluded.

I am convinced that the Three Companions are essential qualities that we need to make the world a better place. These qualities are inherent in us all. However, I noticed that many of my friends and colleagues were unaware or denied that they possessed courage, compassion and wisdom. Yet my experience of them was that they epitomised these qualities, and I wanted to help them and others recognise the superpowers that they already possess and feel more confident in their ability to face challenging situations and solve complex problems.

I decided to write a book that showcased common examples of the Three Companions, so that people could see that they are present in ordinary situations and relate their own circumstances to the ones in the stories.

This book will help to equip individuals who are facing difficulties to anchor and centre themselves, put their situations into context and build their resilience. It is also a resource for anyone who wants to tackle delicate and emotive issues or handle dilemmas in a sensitive and caring way. The book covers personal and work situations because, as hard as we might try or pretend, we cannot enforce rigid boundaries between our work and private personas. What happens in our private lives impacts us at work and vice versa.

  • I believe this book will hold particular resonance for:

  • Leaders who are passionate about people and want to create the conditions for them to thrive. It will help them to have meaningful conversations about complex people issues and consider ways to balance driving for performance with retaining a human approach.

  • Chairs of employee resource groups, who need to advocate for their members to get the opportunities, support and resources they require to flourish in the workplace.

  • Chief Diversity Officers who are tasked with enabling inclusive environments and focused on best practices, providing thought leadership and development for all staff on diversity, equity and inclusion.

  • Consultants and coaches who support individuals and organisations to be the best they can be.

  • Individuals who are humanists and curious about how they can use courage, compassion and wisdom to greater effect.

You will get the most out of this book if you allow yourself to become involved in the content. Be open and curious. Ask yourself how you would handle similar situations: for example, in cases where you faced comparable circumstances, how did you behave? What did you feel? How did you act? Push yourself to find your own meaning in what is written here and elicit lessons that you can apply to your life.

Why courage, compassion and wisdom?

I am a Buddhist. In Buddhism, we identify courage, compassion and wisdom as the three virtues that allow us to alleviate suffering and achieve enlightenment. The Buddha, Shakyamuni, possessed these qualities. Courage, compassion and wisdom exist within us all and are manifest in myriad ways in our daily lives. However, we often associate physical acts of outstanding bravery with courage, and we tend to think of selfless human beings as those who perform amazing acts of humanitarianism or forgiveness, associating the likes of Malala Yousafzai, Desmond Tutu, Azim Khamisa2, 3 with compassion and individuals such as the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela with wisdom. These are people we revere and look up to. For the most part, we connect the Three Companions with a select few who touch the lives of many. We tend to discount these qualities in ourselves.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy’s three companions are the Cowardly Lion, who desires courage, the Tin Man, who is seeking a heart (compassion) and the Scarecrow, who wants to have brains (wisdom). In the story, they accompany Dorothy to the Emerald City to obtain these qualities from the Wizard of Oz. What they discover is that they possessed these qualities all along.

Buddhism teaches us that courage, compassion and wisdom exist within us and are revealed under the right conditions. I have a friend who describes herself as timid and shy. However, when she spots an injustice, she is fearless in speaking out against it. That is a wonderful example of courage, compassion, and wisdom, which is not part of my friend’s self-image. In this book, I want to help people access their true selves and discover their potency.

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