When I consider the process of decision making, I immediately go to my mind.  I reflect on the thousands of articles, books, and lectures that document the best and most effective tactics. I think of business management, analysis, and strategies.  And while I do think one should fully activate their instincts, I never thought of the concept itself as one that relates to the heart.  It was always a cerebral concept for me. But how about if we think of decision making, be it in politics, business, or personal, as an activity that involves the heart as well?  What happens if we include compassion or love? How would decision making be different then?

Each person has a different style and approach to decision making. There are those who charge into a decision, move forward, and never look back. There are those who take their time, and ask for more information before any decision can be made.  And then there are those who make sure they hear the consensus before they can decide. These are all techniques that are based on each individual’s personality.  It does not matter which kind of decision maker you are, but I believe it does matter if you make your decisions from a place of compassion, from knowledge, from free will to choose, and from love—as love is always bigger than all.

The way I see it, Compassion, Knowledge, Free Will and Love are the foundational pillars of decision making regardless of your personality, the kind of decision you are making (professional or personal), and where you are placed in life (regardless of the authority you have or you may not have in any aspect of your life).  At the end of the day, each person has one thing fully: the self. You are always the leader, the lover, the jailer, and the freer of yourself. Regardless of your current status in life, where you live, how much you earn, what circumstances you are living in, and how you see the world, consider the following pillars as you make decisions.

1.  Compassion

Compassion for me is the ability to see another’s perspective regardless if you agree with it. Compassion is always easy to give to those we love. But when asked to show it to those one competes with, disagrees with, and is even angry with? Well, that is a much, much harder thing to do. When I worked in war zones, I never thought I could show compassion to those who raped, killed, and pillaged. When I first heard the concept of “compassion” being applied to everyone I resisted, it was difficult for me not to show anger at those who committed crimes and oppressed others around them let alone express compassion. But then, I became curious to learn the meaning of true compassion so I embarked upon the exploration within myself. I started searching in my travels by going to the people I would usually run as far away from as possible: the enemy, if you may. For me, that is a brothel owner in India, an executioner in Iraq, and a rapist in Congo, to name just a few. Instead of fleeing from them in my anger at their crimes, this time I walked towards them, curious to understand their logic and their perspectives.

I clearly remember every single moment of my encounters with each of these criminal men. When I sat in front each of them, my heart would pound fast as I knew they could have harmed me in another moment in time. But I also knew that if I had to access compassion, I needed to truly hear what they had to say. I let curiosity my guide and I asked questions without judgment. How am I to understand the “other side” if I am not genuinely interested to learn of its reasoning?  I asked and when they felt that I was genuinely interested, they answered honestly without hesitation.

The executioner described his executions in detail, as did the rapist. And the brothel owner told me the business logic behind buying girls and making them work 5 years for free before giving them any income.  At the end of each encounter I came to the same conclusion. I didn’t feel anger, but sadness for the loss of their souls.  They talked numbly without any feelings. It’s almost as if they do not allow any emotions to go through them; they might as well be a robot. They described their crimes as if they were on autopilot.  And when I noticed their complete detachment, I was able to, for the first time in my life, develop compassion towards them. But that compassion did not mean letting them get away with their crimes, or make excuses for their actions by blaming it on rough childhoods they had. Compassion in that case simply meant truly listening, and seeing things from their outlook even when I found their viewpoints repelling.  I realized then that if my goal is the transformation of behavior—and, with that, societies—rather than a “kill them all” mentality, then compassion is critical in altering the narrative, both their own stories as well as their own engagement with the society around them.

Although these are examples of heinous crimes, the concept applies the same way to a person who hurt you, said something bad about you, or snapped in anger at you. Well, these things are upsetting. They always are. Still, it is possible to be understanding if you allow yourself to take a deep breath, put your own emotions aside for a moment, and try to see things from the other person’s point of reference. Often you will see they are snapping out of their own pain, insecurity, or whatever they are going through. That awareness, simply that awareness in you, can help transform your assessment of them from reaction to that of compassion.  You can still set boundaries and limits, and you can still decide whatever you want. But when seeing another’s story with contextual awareness your own emotional engagement or decision making will take a very different turn.  Compassion allows one to make calmer decisions which stem out of centeredness rather than reaction–even to the worst stories that we encounter.

2.  Knowledge

Knowledge is the ability to acquire as many points of information about one issue and from as many angles as possible.  Imagine looking at a room not only from your perspective, which by definition means a certain way of looking, but from multiple standpoints. Imagine if your eyes were accessing the four cameras there were put on the four corners of the room. Each camera sees a different reality.  Each sees the same exact picture from a different perspective. What is small in one viewpoint can be huge from another and what is harmless from one perspective can be harmful from another.

Knowledge for me is the ability to examine the same story from all characters’ perspectives without emotional judgment on any side.  It is merely a process of data collection: as factual as fact can be, in tune to analysis, and multi-dimensional.

Try asking your siblings about your childhood. I guarantee everyone has a different description of the exact same story.  Each saw the story from his or her own perspective even if it is the exact opposite of yours. Knowledge is simply a process of information collection without emotional engagement. But it’s important to be aware that every story has multiple perspectives and everything ultimately gets filtered through an emotional lens.  Knowledge is inquiring and listening to everyone’s experience of the same event: noting the facts as they see it and adding it in your library of information as a critical source for decision making.

3.  Free will

Ah, and what is “free will”? Free will for me does not mean that one is living in a free country that allows freedom of expression. Nor does it mean that one is a free agent–as say, an entrepreneur–to make whatever decision they may choose.  If you are the owner of your company or the boss of your team, you may think that you have the free will, or authority, to make whatever decision you choose to make. But that is not what I mean by “free will” either.

Free will for me is to be free from your own inner story. Free from our fears of judgment, from our desires to be loved and accepted, from our desires to please others, from our desire to be popular; or to show that we are hard working and intelligent. These desires take away from our true meaning of “free will,” where we take each step and make each decision by following the absolute truth of our values and beliefs regardless of any appeal we each may have to be accepted and seen by others.

Freedom, true freedom, is the freedom that stems from being anchored in the true self.  In that place there is a knowing what is true to one’s values irrelevant of the world outside of us. Imagine if you made life choices not based on what other people thought, or what the society dictated as the norm, but in your truth of who you are and what you believe in.

I don’t know about you, but I have been guilty at times of compromising my own values to please others. I came to realize this is a losing proposition.  If your life goal is to please others, then it is a goal that can never been accomplished. “Others” have their own stories and their pleasure or lack of pleasure may never be related to you. When I compromised myself, I died inside and that was the worse kind of death.

But there were many times in which I lived every step of my life out of utter truth regardless of  how people around me felt or judged. These are times in which I could breathe fully even when times are hard. Although being in truth is never easy, being committed to your desires and dreams leaves you with a sense of significance and freedom that is priceless.

It’s easy to fool ourselves about the meaning of free will, especially if one is living in a society that sees itself as free. The freedom in this case is an inner peace where we are not deciding in reaction to our needs, but in truth to ourselves. It takes full knowledge of oneself to distinguish between the decisions that stem out of an outer desire for other’s responses and between inner truth that truly does not put much value on outer reaction as much as inner peace.  That is the true meaning of free will within decision making.

4.  Love

Yes, Love!  For love should be part of everything we do in life, even when we are unhappy, upset, or tired. In love there is a centeredness that grounds us on this earth. And while it is easy to think of love as a major agent in our personal decision making—whether related to marriage, friends, and families—many do not see love as part of our decision making in business.  You may ask what does love has to do with making professional decisions, such as hiring or firing, buying this computer, or negotiating deals? Well imagine if you use love in such decisions. What would that entail?

I personally would start by asking myself simple questions. Is my decision loving towards nature? Is it really necessary to have or want to make a decision? Most of us buy things because it is the latest thing, or it has the trendiest fashion or appeal.  And sometimes that does not mean that we need it as much as we simple desire wanting the newest materials in order to meet social norms. But what if your decision making in this case is based on love for something other than pressure from others? What if it is based on whether that decision is loving of earth and its resources or not. What if your decision to buy shoes, for example, is based not only on your needs for beauty but also on the impact of its production of the animals and the practice of treating the animals it to make that shoes.

If the question entails a person, be it hiring or firing, I would ask myself how to follow my decision in truth but also in love.  In other words, you can fire someone for example, but how do you do it in a way that keeps that person’s integrity intact. It will make a difference for you and the other person.

I will then ask the question about myself. Is doing this or that act, or eating this or that food, loving of myself and my body or not?  I am a big foodie.  I love food so much and so when I eat, I think of it as a loving act for myself.  But recently I realized that when I eat that muffin or bagel, it is actually not a loving act to my body at all. It is rather a cruel act to my body when I don’t put healthy things inside of it. It ends up using more energy than needed and is poisoning its very core. Suddenly that chocolate ice cream that I so love to eat did not look loving of myself. And with that its appeal changed.

Making decisions based on love does not mean you do not set boundaries or say no to people, but it is in the way of deciding and acting upon your truth, you do it with love. That love is a reflection of you and your own being in this world.  Everyone wants to live in a more peaceful, caring world.  This cliché goes beyond beauty pageant statements.  “I want world peace” is an easy sentence to place in everyone’s minds.  Well, it all starts with you.  The world does not change outside of you and wait for your reaction. It is the opposite, actually.  You change and with that the world around you transforms in response to you.  Try it…It works  🙂