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Bearing Witness

By Gail Angelo – Managing Principal –The Craigen Group
 
In the personal growth work and meditation I have been doing lately, I keep hearing the word “witness” waft gently through my being. Talking with others about the word witness, anecdotally, there is a strong religious overtone to the word and as a result, I have even been encouraged by some not to use the word “witness” in a business context….unless, of course, I am a lawyer.
 
What I am realizing is that societally we often think of witnessing as something we do for someone and not with someone. We witness for Christ, God, Buddha, Allah, Jehovah – whatever your choice for higher power. We witness for the prosecution or the defense. It is less often that we consider witnessing to and with ourselves as well as to and with others. Even the definitions of witness as both a noun and a verb found in the dictionary reference legal and religious scenarios. Witnessing is much more and much more powerful than that. It holds the power to transform.
 
What I am learning and experiencing with myself and my leadership clients is that when we are witness to ourselves and others….WITH LOVE AND COMPASSION….when we witness from the heart, we open the space for more authentic living and leadership. It is in this space, created through loving and compassionate witness that confidence, potential, possibility and incredible results flow forth.
 

Without Witness

 
In a recent Gallup poll, it was cited that only 33% of people feel engaged in their work and 79% of people who leave their work cite a lack of appreciation and recognition as the number one reason. People at work or in other parts of their lives are not feeling seen. They have not been witnessed to at all much less with love and compassion. They are often reacted to with criticism and judgement or worse still are not acknowledged at all. We are too busy. There are too many distractions. As a result, passion ebbs, confidence wanes, resentment grows and lack of productivity, engagement and positivity fade.
 

Witness as a Way of Life

 
“Ubuntu” is both an African philosophy and word. As a philosophy it is often translated as “I am because we are,” or “humanity towards others”, but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”. When used as a greeting, it means “I see you and I am seen by you”….with love and without judgement. It is seeing. It is witnessing ourselves and each other that give us the power to live more fully into our strengths and effectively address our challenges.
 
What is possible if we begin to witness with love and compassion versus watch with skepticism, judgement or criticality? Witnessing with love and compassion acknowledges the value of ourselves and others first as human beings and then as members of our teams. Witnessing with love and compassion:
 
  • Supports our ability to acknowledge the success of others and more constructively address challenges
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  • Allows us to hold the space for others to navigate obstacles with more grace and confidence
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  • Creates cultures that are anchored in connection and collaboration
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  • Provides the path forward for authentic living, leading and exponentially greater impact.
 
Witnessing ourselves and each other with love and compassion is, in fact, witnessing to the higher power of love that connects us all. Witness leads to wisdom which leads to richer results.
 

How do we move toward a life and create a culture of witness?

 
  • Make a decision to see yourself and others first and foremost as sacred remarkable human beings all trying to do the best we can. There is that most popular phrase being used now – “Assume positive intent.” (My fear about popular phrases is that they begin to lose their power and meaning becoming diluted over time.) Think about how the assumption of positive intent gets acted out in your world. What does it look like to assume positive intent? Do your actions align with your intent? How will that change the energy and dynamic of a situation and/or relationship?
 
  • When you are under pressure and ready to lash out, STOP, BREATHE and WITNESS. Remember who you are as a human being. Be kind to yourself. Remember to see and treat others the same way.
 
  • Start with common ground. As hard as it may be, start with the heart. I can hear some of you now, “This is the soft stuff. I am a business executive. Start with the heart? Yeah sure. We will get nothing accomplished. We will lose our edge. My people will get lazy.” On the contrary, you will accomplish beyond your wildest dreams because witnessing promotes engagement and fulfillment.
 
  • Minimize distractions. Society today has created a plethora of ways to take us away from witness. You have all heard and read this before and I will say it one more time. Put down the phone. Take the big risk and actually TURN. IT. OFF!
 
  • Make a choice to be fully present in every interaction you have with both an open heart and an open mind.
 
Choose just one of the above and focus on that for a month. Make note of the differences in how you feel and the difference in the impact you are having on others. Then choose another.
 
Let me know how it goes. What is working? Where are you feeling challenged? What do you hear yourself saying to yourself?
 
There is no greater gift that we can give one another than witnessing with love – really seeing ourselves and others and the greatness that lies within.