The courage to witness

Kirsten Clacey Avatar

I recently heard a story, told by Roshi Joan Halifax, about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Ishinomaki after the terrible 2011 tsunami.

It wasn’t so much what he did or said that struck me, but what someone who observed him reflected.

Pico Iyer was with the Dalai Lama at Ishinomaki and described how hundreds of people gathered to greet them. The devastation was immense. The Dalai Lama went over to those gathered, asking how they were and offering encouragement and compassion. People collapsed and sobbed while the Dalai Lama stood with them.

And then Pico says, when it was time to leave and the Dalai Lama turned around, he saw tears in his eyes. Pico reflected:

And the tear I witnessed made me think, you could be strong enough to witness suffering, and yet human enough not to be the master of it.

Pico Iyer

As coaches, leaders, and facilitators we enter unknown places with people.

Sometimes we touch the grief of being retrenched, the fear of change, anger felt in response to unfair leadership, disappointment, frustration. Suffering.

As we enter the unknown with another, can we stay there?

Rather than solving or fixing, can we allow ourselves to just be with…?

Can we be strong enough to witness… and human enough to feel?


  1. Akshay Kapur

    “As we enter the unknown with another, can we stay there?”

    I love the answer within the question – can we stay there? It invites both the witness and the witnessed to continue witnessing. Just staying there is the lightest possible way of doing something, and yet sometimes also the hardest.

    Such a lovely invitation.

  2. Mark_Kilby

    I looked for this on LinkedIn to comment but didn’t see it there. So I’m sharing it if that’s ok. Also going to share on Mastodon.

    1. Kirsten Clacey

      Thanks Mark – someone advised that we should try LinkedIn posts so that’s why you didn’t see a direct L&C blog link on LinkedIn (not sure we’ll do that again). Please feel free to share the direct L&C blog link, much appreciated!

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