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You don't have to be ruthless to succeed in life

14 Sep 2012 | Molly Aldam

Junior Smart

In our society there is a strong emphasis on competition. We are told in school that we must be better than our peers in order to beat them in the race for places at the best universities. Later, we go up against other people at job interviews, knowing that for us to get the job, they will have to lose out. When we try to move up in our career, again we will have to compete against our colleagues for the promotion. So is it possible to get anywhere in life without kicking others down on the way?

On 17th August I went to a debate at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham on the topic "Don't we we need to be ruthless to succeed in life?" It was attended by David Browne, Mayor of Haringey, Junior Smart, who started the SOS project, and several young people and youth workers.

We began the discussion by questioning what is meant by success. If success is defined by the amount of money that is made, perhaps an attitude of ruthlessness is necessary. The debate became quite philosophical as we went on to discuss whether wealth and material possessions can really make us happy, especially if at the same time we are hated for being ruthless. It is clear that if instead we are compassionate, not only does it make us feel happy but it also benefits the people around us. Most people were of the opinion that while succeeding at the expense of others may mean people admire us, this is not as valuable as friendship. People who live with compassion naturally tend to invite more respect, fuelled by love rather than fear. If somebody who had reached a high position by means of ruthlessness lost all their money or fell ill, fewer people would be willing to help them.

However, we agreed that avoiding ruthlessness does not mean we should not be driven while working towards a goal, and that it may be necessary to disappoint some people for the greater good. David Browne said that to succeed in life we should be ruthless on ourselves. One person made the point that some employers are prejudiced against people of certain ethnicities, social classes and so forth, and these people may have to be ruthless.

The debate concluded with the sense that a shift in attitude is needed. For a fairer world, we all must change the way we view others by looking for the similarities between us rather than the differences. Empathy is the antidote to fear of others, and in my opinion, fear of others is what leads to hatred, as well as the wish to ruthlessly boost our own position.

For me, the highlight of the debate was hearing the life story and views of Junior Smart. He is an ex-offender who discovered while in prison that the British penal system does not address the root cause of gang crime, with 75% of young offenders reoffending within 2 years of leaving prison. As a result, he initiated St Giles Trust's SOS project, which helps gang members across several London boroughs break the cycle of reoffending and turn their lives around. With compassion as his motivation, Junior Smart has made a great success of his life and helped many others do the same - his case proves that we can succeed without being ruthless.

The debate was extremely enlightening and I believe that the benefits of living compassionately should be talked about more often.

Molly Aldam      Empathy & Compassion

Molly Aldam is a 17-year-old student living in Haringey. She took part in a youth debate  to mark the anniversary of the riots that took place in Tottenham in 2011.

The debate was organised by Mind with Heart and the Foundation for Developing Compassion and Wisdom, the charities behind the  Empathy and Compassion in Society Youth Gathering will take place at the London Southbank Centre on 22 November 2012 from 9.30 to 12.00 am. Youth clubs and schools are invited to register their interest with info@compassioninsociety.org

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