During a recent trip to Israel, Lisa Schor Babin found herself seeking safety in a bomb shelter. The experience gave her a rapid and powerful lesson in radical empathy, and put the work done by compliance and ethics officers in a new context.
A family trip to Israel to honor the memory of my father-in-law turned into a war story. News of people displaced from their homes, followed by protests and riots, police blockades, and then missiles fired towards Jerusalem came on the day of the gravesite service. We woke the next morning to warnings of unprecedented civil unrest in neighboring towns. We were able to go on with our day, but on the drive back to our home base, we passed police cars blocking off-ramps and mushrooms of smoke on the horizon. That night, with sirens blaring around us, we spent the night in and out of the bomb shelter.
The next morning, we packed our bags, headed north, and checked into a hotel just south of the Lebanese border. There we felt surprisingly safe, out of the range of missiles, and spent the next few days enjoying nature hikes, blue skies and good food. Then, missiles were fired from Lebanon, so we headed back down to stay with a friend in a central town close to the West Bank. We spent three quiet nights with no middle-of-the-night sprints to the bomb shelter, but missiles continued to fall close enough to hear the “booming” and to imagine devastation on the ground. Our next stop was a hotel in the hills of Jerusalem, and again, we spent two quiet nights with no visits to the bomb shelter. But when I shut my eyes each night, I imagined the soldiers on the front lines, people in shelters in other parts of the country, the families in Gaza bracing for the next air raid, and the anger and resentment of Israeli Arab and Jewish villagers colliding in the streets. We might have been out of missile range, but so many others weren’t.
Then, cease fire. Quiet. People flocked back into the cities, families emerged from the shelters, and no missiles or air raids at night. People went back to their routines. While a cease fire allowed some normalcy to resume, it could not possibly wipe away the physical insecurity, emotional volatility, civil unrest, and the constant threat of more war from the minds and hearts of the people. War and its underbelly have a permanent effect on the lives of human beings.
This was not the first time I had found myself in the middle of war. In 1991, during the Persian Gulf War from a suburb of Tel Aviv, I spent each night for more than a month with my husband and 5-month-old twins in a bedroom sealed with masking tape and wearing chemical warfare masks. On 9/11/2001, in lower Manhattan, I frantically escaped the cloud of black smoke and falling ashes that erupted from the first World Trade Center building to collapse on that day. During these past weeks, I spent 11 days under missile attack and an unprecedented conflict on the ground.
These brushes with war make me realize how lucky I am. During the Persian Gulf War, I had a safe haven to escape the missiles. On 9/11, I was not in a building that collapsed or on a plane that crashed and ultimately made my way home safely. And during these past two weeks, we were able to move to different parts of the country as the direction of the missiles changed. We were able to board a plane and come back to my idyllic northern New Jersey suburb where the topic of banning leaf blowers was the talk of the town.
On the plane ride home, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief, but my thoughts inevitably turned to all the people I left behind. And once at home, I was bombarded with news of swastikas drawn on middle and high school lockers in my small suburban town, a tough reminder that the acts of anger, resentment and hatred that emanate from conflict inevitably spill into all of our lives. I realized then that we are never out of missile range.
In the corporate compliance context, we have long championed the message that each employee has the responsibility to do the right thing and to be accountable for creating and safeguarding a culture where employees are safe, protected and given equal opportunity to thrive. Consider the impact to Volkswagen consumers and the general population from the acts of VW employees who fudged emission levels of its cars. Consider the consequences to Wells Fargo customers and their families from the acts of employees who created fake accounts and credit cards without their consent. Consider the fates of Boeing 737 Max passengers who lost their lives. We can see the ripple effects on our society. From a corporate compliance perspective, conduct and culture do not exist in isolation and employees, customers, consumers, partners, stakeholders, communities, markets and society as a whole are all in range.
This all leads me to my personal calls to action: 1) Condemn the politicians and leaders who often make decisions for political and personal self-interest – and always condemn violence; 2) Acknowledge that people on all sides of a conflict suffer; 3) Try to walk in the shoes of others. As author Isabel Wilkerson states in her newest book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, “Radical empathy is the kindred connection from a place of deep knowing that opens your spirit to the pain of another as they perceive it … The price of privilege is the moral duty to act when one sees another person treated unfairly.”; and 4) Remember that in this world, we are all within missile range.