Animals have evolved as physical systems that react to localized harm by signaling pain that generalizes through the whole organism. Even though our big toe is located at the farthest point from our brains, “when our feet hurt, we hurt,” as the old adage goes. Human beings have also developed the capacity to feel pain when we experience social exclusion (Lieberman, 2007) in the same area of the brain as when we are physically injured. As a result, we are able to use pain as an indication of harm to our bodies or to our social selves that needs attention. The feeling of pain is a call to action and, though not in itself desirable, a signal that helps keep us safe.
At this point in our evolutionary history, it is much easier to ignore suffering located far away among people supposedly very different from us than it is to ignore a sore toe. Yet, as pointed out above (Wilkinson & Pickett, 2010; Stiglitz, 2013) and emphasized by Adler (1966), suffering from inequality anywhere is a threat to all of us, everywhere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ICC, 2018) claims that we are facing a reasonably near-term threat to the existence of humanity. We may not feel pain directly, but it is no less a threat. Can we devise another feedback mechanism that matches pain’s call to action? Co-author Page has suggested the term “systempathy” for consciously developed feelings that motivate us to identify and heal threats to physical and social systems, whether near or far, close or distant (Page, 2013).
Coaches are trained to engage in respectful dialogue. We could use our action and accountability competencies to support whistleblowers and investigative journalists who are attempting to uncover socially damaging actions by individuals, organizations, or states. Our considerable organizational acumen could be used to help organize community action or unions. Meeting existential threats such as climate change cannot be achieved by single individuals acting separately, and coaching has a role to play. Dialogue such as that promoted by the Transformative Leadership and Coaching (TLC) Interest Section of the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology (NASAP – https://www.alfredadler.org) can provide a forum for gleaning further wisdom from Grandfather Adler.Download Article 1K Club