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March 2, 2021

Interview with Margot Cairns

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Margot Cairns presents at the Starlight Festival at the Bangalow A&I Hall

Talkin’ bout a (Empathy) Revolution! Well, you know…we all want to save the world.

Margot Cairns at Starlight Festival | Bangalow A&I Hall | 3–6 January | $25-60

This Starlight Festival of Healing features some very special keynote speakers on the program, one of the most notable being Margot Cairns. She has shared a podium with Hilary Clinton and Queen Rania of Jordan for a global webcast; she has been chosen as one of the 500 social revolutionaries including the Dalai Lama and Eckhart Tolle to appear in the global documentary Stand in My Shoes to launch an empathy revolution. Margot works in leadership and is highly regarded and respected as an inspirational mentor and adviser to boards and CEOs at multinational companies, working to bring people alignment with their heart, authenticity and strength. 

Margot, what is an ‘empathy revolution’?

Today’s university students are 40 per cent less empathetic than those of the 1980s and 1990s, says a University of Michigan study that analysed the personality tests of 13,737 students over 30 years. Generally people are caring less. Hardened by media and social media, we seem to be getting more self-centred and egocentric. This is reflected in our political leaders who demonstrate a noted absence of statesmanship. Not surprisingly then, the suicide rate is up. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) tells us that 3,128 people died by suicide in 2017 – 2,348 males and 780 females. That’s about 8.6 suicides a day and 9.1 per cent more than 2016, when there was a total of 2,866 deaths by suicide. Add to this the fact that, on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner; one in four women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner since the age of 15; one in five women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15; and 85 per cent of Australian women have been sexually harassed.

We desperately need an ‘empathy revolution’ (otherwise known as giving a shit about others). In this region we strive for empathy, we volunteer and work together as a community – Byron is a great place for the ‘empathy revolution’ to thrive.

How did you come from having such an understanding of the importance of empathy in the corporate sector?

What are the stories that have moved or amazed you?

I came to the corporates after running a large community childcare and family-support organisation. I did an MBA and trained in psychotherapy; I merged those two trainings and saw what I called miracles happen. Big corporates began to care about the physical environment in which they operated; they started to work constructively with the community in which they lived and worked. This made them happier as individuals, had them actually enjoy and be enriched by their work, and led to increased profits – which meant I got invited back. People referred me to their bosses and eventually I was working with boards and top teams of major transnationals.

Why do you think we see empathy as weakness? How can embracing empathy change our world?

I see empathy as a strength. In the shadow of our greatest strengths lie our biggest weaknesses. Empathy connects us to each other, it allows us to build humanly sustaining environments for ourselves and others. This is what we all want. However, when we are confronted by small-thinking leaders who lack empathy we can be attacked for the very things that we, the world, and our organisations desperately need. When empathy fails, mental ill-health results. We all become less safe. When we embrace empathy we can build emotionally healthy and soul-enriching workplaces, communities, and families that are economically sound. This allows us to play the game in business. In life, money allows us to pay the rent, buy food and clothing.

What does it mean to be a leader in today’s world? What skills and capacity should a person have?

We have never spent more money on leadership training – over $US24 billion annually – and had less to show for it. We need a leadership revolution. The world is changing, which demands that we transform our view of leadership. Change is coming. The Me Too movement, the bringing to the surface the dark issues of child abuse, family violence, and suicide are letting out the pus of the past and making way for a rethink. 

It’s hard not to be disillusioned by the popularity of people like Donald Trump; why do we revert to this style of leader, do you think? What is the best defence or best way forward for world leadership? It feels like we’re running out of time.

As any 12-step program (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc) will tell you, there is little change until we hit rock bottom. Donald Trump’s role may just be to get us to the bottom faster so that real transformation can take place. I am not sanctioning his behaviour, just saying that until things get really bad very few of us want to undergo the hard work of transforming our world. Statistically 75 per cent of the population are operating on levels of thinking that restrict them to living and operating from ‘in the box’ thinking. Maybe Trump’s role is to shake the world up enough for us to look for completely different answers.

What will you be presenting at Starlight Festival?

I have been blessed to have a wonderful international career, a gorgeous and growing family, and now a loving new husband. I have gotten here through hard work (emotionally, spiritually, and in the world) but also through a whole raft of rock bottoms. I have lost a fortune, been betrayed and abused, lost loved ones, and (as a single mother) raised two children who at times suffered with life-threatening diseases. It has been by embracing and learning through all of these things that I have gained a level of serenity, peace, and joy that I want to share with others. My seminar is not about self-improvement but radical self-acceptance and compassion for ourselves and those around us, while being focused on the optimum outcome. I have had the privilege of working with world leaders to have them use change (with all its ups and downs) as a catalyst for personal happiness and business success. My seminar is simply about making life easier by accepting others, yourself, and the world around you as they are, while effortlessly (or so it seems) opening up to abundance of love, joy, and success for you and the world in which you live.

Margot Cairns presents at the Starlight Festival at the Bangalow A&I Hall, 3–6 January. For a complete list and for the schedule go to starlightfestival.com.au.

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