25 Aug Tilting the Axis of Good and Evil
Empathy, Candour, Altruism, Deceit and Trickery
Five words define the crucible of civilization and the battle between conflict and progress. This is true in our relationships, communities, businesses and nations.
Whether it is Brexit, the current US election, climate threat, rich getting richer, or data security, we decide based on our judgement of these five factors. British leadership tried with empathy and candour to secure the trust of the nation to vote “Bremain”. Voters suspected deceit and trickery. To everyone’s surprise, Britain is now exiting a process purposed to integrate Europe with empathy, candour and altruism.
The US election is ripping the world’s great democracy into vitriolic deceit, trickery, and self-interest. The consequence is a collapse of trust in government. The window to be good custodians of our planet is closing due to self-interest and a failure of trust.
Voters no longer trust governments, corporates and the rich. Whilst Mark Zuckerberg can wing his way to show empathy for earthquake victims in Italy and the super-wealthy can give away billions, the vast majority of us are hunkered down in survival mode – powerless and suspicious. We feel deceived and tricked.
On the other side, research including Google and MIT, shows that empathy is the key competence (skill) to liberate performance in teams. The psychological safety (trust) experienced in a team, liberates constructive interaction and work. This trust is not some secret ingredient. It is actively constructed from specific behaviours. First, high performing teams communicate face-to-face (candour). Second, they communicate in concise bursts of straight feedback (candour). Third, they include all participants equally in the dialogue (altruism).
Empathy is the fulcrum of this crucible. Empathy allows us to read others and decide between deceit and candour (see: http://www.paulekman.com/blog/want-president-cant-wont-lie). Empathy with candour triggers altruism and the amazing collaboration witnessed in advanced social groupings. Empathy with deceit leads to a failure of trust, self-interest and further deceit, which we witness in modern politics, wars, gangs and prisons.
This tipping point between collaborative power and deceitful destruction is embedded in evolution and well validated in studies of corvids (crows and jays), dolphins, whales, elephants, and most primates. The evolutionary source of the solution is clearly visible in chimps and bonobos where the role of leadership demands empathy and altruism to secure the survival of the group.
We might be wise to remember that deceit and trickery are equally well developed in the species above. Homo sapiens is only different in the degree to which we exploit and realise the extremes good and evil.
When we choose empathy, candour and altruism we are capable of exponential goodness. When we default to deceit and trickery we light the fuse of massive destruction.
Be a force for good
- Be crystal clear on your language
- Empathy is the ability, deeply embedded in our species and wide open to learning, to accurately read and understand others. It is a passive competence requiring attention, non verbal cues, analysis and intuition
- Candour is the intention to express yourself as honestly as possible. Candour requires self-awareness, courage and skill. It takes time to know yourself well and even longer to express yourself honestly with sensitivity and clarity. Candour is active and effortful.
- Altruism is the intention to help others with skill. It is active. Altruism requires the combination of deep empathy (really understanding what action will help others rather than relieve your guilt or anxiety) and skilful means. At first, altruism presents as a cost and therefore risky. However, the practice of altruism leads to multi-party benefit – particularly your own.
- Deceit can be an act of omission (hiding something) or commission (fabricating an untrue statement). It is the opposite of candour.
- Trickery is exploiting trust. We attempt to appear as x whilst actually doing y. Here lies the failure of trust in many political systems and relationships.
- Define clearly your values and purpose
Being clear on what matters to you, builds a platform to tip the axis to good. Short term self interest or self-gratification leads to deceit and trickery. Our own research shows the critical role of developing a clear set of values and meaningful purpose. We must actively choose between self and others, now and later, candour or deceit and altruism versus trickery.
- Press for total candour
Accept that expressing candour skilfully takes time and practice. Be intentional about telling the whole truth. Ask yourself if you have left anything out. Give people an opportunity to ask questions. Help others be candid with you.
- Practice your empathy skills
Empathy requires practice. We have addressed this in many papers.
- Random acts of kindness
Be good by doing good should guide each day. Even for those on the wrong side of the axis, spending time helping others has an extraordinary benefit to self, others and the system in which you live. Be generous and skilful.
- Be gentle and forgiving
Tipping the axis takes time, demands experiment and failure. Reconciliation is built deep into our evolutionary roots. Be patient and kind to yourself and others. It will accelerate the journey to be a true force for good.
 Smarter, Faster, Better, Charles Duhigg, 2016
 Humans are Underrated, Geoff Colvin, 2015
 Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are, Frans de Waal, 2016
 Altruism, Matthieu Ricard, 2015