Thursday, March 11, 2010


It just seems counterintuitive that by bullying people and focusing on one's own self-interest at the expense of others, one can achieve long-term success, and even be part of a sustainable society.
Today, sadly, there are too many examples of abuses of power, and societal structures where the bully emerges victorious and dominant. To make matters worse, many "common people," feel powerless to change or improve their circumstances, because those "in power" have made it virtually impossible to organize and do so.

So, it was very inspiring to read an article on Alternet today, written by University of California, Berkeley writer Yasmin Anwar, entitled, "Do Kinder People Have An Evolutionary Advantage." According to research conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, there is "a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive."

This just plain makes sense. The people I define as most successful, and in decades prior to our current ones, were even successful in business, were those who displayed nurturing, compassionate and altruistic traits as well as good skills, pragmatism and a timely vision.

I worked at Digital Equipment Corporation from 1978 - 1985, a company whose motto was "do the right thing." That was what attracted me to work for Digital, and until market forces and too many MBA's diluted the entrepreneurial culture of founder Ken Olsen, this was truly practiced, not just preached at all levels: with customers, employees, stockholders, the community and other stakeholders.

My last organizational development project at Digital involved bringing 5 business units housed in the same complex in Merrimack, NH back to life. And by building a collaborative team, we succeeded in doing so in 9 months time. When I left, I gave my team members t-shirts that said "empowered and loving it." Not quite the way most people feel today when they come home from their corporate jobs.

The 1980's just seemed to be a more functional time in our society than the first decade of this century. And perhaps it was because people were more in touch with the empathy in our genes than they are now. Dacher Keltner at UC Berkeley and colleague Sarina Rodrigues of Oregon State University have found that "people with a particular variation of the oxytocin gene receptor are more adept at reading the emotional state of others, and get less stressed out under tense circumstances."

Oxytocin, which is the love or bonding hormone, is secreted by lactating mothers to help bond with their babies, but also can be generated by snuggling, hugging, heartfelt communication, doing yoga or petting your dog. It makes me wonder if we focus more on emotional literacy and try to raise our own EQ's if we will raise the level of "social oxytocin, so to speak, and change the qualities of interactions in our world.

People who take care of others and focus on the greater good, do receive sincere appreciation from those they help. Today's world of self-interest might call the sincere public servant a "chump," but to me, that reflects a cultural heart wound and a generally low EQ.

Perhaps, if parents start modeling altruism, care and service to their children, we can build the foundation for a higher capacity for empathy in the next generation. Without this capacity, those invested in the "dog eat dog" model might destroy our ability to survive.

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