An American psychologist almost 70 years ago spent time into understanding the minds of the Nazis and their thinking. He came up with a definition what he thought was the nature of evil. He described evil as the absence of empathy. It is an interesting analogy because during the war the Nazis arguably had immense ability. They were warriors, builders and creators. They were organised, structured and well disciplined. But it so happens that with their incapacity to feel for their fellow man would have to explain their mistrust for one another and their crimes against humanity which ultimately led to their own self-destruction and downfall.
Today after two generations of peace in Europe we are in a very different era. But are we? Our economic war, failure and success has perpetuated a culture of individualism. Individualism is primarily derived by advocating one’s own self–interest, ahead of the interests of others; advocating one’s own independence versus others. Arguably in many ways many of us are working purely for our own interest where more often than not our human behaviour is governed by profit amongst others and not by conscience where our sole purpose is serving one’s own. This has by and large coincided into an era of liberalism and tolerance which has led to a world of mistrust and genuine apathy. A friend remarked off the cuff whilst describing another person’s misdemeanours. ‘He can do what he likes as long as he does not harm me.’ The three liberalism, tolerance, and individualism, the latter of which Lord Sachs describes, has played part in our society which he decribes is losing the plot.
In our current economic system we have the ability to work hard and show discipline. We are involved in cross cultural takeovers and acquisitions. We know how to cut costs and we can make money. Some of us are real economic warriors, and when it comes to profit, we can achieve this almost by any means often to the detriment of others. But do we really have the ability to show empathy? To show compassion in how we make decisions not for our own benefit but for the benefit of the other person? Are we really able to listen, care and understand the needs of our fellow human being, of our environment, and our world?
To really listen and to understand the other persons frame of mind is a very rare and unique skill to have. It requires an element of awareness with a combined spiritual and emotional intelligence of its utmost. I myself find this part a perpetual challenge. It so happens that most communication failures occur because of differences in semantics or perceptions. Semantics means the way you define words or terms and perception is how you interpret data. If we were truly able to listen to each other with true empathy these differences would in effect disappear.
In short our combined culture of individualism, tolerance and liberalism truly has a danger of reverting to an absence of empathy. With the absence of empathy, our ego, pride, and self-interest becomes the order of the day which could have a distinct possibility of igniting the nature of evil thus ultimately leading to our very own self-destruction.
Our hope lies therefore in our ability, our ability to fight our ego, selfish tendencies and desires and reverse the tide of individualism, liberalism and tolerance. This may open an environment of empathy and true compassion in our work place and relationships whereby opening countless new boundaries and talent. Our ability to serving human needs together by contributing to the benefit of others, attaining a higher or clear purpose through leadership, thinking we instead of me, seeking first to understand then to be understood and behaving interdependently as opposed to co-dependently. Is this not a way we can bring back an environment of synergy and creativity not to mention trust and integrity into our lives and relationships that has been so battered and bruised in recent times?
Our conscience is our peacemaker