Could conversation (as I define it here) have prevented the shamefully absurd mutterings of natterers like Michele Bachmann or nipped in the bud the unethical actions of bankers in JP Morgan’s massive gambles, HSBC’s money laundering or Barclays Bank’s “fraud”? Could deliberate conversation lead to more ethical, compassionate and empathetic behaviors? I would argue it can.
Various research studies have demonstrated that the wealthier someone becomes, the less empathy they have, due to diminished ability to relate emotionally to others. Other studies have indicated that associating some commonalty with another person engenders a stronger capacity for compassion.
“compassion is easiest to feel when you have a sense of commonality with someone else”
The actions of individuals at the infamous banks, resulting in the tragic outcomes recently reported, suggest a lack of awareness of the consequences of those actions, or a lack of any sense of accountability. This absence of a grounding ethic or sensitivity to the disastrous results of their behavior indicates a blindness of thought that an endeavor as simple as conversation could mitigate. Merely engaging in genuine, open conversation with others may help expand perceptions of behavior, perspectives and responsibilities to each other.
The absence of any authentic corollary shame on the part of executive leadership at these banks all points to an echo chamber where the culture reinforces its own negative attributes. For conversation to truly open the minds of such participants to broad possibility and points of view, a diversity of experience, opinions and beliefs is required. This has the benefit not only of widening the horizon of discussion, but producing a higher caliber of outcome. Research work by Scott Page, articulated in his book The Difference, shows how groups that display a range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts. In essence, diversity yields superior outcomes.
This diversity in conversation also helps alleviate the ignorant, hateful myopia of blowhards like Bachmann, exposing such narrow mindedness to a breadth of insight and possibility.
I have touched previously here on conversation’s capacity to frame an enhanced understanding of values. Conversation is not the whole answer to the issue of ethics and empathy, but it goes a long way to helping the pursuit of compassion, empathy and a sense of responsibility, the absence of which has been manifest of late. As the authors of one of the studies suggested, people “have to develop more effective social skills — ones that will engender good will.” It is not too late to embrace conversation as a simple yet profoundly rewarding solution.