Our son, Casper, is 6. He talks earnestly about “catching baddies”. He has a pretty black and white view of baddies and the appropriate treatment for them. When he says this I ask him “how can you tell who the baddies are?” So far he has, very sensibly, entirely ignored the question.
I don’t blame him, It is an absurdly complex question that humanity as a whole has failed to adequately address, so far. It depends, so much, on your perspective, the priorities you are applying and what you can actually see from where you are.
It is comforting to look at extremes, where the judgement is easy, but most of life is not like that, most of life is far more nuanced and most of life, is the decisions we take every day.
Every decision we take has consequences. It creates our future and influences the futures of others, both close to us and far away. We cannot possibly know all of the remote consequences of our decisions. If we do stop to think about all of the consequences we end up frozen in the glare of a million long term searchlights. We can’t eat (unless we grow it ourselves), we can’t travel (unless we walk) and so on.
If we take on the responsibility of everything we stop. We have to take a more pragmatic approach.
It turns out, according to Paul Zak, that Oxytocin is the “moral molecule”, it is what enables feelings of trust and empathy. It is produced naturally in the body, but has a half life of about three minutes and so dissipates quickly.
Oxytocin is inhibited by testosterone and stress and it’s absence allows us to make sociopathic choices. Testosterone and stress are both increased in competitive situations. Oxytocin is increased when we show or are shown trust and is stimulated by hugs.
If we want to take decisions which minimise harm and maximise good, therefore, we must take them in safe. trusting and affectionate surroundings. We must avoid taking them when we are stressed or feel under pressure. (Like during an all night emergency European leadership summit meeting – for example).
The horrors that have been and are still vested on the world can only be done in dehumanized situations, where stress and testosterone are maximized and humanity, love, empathy and Oyxtocin are avoided. The dictators tactic of choice is, specifically to dehumanize the opposition and at the same time exaggerate the threat they pose, to persuade ordinary people to do horrific things.
If we want to take good long term decisions at work, at home and in government, we must, as far as possible humanise our environment by encouraging love and empathy. We can start as Paul Zak suggests, with a minimum of eight hugs a day.
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