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We see that empathy can be suppressed by influences that see self interest as the only “rational” explanation for human behavior. They see personal power, greed and selfishness as the motivators of positive actions. Classical economics is based on that premise. “Pursue wealth, think only of self”! And yet this denies the most basic of human qualities. So we hope people, when faced with a choice, will choose the outcome that looks the most empathic, given half a chance! That is important when you are choosing stories and words to express yourself and trying to influence and persuade.
So the case can be made that if you are not guided by empathy, it means that you are off the rails! The temptation is to think that most of these people who are traders on Wall Street are psychotic or at least sociopathic. But they are not alone. They seem to be everywhere! In that sense, “abnormal” behavior is easy to find. Still it is possible to reach most people at the empathy level even if they are Scalia or McCain, on certain issues. And that is point. You have to find the place where you can find common ground and build trust and a relationship there. But you have to use language and stories to find the areas of empathy that will help you connect with the person you want to persuade. And we must acknowledge that most of our interaction with others, and especially with friends and family, involves persuasion and influence. In a larger sense we are all politicians, in one circumstance or another.
In conclusion, it is vitally important to realize that empathy lies in the brain of almost every human being and that is what makes us human. It might be suppressed to a greater or lesser degree in all of us but we are all vulnerable in some small way to an empathic approach if it is done artfully. We must be careful not to think of heroes and villains! There are no perfect people (except those who are reading this and agreeing with it, of course!) and we need to be able to reach the humanity within all of us in order to lead and make it possible for us to give a sense of moral force to the empathy within all the people we care about.
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