How can I make a courageous decision?
Maybe you’ve seen American Psycho? A bloody portrayal of the sociopathy of a business man who really loves Huey Lewis and the News. You may also have heard that among leaders in business there is a tendency for people to have higher ratings on the scale of psychopathy. This does not mean your boss is going to do bloody murders on you. Simplistically, it means they are less challenged by making decisions that will negatively impact the well-being of a number of people in order to best benefit the business. I’ve recently been challenged with the consideration of what it takes to not only make a brave decisions, but to make them regularly and against the tide.
I started with the consideration of what is often observed by the nine to five worker, executive management making decisions that just seem without regard for their fellow man. This does not mean that all business leaders are psychopaths. It could in fact mean they are courageous, not pathologically without fear. Fearlessness is the capacity to take large risks without any capacity to feel the consequences. Courageousness is the capacity to understand the impact of a large risk but be able to assign a more powerful meaning to the bigger picture.
In the grand culture of the Australian Tall Poppy Syndrome it would be easy to demonise the leaders of business as unfeeling monsters strip mining the economy only to throw the rest of us scraps. As if to reinforce I’m sure you have all heard a variety of Liberal Party leaders suggesting that if you want a better life, get a better job. An impressively distorted reductionism that looks at a business hierarchy flow chart and considers that utopia will somehow flat pack that crippling pyramid. “Choose” to do a low-skilled job, be prepared to deal with the gnawed financial bones.
So, why am I ranting about the failings of capitalism when I began discussing psychopathy? It is because the problem with discussing the free will of man in regards to making difficult decisions that disadvantage others is that it totally ignores the inherent psychological pressure of a system that we have lived and worked in our entire lives. A pressure that even poisons the infinitely beneficial concept that we must accept what is outside of our control. This leaves a difficulty with distinguishing that blurry line where both psychopaths and admirable leaders are making decisions to push ahead the unlimited success of a business as synonymous with unlimited social success.
These ideas then trickle down to all of us; how will you afford that private school, or that new smart phone, if you don’t negatively gear your investment portfolio… or from a more complex angle, how can you afford to eat if you don’t rely on the price of sweatshop produced clothing? We are surrounded by daily decisions that reinforce the system we live in but must be made distinct from the workings of a personality type. Nevertheless I would argue that the increasing pressure to wring the workforce dry for profit will increase the need for psychopaths making more emotionless decisions, but that equation seems almost as clear cut as math.
This is real life though right? This is what we have to deal with so you might as well accept that and move on. If that is the defensive rationale that immediately came to mind then you have perfectly identified the problem. The capitalist system has an incredible potential to provide a system of philanthropy to adjust the inequalities in society, but it is done so very rarely and so very selectively. Social Entrepreneurs will most likely be the most important figures of social change in the coming decades. So all that is left to ask is if you are in a position of power what are you doing to influence a change to rules rather than considering what can change within you. I am not calling for a revolution, I am far too much of a coward.
Here is my personal, small step that illustrates what I’m suggesting. As a psychologist I offer bulk-billing services to those who are in financial need and often provide a sliding scale for my private fee for those on low incomes. While this means that I have less time to see people who would be able to provide me a more lavish lifestyle, I accept that small sacrifice so that the people that most need the support can access it. It’s a safe step, I am no socialist. However, I do believe it’s time that we all start thinking outside of personal agency and bring into focus the incessant pressure to follow many arbitrarily assigned rules that we are surrounded by every day and use that insight to have some empathy for the plight of those that are less fortunate.
I don’t see much personal agency in people that are stranded within mortgages and the desire for nice shoes. I am lost in that fug. We then return to the investigation of personality and what is psychologically required to continue committing to action against the currents of the status quo. A power I readily admit that I have lost. Activism is often left to people who may well have the same drives as those with Personality Disorders. Consider Fritz Haber, driven to both incredible heights and shocking lows by the same basic self-interest. You can fall down the Wikipedia Hole with him if you need more information. In short, he both saved millions and deliberately maimed and killed tens of thousands.
So worry about your boss by all means, but consider then exactly what kind of person we need to save us. I’m starting to believe it might be important to keep both on a short leash.