Are people naturally good or evil? #leadership

What makes a hero? Courage, strength, morality, withstanding adversity? Are these the traits that truly show and create a hero? Is the light truly the source of darkness or vice versa? Is the soul a source of hope or despair? Who are these so called heroes and where do they come from? Are their origins in obscurity or in plain sight?

― Fyodor DostoyevskyNotes from Underground

invisible-threadAre people naturally good or evil? I could answer that with my own opinions or revisit the timeless debate between John Locke (people are social creatures) and Thomas Hobbes (people are brutes) or reread the timeless epics The Lion Witch & Wardrobe, The Hobbit, Harry Potter. It seems the human journey is one to find the ultimate answer: who will win? good? or evil?

The challenge that I find is that many are unaware of how our behavior is shaped by morphic resonance and our community of peers.

Frederick Nietzsche says, “Invisible threads are the strongest ties.”

We need to collectively shift the gestalt on what is acceptable behavior at the governance level in addition to vigilance in our own communities, families, and micro choices.

However, I desire to make this post a bit more personal as we have important decisions to make in front of us – and have many stakeholders  in our life. I know this as I am a mother, wife, community leader, author, speaker etc. There are trade-offs of all kinds to be made in order to survive all the demands we put ourselves in front of.

I love this image by Scott Mutter as it truly looks like our landscape – technology, nature, choices and perhaps even a hint of overwhelm.

Are people naturally good or evil?Here are two important questions I invite you to keep front/center:

Are you becoming more aware of the long term trade-offs you are making for short term decisions?

Are you increasing your awareness of how your community (family, environment, ecosystem) impacts your decision making?

Most people are not very good at suspending immediate gratification for a longer term view.

Most people are unaware of how their immediate community of friends, family, co-workers impact their own thresholds. I am not going to address raising these thresholds here. I just want you to be more aware that they exist.

Our need to belong is much more fundamental and primal than our need for excellence. There are subtle ways in which we sabotage our own success for fear of envy and/or our fear of being alone. Every community has thresholds for truth, intelligence, success. It is vital that you pay more attention to who your colleagues are, what they beliefs are and their decision-making criteria. You are impacted in subtle and explicit ways.

For a deeper dive into this landscape there are two really important resources I’d like you to invest in:

Sam Sommers @samsommers has done some really important research on how our environment impacts our decision-making in his book Situations Matter

Elizabeth Doty @elizado has spent her professional quest exploring why smart people put themselves in compromising situations

Here is a sample chapter of her book The Compromise Trap from a favorite publishing company Berrett-Koehler Publishers @bkpub

Social anthropologist Eric Hoffer says,  “It would be difficult to exaggerate the degree to which we are influenced by those we influence.”

It is just like the flight of an airplane. We do not take a direct flight. Our flight weaves in and out of alignment, we make worse and better choices, we (hopefully) put ourselves in healthier and healthier environments, and learn more and more how to be better.

Why I love philosophy so much was that as a 19 year old at University of Colorado, Boulder I was introduced to Immanuel Kant. In Metaphysics of Morals I read: “We have an imperfect, but positive duty to seek our own perfection and the happiness of others.”

While I had no religion, this became a True North in which I measured my own flight and still do to this day.

I don’t want to tell you what your moral compass should be. I just want you to be more aware that behavior is more dynamic than you might have imagined. People are complex. You are complex. Find your True North (if you have one, use it more actively), interrogate your thresholds and constraints, and continue to strengthen your long view #scenario muscles.

I invite you to consider that you are the collective IQ, EQ, DQ of the people you surround yourself with (can be literal or who you read the most).  I want you to continue to seek

exposure to those whose presence, practice, and mindset is at your aspiration level.

To your discernment,

Jennifer #a3r

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