22 May 2011

The Rhodium Rule

A Sadist is Just a Masochist who Follows the Golden Rule

When I was a teenager, my sister gave me a rhodium-plated bracelet.  For those unfamiliar with rhodium, it is a member of the platinum-group elements (PGE's among geologists), and is very rare.  It's only found in ultramafic ("black rock") complexes, generally along with platinum.  It's bright - brighter then silver or even platinum to the eye.

The Golden Rule is something found in every religious tradition that I could check.  A few examples:

1. HINDU:  Do not to others what you do not wish done to yourself.  This is the whole Dharma.  --The Mahabharata

2. BUDDHISM:  Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. -- Tibetan Dhammapada

3. CONFUCIUS:  Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.  --The Analects

4. JUDAISM:  What is hateful to you, do not unto your neighbor.  That is the entire Torah, the rest is commentary. --Talmud

5. ISLAM:  No one of you is a believer until you desire for another that which you desire for yourself.  --"The Sunnah", from the Hadith

6. BRONX:  Whack da other guy like you wanna be whacked, ya know?  --Guido

From pure pragmatism, this makes utter sense whether you are a believer or an atheist (or a proselyting atheist).  Some of you may remember John Bolton, nominated by George W. Bush to be United States ambassador to the United Nations?  Roundly rejected by the Senate, he was sneaked in on a Recess Appointment - an obscure loophole in the Constitution (Article II, Section 2, Clause 3).  During the Senate hearings, Bolton was described as a "kiss up, kick down" type of guy.  He was famously rude and contemptuous to subordinates.  He didn't last in the United Nations long, and is currently doing bit-work for a suspiciously long list of conservative think tanks (that's called "wall-papering", by the way).

In my life experience, I've encountered several otherwise extremely intelligent individuals who thought the Way to the Top was linear: claw your way to the summit, sneer and spit upon those lesser than you.  The End Justifies the Means.  What's good for M&M Enterprises is good for America.  You get the gist.  Virtually all these people (two were women) had PhD's, but probably all fit into a small minority of the human population talked about in several recent books: sociopaths and psychopaths*.  Robert Hare says that testing has shown that in the general population, about 1% are psychopaths; that in the American prison population that percentage is 25% or higher.  A distinguishing characteristic of these people is lack of empathy; people describe these individuals as having cold, empty eyes, like a Great White Shark.  They could be your neighbor.  They are not always men.

Psychopaths are the ones who will kill you (like the grinning thing that nearly killed Congresswoman Gabriele Giffords).  Sociopaths are somewhat more common, but also somewhat less obvious: they are the ones who don't care about anyone except themselves.  These guys often appear quite sociable - as long as it serves their purpose.  They are usually held in check by three things.  One is laws; you've probably noticed that laws exist not to control the 99% of the human population like you and me.  A second check, surprisingly, is narcissism: sociopaths actually worry about what other people think about them.  A Jamaican who led a murder gang in his home country came across in an interview in prison as a very friendly person... he expressed repeatedly that he wanted the interviewer to like him.  When asked why, he said "I want everyone to like me... then I can get them to do whatever I want."  Hare also said (I don't know where he got these numbers) that the percentage of sociopaths among big company CEO's was higher than the population as a whole.

Bolton - and every single sociopath who has tried to hurt me or members of my family - ended up "glass ceilinged."  Eased or forced out.  This happened because their empathy deficit also includes a logic blind spot.  The old expression "what goes around, comes around" has a basis behind it.  As each of these individuals cratered and left the US Geological Survey, I would feel bad for them.  Their families (such as they might still have) were uprooted.  I felt worse for them.

Did I cause this career crash to happen to them?  The answer, of course, is no.  I learned after their departure in each case that a third check had happened.  An accumulation of people with a bad taste in their mouths had been growing and growing.  They all remembered, whether they themselves were hurt or they saw someone else hurt by these individuals.  I was always surprised to hear the ferocious vehemence in their voices - in otherwise gentle and happy people.  They were all very aware of what the sociopath had done to others, and when they finally had any say in the matter, they would be sure that the sociopath had no future.  After awhile, enough quietly angry people had accumulated in every one of these cases to keep the door to further advancement shut, or to even force the person out.  In one case, an entire science team had stormed up to the USGS Director's Office and demanded the removal of their team chief.  Things like this really draw attention from senior managers.

Here's what I've learned over time: No one claws their way very far.  Even CEO's who have made it to the top by dint of brains and vicious cunning don't last very long.  Management studies have tried to analyze why these people flame out so spectacularly, and generally it's attributed to a low EQ - Emotional Quotient.  The Federal Executive Institute (I'm an alumni) is very blunt about this in their month-long management-boot-camp-on-steroids for Federal managers.  Lack of collaboration, lack of empathy for subordinates, and your future is absolutely guaranteed to be limited.  It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when you will go down in a massive organizational train-wreck.  As a consistent rule, sociopathic individuals have a very rocky family life (if at all), and being estranged from their own children is more the norm than the exception.

"Work hard, work smart, but work kind" is my life motto, learned at the knees of my paternal grandmother, Anne Josephine Schneider Wynn.  I call this the Rhodium Rule.

* A couple of interesting books to read:
The Sociopath Next Door, by Martha Stout

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, by Robert D. Hare.


No comments:

Post a Comment