Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Basic Human Nature. Good or Bad?

The other day I read an article in Harvard Business Review titled Leadership, Managing In A (Permanent) Crisis. When I reached the end, I thought, "here's yet another basic toolkit for leaders." The problem is great tools only work for those who can truly embrace their utility. Leadership is about who, not just what. A leader will never use tools effectively, for very long, or rely on them during a crisis if the tools don't fundamentally align with you they are.

So let's put it in the context of client service. When we talk of client service, we are referring to people serving people. This blog, or any other resource for that matter can offer all the ideas and tools you could ever need. In the end though, your fundamental beliefs about people and basic human nature will serve among the biggest influences on your behavior. It occurred to me that between CSI Season 1 and Season 2, I 've written about 500 blog posts related in some way to client service.

While I've consistently advocated adopting a client service mindset versus a more prescriptive approach, I've never once talked about the most basic question: How do you really feel about people in general? Are they basically good, or do you always have to watch your back? Or is it a simple case of yin and yang - "seemingly disjunct or opposing forces that are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, giving rise to each other in turn."

I'd like to explore this concept in my next few posts. In the meantime, I plan to post the question on LinkedIn, and I invite your feelings on the subject as well. Thanks!


  1. The yin/yang symbol you've used to illustrate this post is very appropriate, I think.

    While I hate to take the simplistic 'dualism' approach, I have found that there are really only two approaches to trusting people: either you're a person who trusts everyone until they give you reason to do otherwise, or you're a person who trusts no one initially and makes everyone earn your trust.

    I'm definitely in the former category. It's led to a fair bit of disappointment and some emotional pain, but at this point in my life (you know, more than midway through)it's a deliberate choice.

    I'd be interested to see if there's any correlation between people who think people are basically good (i.e. the automatic trusters) and optimists.

    Where are the psychologists when you need them to answer these Qs? ;)

  2. I see humanity in a range, a continuum of degrees of good or evil that has many overlapping points. President Reagan said to General Secretary Gorbachev, "Trust, but verify."

    People act in their self-interest -- sometimes, those interests align with those of others, sometimes not. There are structural incentives in human discourse that reward selfish behavior -- the desire to win, or to take what others have by force or foil. The Tragedy of the Commons is real.

    Sometimes this is expressed by the idea of neutrality, situational goodness or evilness. The blank slate that's rewritten according to the momentary desires of the actor.

    PR can exploit weakness, offer support, seek to manipulate, or enlighten, or motivate. Such is the range of human emotion and thought.

    Enlightenment is the highest pinnacle of humanity, because then our self-interest is tempered by that enlightenment. We see the world through different eyes.

    (sorry, very existential, stream of consciousness stuff...)

    Recent blog:=- Anonymity on the ‘Net: Cornerstone of free speech?

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. You both speak to the issue not only whether people are good or not, but also to how people perceive others and based on those perceptions how it guides behavior, particularly with regard to trust.

    Recent blog:=- Basic Human Nature. Good or Bad?



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