The Tendency of Power to Corrupt and How to Avoid It

I recently completed a massive open online course (MOOC) from the University of California, Berkeley.

One of my instructors of the positive psychology course, Dacher Keltner, really inspired me with his passion and research.

I picked up one of his books, Born to be Good, and I’m fascinated with the ideas presented.

Meanwhile, I was discussing the topic of mindfulness with my wife, and she picked up the Harvard Business Review’s Mindfulness book for me. Coincidentally, it contained a chapter written by Keltner titled “Don’t Let Power Corrupt You.”

Keltner writes:

My research has shown that power puts us into something like a manic state, making us feel expansive, energized, omnipotent, hungry for rewards, and immune to risk—which opens us up to rash, rude, and unethical actions.

To avoid succumbing to the downsides of power, he offers advice—backed by research—to individuals in senior roles. First, one must reflect and develop self-awareness. Next, Keltner stresses three practices (again backed by research)—empathy, gratitude, and generosity.

Couldn’t we all cultivate a little more empathy, gratitude, and generosity?

Imagine the jen then, my friend.

Columnist Contributes to Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness and Falls Short with Apology

I was disappointed to learn that a recent column in my local newspaper contained some language that stigmatizes people with schizophrenia.

“Winter is a schizophrenic psychopath out to get me” was the title of Neil Crone’s column.

Fortunately, many readers called him out on it. For instance, Shane Christensen of Oshawa wrote a poignant letter to the editor. Christensen, whose son deals with schizophrenia, was appalled by the title Crone’s column. Christensen notes that his son has been stable for many years, but believes—and I wholeheartedly agree—that his son will continue to suffer due to others’ ignorance and stigmatization.

Crone and his editors must have received a lot of backlash, and rightly so. As a result, the original headline was changed and a follow-up column, titled “Column’s intention was never meant to belittle or shame,” appeared shortly after the original column was published.

Although Crone writes, “It was never my intention to belittle or shame […] anyone dealing with mental health issues,” the fact is that by describing winter as a “schizophrenic psychopath out to get me,” he did indeed hurt many people. Whether intentional or not, nonchalantly using metaphors connecting schizophrenia with psychopathy is insensitive and contributes to the continued stigma surrounding mental illness.

And Crone’s apology falls short. According to Aaron Lazare and other experts on apologies, there are five parts to an effective apology:

  1. Express remorse
  2. Acknowledge offense / accept responsibility
  3. Offer empathy
  4. Undo harm; offer reparation
  5. Reassure that there’s a low likelihood of recurrence

Crone’s apology is lacking in a number of these areas. Instead of fully owning the mistake, he places blame on his editors and the sensitivity of readers. He also doesn’t reassure me that he won’t hurt readers again; in fact, he argues that he will continue to use metaphors at his own discretion.

As I read Crone’s apology, something didn’t sit right with me. Granted, that was my subjective response. However, looking at the apology using Lazare’s research on effective apologies, I could objectively discern why the apology was insufficient.

The columnist failed to make amends with me, someone whose life has been affected by mental illness. The consequence: his readership will decrease by at least one.