On January 2, 2017, I read an article by Christopher McLaverty and Annie McKee titled What You Can Do to Improve Ethics at Your Company(link is external) that was published in the Harvard Business Review on December 29, 2016.

The article is based in large part on a study by McLaverty(link is external) "of C-suite executives from India, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., and the U.K., many of us face an endless stream of ethical dilemmas at work."

The article states in pertinent part as follows:

"According to the study, the most useful resource that leaders have when faced with an ethical dilemma is their own personal network. This provides an informal sounding board and can highlight options and choices that the leader may not have considered. When making ethical decisions, it’s important to recognize that your way isn’t the only way, and that even mandated choices will have consequences that you must deal with.

The challenge is that most leaders have networks full of people who think and act like them and many fail to seek out diverse opinions, especially in highly charged situations. Instead, they hunker down with people who have similar beliefs and values. This can lead to particularly dire consequences in cross-cultural environments.

To overcome this, you need another core emotional intelligencecompetency, empathy, which allows you to learn how to read others and truly understand what matters to them and what they care about. This will, in turn, help you connect with people and gather their thoughts, opinions, and help when you need them."

Empathy toward "others" is strongly associated with ethics.

In fact, consider the following excerpt from an article titled Empathy and Sympathy in Ethics(link is external) that was published in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

"The intentional analysis of empathy is directly relevant to the constitution of the social community in a broad, normative relationship with the 'Other....' 

The psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut defines empathy as the primary method of data gathering about other human beings in the discipline of psychoanalysis.  Thus, Kohut writes: 'Empathy does indeed in essence define the field of our observations' (1977: 306)….. Tactically, empathy is a method of data gathering about what is going on with the other person, and without empathy one’s appreciation of the other is incomplete…. Empathy is the oxygen breathing life into the relationship between individual and other, a metaphor introduced by Heinz Kohut (1977) without, however, Kohut extending it to the ethical dimension. In the contemporary Continental tradition, such an extension of empathy is left to Larry Hatab and John Riker, who note that empathy is a primal existential condition that makes ethical life possible (Hatab 2000; Riker 2010)….

Empathy is a form of receptivity to the other; it is also a form of understanding. In the latter case, one puts oneself in the place of the other conceptually. In the former, one is open experientially to the affects, sensations, emotions that the other experiences. Undertaking an ethical inquiry without empathy – sensitivity to what is happening to and with the other – would be like engaging in an epistemological inquiry without drawing on the resources of perception. Thus, empathy is a method of access as well as a foundational structure as such....

Empathy does indeed supply the otherness of the other – simply stated, the other. It is a separate step to care for the other, say, altruistically, or not care for the other. The empathy provides me access to the suffering of the other….

As long as the affects (and so on) disclosed through empathy are such as to support the demand of the other and of one’s obligation to the other, then we are on firm ground. However, when the demand fails or is manipulated by advertising, social pressure, or propaganda to disqualify the other and reduce the other into an subhuman entity prior to extra-judicial execution, then the lack of an ethical (moral) criterion independent of affects is sorely missed....

It is important to note [that The Holocaust] was accompanied by and included the extrajudicial killing of other 'life unworthy of life' such as the mentally ill and retarded, gypsies, gays, communists, uncooperative members of other religious and political parties. However, the racial laws and anti-Semitic ideology that specifically preceded the event, targeting Jewish people, make it their Holocaust in a special and unhappy way….

It is the killing, not the lack of empathy that represents the moral problem. 

What made it easier for the soldiers to do their 'duty' – commit murder (genocide) – was the manipulation by the leaders to deflect the individual soldier’s natural empathy for the prisoner and to increase the soldier’s empathy for himself, deflecting the natural trajectory towards the other….

Humans with integrity and character will undertake the positive development of full, adult empathy so that the misuse does not occur or is made less likely."

According to social science researcher Brene' Brown empathy toward "others" is a skill set and that the core of empathy is perspective taking.  She also says that perspective taking is normally taught or modeled by parents. The more your perspective is in line with the dominant culture, the less you were probably taught about perspective taking. In the United States, the majority culture is white, Judeo-Christian, middle class, educated, and straight.

This is entirely consistent with the loss of perspective by powerful negotiators, as was explained in an article titled Power in Negotiation: The Impact on Negotiators and the Negotiation Process that was recently published by Harvard Law School's Program on Negotiation.  

Furthermore, fear leads to a reduction in empathy.

As William Booth stated in his article titled America's Racial and Ethnic Divides: One Nation, Indivisible: Is It History?(link is external)"Fear of strangers, of course, is nothing new in American history. The last great immigration wave produced a bitter backlash, epitomized by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the return, in the 1920s, of the Ku Klux Klan, which not only targeted blacks, but Catholics, Jews and immigrants as well.”

That quote and a great many others pertaining to the harm caused to freedom and democracy as a result of fear were included in my article Shameful U.S. History Repeating Itself(link is external). Among those quoted were Ronald Reagan, Al Gore, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Edward R. Murrow

Mark B. Baer, Esq. is a mediator, collaborative law practitioner, conflict resolution consultant, co-author of Putting Kids First in Divorce, and co-founder of Family Dynamics Assistance Center. He also regularly writes for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.