Numerous researchers cite these statistics -- that there are about a million psychopaths in the US and about eight million sociopaths. In early articles in my series on sociopaths and psychopaths I've advocated for
1-a massive increase in funding for research aimed at identifying these predators without conscience who literally hurt people for pleasure.
2-Identification of ways to protect people from these monsters, as one book described them, "Snakes in Suits."
Some readers have expressed concern that such a project would be risky, that identification processes could be dangerously abused, that psychopaths and sociopaths in power could turn the tools and labeling against innocent people. Some have expressed concerns that the identification processes will be faulty and will hurt innocent people. These are all possibilities. I argue that just because a destination is not easy to reach, just because a challenge is great is no reason not to decide to take on the challenge.
As I've continued my search for existing research, it's been encouraging to find a collection of presentations and approaches that are connected to another world I've long been involved in -- positive psychology.
I've spent more than half my life working in the world of Positive Psychology. Early on, in the 1980s, I came to believe that psychology, which was focused on pathology, and diagnosing what was wrong with people was missing something important -- that it was also possible to help people build strengths and skills that could lift them out of their problems, their symptoms, even their diagnoses. I asked the question, "How much can you help someone heal without getting into pathologization?"
Yet here I am, about half a dozen articles into what has become a crusade, for me, to raise the funding for dealing with psychopaths and sociopaths, and I've focused strictly on the pathology.
So, I was very pleased, and reminded of my positive psychology roots, when engaging in my search for studies on psychopaths, sociopaths and evil, I discovered a number of researchers who have studied evil and psychopaths have looked at the other side of the equation -- how goodness, heroism and integrity stand up to psychopathy. The good news is that they do very well.
Stanford professor, Phil Zimbardo, author of the Lucifer Effect, who has studied how evil can be relatively easily induced in people, says, in his TED Talk on The Psychology of Evil, that there are three ways people can respond to situations:
-Path One: You become a Perpetrator of Evil
-Path Two: You become guilty of Passive Inaction
-Path Three: You go straight ahead and become a HERO
Zimbardo suggests that we begin teaching the ideas of heroism to children, so they are prepared, when they face situations where they could respond with evil, passive inaction or heroism, to be ready to respond heroically.
Zimbardo uses this image by M.C. Escher showing both angels AND Demons, depending on how you look at it. by MC Escher
Zimbardo observes after citing examples of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, then the hero who exposed them, " To be a hero you have to learn to be a deviate because you're always going against the conformity of the group."
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In his TED TALK, Psychopaths in the C-Suite, Fred Kiel describes research he did with executives. He asked employees questions about how the executives behaved, in order to score them on integrity.
He found that the ones with the highest integrity, who he called High Character Virtuoso CEOs, ones in the top half of the curve of his study, also brought in almost three times the return on assets than CEOs on the lower half of the Character curve.
The conclusion is that character in CEOs pays off for the bottom line. Comparing the CEOs in the top ten percent with CEOs in the bottom ten percent of his study he found that the high character CEOs showed an 8% plus increase in return on assets, while the bottom ten percent CEOs showed more than a .5% decrease in return on assets.
Imagine that. It's bad business to employ psychopaths, or even people with some of the characteristics of psychopaths.
Kiel suggests that Character can be taught. He lists some of the "High Character Virtuoso CEOs Habits:"
Empathy habit --ability to sense what other people are feeling.
Others First Habit -- think about how something will impact other people and what's best for the business.
I screwed up habit -- admitting to their own mistakes-- it communicates trust and respect for the people in the room.
Kiel also points out that they had one or more mentors in their career, and that the CEOs at the bottom of the character curve "had hardly any or none." So, find yourself a good mentor -- but someone higher up on the character curve than you are. You would not think about trying to climb Mt. Ranier with a guide who has not climbed it before.
Kiel describes his three dreams:
Character development will be part of the core curricula for next generation leaders in leadership development programs.
Executive search firms and recruiters will find a set of tools that will accurately assess for character: a set of tools to screen out the superficially warm, friendly manipulative psychopaths, so they don't even get into leadership positions, because they destroy so much value and cause so much pain.
That business schools will embrace character development at the core of their curricula.
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My takeaway from these two researchers is that there are positive ways to make the world a safer place -- that the corporate bottom line actually improves when people with sociopathic characteristics are filtered out and people with strong character are filtered in. The approaches are bottom up -- building them into educational curricula and using workers to identify the character level of CEOs.
In conclusion here are some of the ideas these researchers offer:
1- another way to deal with sociopaths is to encourage people who might otherwise be passively inactive to become "deviates" who rise to the occasion as heroes.
2- Businesses are more profitable when people operate with integrity and character -- the opposite of how sociopaths and psychopaths function. And people can be taught to improve their character habits.
3-People can choose how they respond to situations -- and that the character habits they have developed affect what choices they make.
And finally, as I mentioned, I'm calling for a Moon landing/ Manhattan project level investment and commitment to study sociopaths and psychopaths so they can be identified and so people can be protected from being hurt by them. These two examples make it clear that ways to neutralize these evil, dangerous predators may be very positive and not necessarily involving Old Testament "eye for an eye" paradigms.
This article is part of a series of articles on sociopaths and psychopaths, including:
With his experience as architect and founder of a technorati top 100 blog, he is also a new media / social media consultant and trainer for corporations, non-profits, entrepreneurs and authors.
Rob is a frequent Speaker on the bottom-up revolution, politics, The art, science and power of story, heroes and the hero's journey and Positive Psychology. He is a campaign consultant specializing in tapping the power of stories for issue positioning, stump speeches and debates, and optimizing tapping the power of new media. Watch me speaking on Bottom up economics at the Occupy G8 Economic Summit, here.
See more Rob Kall articles here and, older ones, here.
To watch me on youtube, having a lively conversation with John Conyers, former Chair of the House Judiciary committee, click here Now, wouldn't you like to see me on the political news shows, representing progressives. If so, tell your favorite shows to bring me on and refer them to this youtube video.