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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Strategic CSR - Emotions

The article in the first url below draws a distinction between moral intuition (“the physical horror at seeing someone hit by a car or the tears of a parent whose son is kidnapped”) and moral reason (“the more intellectual process of grasping larger tragedies, like floods and famine”). The distinction  between the two helps explain why we tend to be more compassionate on an individual level, but more dispassionate when thinking about groups of people or other societies:

“The former is a stronger, more emotionally visceral reaction, which is why people often show far more compassion for an individual victim than for a dozen, or 100, or an entire region.”

I think the distinction has value in a CSR context because it helps explain why we see individuals acting in different ways in different contexts. It explains, for example, why we can have one set of values in our personal lives and a different set of values when at work (e.g., why someone might condone massive pollution by their firm, but go out of their way to recycle waste at home):

“… a recent study … found that when study participants saw a picture of a single victim, a 7-year-old girl named Rokia, they donated twice as much money to a hunger charity than when told only that the organization was working to save millions.”

Not that we need any more evidence that humans are far from rational actors, but why should this be when, clearly, more social value is added by saving “millions” than by acting to save one individual? The article in the second url below makes a similar point to the first article, but does so by distinguishing between empathy (which is often strong in humans) and moral action (which is much weaker):

Empathy orients you toward moral action, but it doesn’t seem to help much when that action comes at a personal cost. You may feel a pang for the homeless guy on the other side of the street, but the odds are that you are not going to cross the street to give him a dollar.

Why is it that we empathize, but are much less likely to act, even when the personal cost (e.g., $1) is minimal? Not only is our understanding of the causal link between empathy and action unclear, but the ability to empathize often results in inconsistent action:

It influences people to care more about cute victims than ugly victims. It leads to nepotism. It subverts justice; juries give lighter sentences to defendants that show sadness. It leads us to react to shocking incidents, like a hurricane, but not longstanding conditions, like global hunger or preventable diseases.

I think that our ability to rationalize simultaneously contradictory thoughts and behavior (e.g., to have separate identities and values at home and work; care more for an individual than a society) helps explain much of the organizational malfeasance we see in the news every day.