Empathy, compassion and solidarity stimulate the long-lasting change of mindsets, making an Empathy Revolution a vital prerequisite for the Sustainability Revolution.
Let us imagine our planet as a giant and infinitely complex macro-corporation whose ecosystem consists of 7.5 billion stakeholders, all of whom share the same biology and the same basic needs. What could actually be at stake in such a global enterprise? What are the stakeholders’ needs and how can they be satisfied? A comprehensive answer can be found in the United Nations’ document on the all-encompassing 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that address the major planetary issues and include every single one of these 7.5 billion stakeholders.
When I first read that document, I thought it could be taken for an ultimate Manifesto on the Humanity and Humanism, a global programme which I, as one of these 7.5 billion stakeholders, am ready to follow with all my heart and reason. The SDGs envisage a profound transformation of our world, a revolution through evolution. They project a future with no more poverty, no more hungry people, universal access to health care, water and sanitation, as well as affordable energy and quality education for all, gender equality, prosperity, economic growth and a clean, safe and happy planet! They form a highly ambitious and inspiring agenda for a true Sustainability Revolution, one corresponding to my own ideals, wishes and utopian visions cultivated in order to defend myself from the threatening dystopian tendencies of our current reality.
Manifestos exist to articulate ideas, proclaim concepts and give directions for action. Revolutions are born from the irrepressible and acute urge for a profound change, from the pressing need felt by individuals who get organised in groups, communities or movements in order to achieve their aims. In our unique macro-corporation of 7.5 billion stakeholders, truly radical changes can happen only through the deep transformation of consciousness both on the micro and macro levels.
We tend to forget that the complexity of our global world is ultimately the macro expression of the micro complexities inherent in every human being. Human beings create businesses and not vice versa. If so, how can businesses become destructive, profit-for-profit’s-sake machineries instead of bringing progress, prosperity and a better life for all their stakeholders? Valid explanations may be found in many disciplines, starting from the economic, political and social sciences, to philosophy, ethics and psychology. But on a more basic level – relying on our common sense – we could find the answers in the very nature of human beings. In choosing between “Homo homini lupus est” (“A man is a wolf to another man”) and “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”, the quest for authentic empathy is the most natural option if we want to build a new world grounded on genuine humanistic values. Only individuals who are endowed with great empathy and united for the common cause can bring this change and participate in the creation of a better world.
An Empathy Revolution
In order to make it possible for the Sustainability Revolution to prevail, we have to find another path going beyond the extreme poles of utopia and dystopia. If we want to redefine relationships between states, business and society, we have to be open to constructive dialogue and to shaping public value – a process which relies on transparency, accountability and integrity, as well as including all actors in the planetary scene.
If we do not understand that striving for the common social good is the best way to save our habitat and ourselves, we shall carry the blame for the hardships of the generations to come. Every revolution first happens in individual minds and hearts. Empathy, compassion and solidarity can give the crucial impetus for profound and long-lasting change of the universal mindset. An Empathy Revolution should be considered a prerequisite for the Sustainability Revolution.
In the past two decades, the advent of magnetic resonance imaging in neuroscience has generated fabulous achievements in the exploration of the human brain. Scientists have sadly confirmed that human beings innately tend to be egocentric. However, the good news is that there is a specific part of our brain, called the right supramarginal gyrus, which is responsible for empathy and compassion. This area of the brain makes it possible for us to disconnect the perception of ourselves from that of others. Moreover, the right supramarginal gyrus is so smart that it can recognise a lack of empathy and autocorrect it! The proven neuroplasticity of our brain ensures that our capacity for empathy is never fixed. By deliberately putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, we can reinforce the malleability of our neural networks and considerably enhance our potential for empathy and compassion.
Collective interest in our self-interest
Paradoxically, being empathic is not only beneficial for our fellow human beings but equally serves our self-interest. Neuroscientists have proved that highly empathic people feel more fulfilled, are more positive, alert and optimistic, and also generally tend to live happier and longer lives than their egocentric counterparts!
In the context of the corporate world, it would mean that those businesses that perceive collective interest as their own, and are guided by the principles of public value and social good, would consequently, indirectly, be working for their own advantage and could only create win-win situations.
In our global world with all its global actors, sectors, communities, networks and movements, why wouldn’t we endeavour to achieve and spread global empathy as well? The Empathy Revolution could certainly bring us much closer to the global implementation of the Sustainability Revolution. So, let us activate the right supramarginal gyrus of our brains and get wired for a better world for all!