The Challenge Of Living Up To A Standard That May Be Too High

Heartificial Empathy
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For the most part, I’m proud of my newest book, Heartificial Empathy, Putting Heart into Business and Artificial Intelligence. I think it’s an important topic and one that could become topical — if not trendy — in a corporate context as we tackle the topic of AI at work. On a practical level, it took me 5 months from beginning to end to complete the book. I designed my own cover. I did all the research and writing. I did my own publishing; meaning I dealt with all the hassles of creating and uploading the right formats and respecting the rules for Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). And, with the book now available on Amazon (here), I have set in motion the cogs to begin flogging the book. Typically, authors will agree with me that selling a book is the toughest part of the whole process. 

But, the hardest part of this book is none of the above. It’s about the subject matter: empathy. Having chosen to write about this skill and extolling its virtues, I now have no excuse not to be empathic myself. In spite of having read reams of research on the subject and having observed and analysed how empathy works, it’s truly hard to exemplify empathy all the time. It’s a high standard to have to hold myself up to. First, I may misread the person. Second, I may not have enough data points to understand his or her context. Third, I may not know how to express or show the requisite empathy. Fourth, I may not have the bandwidth (e.g. too many other things taxing my brain). Basically, I may just be too hurried, harried and in a horrible humour.

As if this were not enough, I just might lose the urge or patience. 

Being always “on” or 100% perfect is neither desirable nor possible. But it’s hard to know what’s the acceptable limit or, even, benchmark. I believe that a large part of our journey — part of the human condition — is knowing how to manage the ‘other’ side. It’s the part of you where you’re not up to your own standard; where you act in a way that could be considered a deception or disappointment; where you let out the dark side of your character.

In an environment where we call out even unintentional mistakes, decry any labelling, virtue signal and systemically put forward a perfect image, there is little room for the dark side. When Roger Waters wrote, “Take me to the dark side of the moon,” he was referring to our own dark side. But, how do we find an avenue for letting the dark side out without feeling brutally ashamed or becoming miserably ostracised?  

In my new book, Heartificial Empathy, I look at the underpinnings of empathy, explore ways to make yourself, your organisation and, even, artificial intelligence more empathic. But, I resist the notion that one should be empathic ALL the time. It’s like the tyranny of happiness. One cannot expect the other — much less oneself — to be perfectly courteous and happy all the time. To do so is entirely dangerous for its lack of realism, much less humanity. We all have other ‘sides’ that make us the imperfect beings that we are. That we can and should be MORE empathic than we are, generally, is something I strive for and promote. Whether in business or in AI, it’s about creating an appropriate ethical framework, where the difference between good and evil is properly demarcated. 

“Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain. You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today. And then one day you find ten years have got behind you. No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.” – DARK SIDE OF THE MOON

I feel like writing this book has brought me face to face with my limitations. It’s been an informative — if sometimes painful — ride. I publish this article, meanwhile, just before taking off for Christmas. I feel that the best gift I can give is the permission to be normal, all the while urging us to be better. As we wake up to 2019, it’s my conviction that we’ll all need to be far more self-aware, take greater responsibility for our ethical posture and, hopefully, along the way, practice being a good deal more empathic.

Post originally published on LinkedIn Pulse here.

As a post scriptum, it’s perhaps coincidental or even ironic that I wrote this post right before the Chinese landed their probe on the dark side of the moon (Jan 2 2019). In any event, with its success, it’s fair to wish for many more good and dark things for 2019!

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