White Hat vs. Black Hat

Posted by jlubans on July 10, 2019

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In the cowboy movies of my childhood, the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black. Black hats beat their horses. White hats kissed theirs.
Since life’s more complicated than that, we now all wear gray hats, whether we want to or not; ambiguity, nuance, relativity - the experts bloviate - is our (human’s) default condition.
So from the utterly sinister and irredeemably evil “fiend in the coal bin” we now have serial killers who like small children and cats and only do their killing to spite their mothers.
My January essay, “How Jerks Happen”, was about the so-called dark triad: “Narcissism (an excessive focus on oneself), Machiavellianism (manipulating others for one’s own gain), and psychopathy (an overall disregard for others).”
Failing at omniscience, I did not know there was an actively researched alternative: the “light triad”.
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Humanism, is defined as (a person’s) believing in the inherent dignity and worth of other humans.
Kantianism, a la Immanuel Kant, sees a person as a person, not as a means to an end.
And, “Faith in humanity” is about believing that other humans are fundamentally good, and not out to get you.
Methinks, we could augment – indeed make operable - the Kantian aspect with Adam Smith’s insight:
“Every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way…”
For Adam Smith - according to the economist Vernon Smith - “Justice… was … the infinite set of permissible actions remaining after a finite set of actions were ruled worthy of punishment out of common experience.”
It is this “common experience” that permits us to know and avoid jerk behavior or worse. A. Smith’s justice helps defines for the individual and society what is decent behavior.
Like the self-assessment test for the dark triad, there is one for the light triad.
Are humans more of the dark triad than the light? Does evil prevail?
“Over a thousand people took both tests to find out their balance of light and dark personality traits – and the average person skewed substantially towards the light side.”
So, unlike what cable news might be pushing, most of us are pretty decent and apart from the occasional jerk or two we should be able to get along since many of us share the general view of mankind’s basic goodness.
Interestingly, “everyday saints aren’t just benefitting the rest of the world with their kindness. (A researcher) found that those who rank highly for the traits … felt more satisfied with their relationships and life in general, and reported higher self-esteem and a stronger sense of self. A whole host of character strengths were also linked to high scores, including curiosity, perspective, zest, love, kindness, teamwork, forgiveness, and gratitude."
But, the research (even if it comes from the reputationally damaged field of psychology, e.g. the rigged findings that prisoners when they become guards immediately resort to abusing prisoners) suggests that we have some of both triads in our make up.
“This could be a good thing. Those with darker personalities tend to be more brave and assertive, for example – two traits that come in handy when trying to get things done. Darker personalities are also
correlated with creativity and leadership skills.”
And, “there is evidence that personality is somewhat malleable over our lifetimes. “…Personality is just a combination of habits, of states of thinking and acting and feeling in the world, and … we can change these habits.”
So, keep that in mind when dealing with jerks in the workplace; jerkism need not be irrevocable. Nor, if you are an “everyday saint” that you will never lapse into jerkiness. We all need guidance at times when we exceed what Adam Smith termed “permissible actions”.

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And, my book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle, is available at Amazon.

© Copyright John Lubans 2019

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