The Lonely Path to Power and the Loss of Empathy

Photo by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash

Most modern cultures are led by some of their least representative members, individuals separated from the masses, usually from a young age, and primed for a life of exceptionalism. While the dominance of the multi-generational elite in both politics and business has garnered public attention, diversity initiatives tend to pull from or create pipelines that maintain the same rite of passage of isolation. Whether aspiring to maintain or gain it, students of power distance themselves from the masses in their pursuit of it, so it’s no surprise how easily they can overlook the responsibility for communal needs that comes with it.

Even projects intended to better the world can easily adopt a survivalist, “anything goes” modus operandi under the pressures of solo leadership. Competitive cultures lead visionaries to recruit collaborators from a pool of mistrust and sabotage and protect themselves with secrecy. This combination of pressure and isolation is a recipe for anxiety, depression, and burnout, which leaders often face alone behind a brave face. The perception of suffering in silence as part of the path to success leads leaders to pass the pressure and isolation onto their spheres of influence. As the game of human chess consumes organizations and greater cultures, empathy is forgotten.

Much of our innate human power is wasted navigating mazes we create for each other when we could be joining forces instead. Though we’re obviously more powerful when working together than against each other, safe opportunities to make the first move can be hard to come by. Most opportunities for collaboration are tied to timelines and contingencies that don’t leave space for navigating the ambiguity of aligning, forcing those who accept these offers to act transactionally.

I’ve been a wantrepreneur since college but would get lost in the weeds of each idea before developing a game plan capable of making it through the wringer. When the pandemic hit, I wanted to make an impact more than ever but given my lack of entrepreneurial success in the pre pandemic world, I was especially lost in the acceleration of the pandemic. Then, my new friend, Sara Khalek, who ran a creative think tank for social impact innovators said something that freed me: start with as lo-fi of a prototype as possible and figure out how to monetize it later. Since then, I’ve experimented with various community initiatives on Facebook and Discord, most of which didn’t go according to the original plan but grew and merged into directions I couldn’t have thought of earlier. By putting my ideas and intentions out in the open without contracts, ultimatums, or tests of loyalty, I’ve found the kind of transparent, open ended collaboration I’ve been craving all along.

Our individual knowledge is a tiny drop in the bucket of humanity. We have much more to gain than lose from collaborating on a deeper level. What if we asked how much we can get away with letting our current and potential collaborators and customers know rather than how little? What if we nurtured each other’s gardens rather than just exchanging produce? What if we thought in terms of growth rather than scarcity? After a taste of that life, I never want to go back.

Call to action: How can you channel empathy and collaboration to achieve your goals?



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Enigmas Next Door

Enigmas Next Door

Facts & opinions on human centered design, community, & tech, work & online cultures. Welcome to my controverse. Twitter: @enigmasnextdoor Clubhouse: @qubit