crowded intersection in NYC's Times Square
PHOTO: Christopher Burns

One of the best ways to get people to trust is to get them to hate. Hate is the glue that binds many groups together. Hate and fear are powerful, ancient elixirs. If we’re to build success for the future, we need to move beyond such easy remedies, because in an interconnected, complex, fast-paced world, the medicine of fear and hate may save a few but will likely kill the planet.

Tyrone is a very successful Irish Gaelic football team. One of its stars, Seán Cavanagh, talked about the manager, Mickey Harte. "He's got a great way of bonding a team. Is it bonded sometimes by the best reasons? I don't think so." How does Harte "bond" the team? Through intense hatred of other teams, through building an us against them fortress.

Competition fosters trust among co-workers, according to a study published in ScienceDaily in September 2018. The more intense the competition, the study found, the more sharing, cooperation and volunteering would happen within a particular company.

If you want to develop a high-trust environment, then create a uniform group of people and encourage them to hate those who are not part of their group. Give them an objective such as destroying the hated enemy and watch them go.

“In politics and policy, trying to feel the pain of others is a bad idea,” Paul Bloom wrote for the Wall Street Journal in 2016. “Recent research in neuroscience and psychology shows that empathy makes us biased, tribal and often cruel,” according to Bloom. “One study, published in 2010 in the journal Neuron, tested European male soccer fans. A subject would receive a shock on the back of his hand and then watch another man receive the same shock. When the other man was described as a fan of the same team as the subject, the empathic neural response — the overlap in self-other pain — was strong. But when the man was described as a fan of an opposing team, it wasn’t.”

Bloom had just published a book called "Against Empathy," whose central thesis seemed to be that humans find it hard to feel empathy for strangers. Also, the empathy often distorts logic as it generally focused on an individual. So, when you read the story about the poor, sick girl, you want to do something for that girl, but not for the thousands of other girls and boys who are even sicker than the girl you read the story about.

Emotions like empathy and trust are ancient and hugely powerful but are they the right tools to build a sustainable future? Multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural, multi-gender teams can deliver tremendously nuanced, balanced, fit-for-audience products and services. However, they are probably not likely to develop the same level of cohesion, trust and camaraderie as a group of young, white drinking-buddy males. And they don’t need to.

Perhaps trust and empathy are not as essential today. Then what replaces them? Maybe some other emotions: respect, humility, inquisitiveness, open-mindedness, reasoning, and evidence-based thinking. These emotions are not as raw and intoxicating as trust, fear and hate. However, in an increasingly diverse, interconnected world, they may just be the glue we need to build a better future.