On November 9, 2020, Logos President Helio Fred Garcia spoke with Mark McClennan on his podcast, Ethical Voices, about when and where to draw the ethical line. The podcast was released on the second anniversary of Ethical Voices.
During their conversation, Garcia discussed how structures and clear protocols make courage less necessary in ethical dilemmas, what can we learn from Bernays’ definition of public relations, and three key elements in determining the “right” thing to do.
Garcia noted, “From a communication ethics point of view, what I teach my students is to ask, “What is the outcome we seek?” Not the process, but the outcome. Then ask what are the options available to you that could get you closer or farther from that outcome? And then which choice is the less bad choice? Because when you face a moral dilemma or an ethical dilemma, you’re going to make a choice that still violates some principle. What is the less bad choice that gets you closer or at least, least far from that desired outcome? You need the discipline to make the choices based on the outcome and not based on the short-term strains that put you in that situation… The more we can make decisions based on desired outcomes and using agreed upon standards as the way to calibrate whether we’re likely to get to that desired outcome, we’re more likely to live to fight another day.”
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As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues to grow, Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership has been advising clients and carefully studying communication by leaders across a range of sectors and forms of organization.
We have reviewed thousands of communications by CEOs, university presidents, NGO executive directors and secretaries general, and public officials. And we have identified patterns that help leaders and their organizations make smart choices and avoid inadvertent self-inflicted harm.
Seven Crises in One
One of the foundational principles of effective crisis management is to name the problem accurately and to understand the true scope and likely risk of the crisis.
I believe that the COVID-19 crisis is actually seven crises in one. Think of these as seven different dimensions of the crisis. There’s a danger that a leader might be so focused on any one of the dimensions that he or she will miss the need to address the others. The seven dimensions of COVID-19 are these:
Public Health Crisis: At its core COVID-19 is a public health crisis. Half a million people worldwide have gotten sick; tens of thousands have died. More will get sick and die before things get better. But now in the United States the public health crisis includes a healthcare delivery system that is being strained to the breaking point. As hospitals in epicenters begin to fill up, there’s also a shortage of medical equipment and personal protective gear. Health workers are at risk, as are other patients.
Business Crisis: COVID-19 presents a business problem for all forms of organizations. There is a cost impact, for most organizations a negative one. There is a revenue impact, mostly negative; for some potentially catastrophic. There is disruption of operations. There is an HR impact.
Economic Crisis: At the same time there is a significant economic crisis underway. The risk of falling into a major recession, very low two months ago, now is quite high. The markets have exhibited unprecedented volatility. Economic uncertainty is wearing on people and institutions.
Information Crisis: From the beginning of the pandemic there has been significant incorrect information, incomplete information, and in some cases intentionally misleading information in the information ecosystem. This information crisis leads to significant misunderstanding about who is at risk of contracting the illness, who can transmit it, and what precautions are appropriate.
Competence of Government Crisis: Not just in the U.S., but initially in China, Iran, and other nations the initial responses were bungled and the virus spread. In the U.S. we have yet to see a whole of government response. Rather, we’ve seen a fragments of government response. Only in the third week of March, and the third month of COVID-19 in the U.S., are there sufficient tests and testing sites. But there is insufficient personal protective equipment for health workers, and a shortage of hand sanitizers, rubber gloves, and masks in retail stores.
Social Crisis: People’s lives have been upended; many people are losing or at risk of losing their jobs. Supermarket shelves are bare. Many companies have ordered employees to work from home; schools are closed or have gone to virtual learning. But there has also been a rise of incivility, insult, and violence against people who have been stigmatized. President Trump’s insistence on calling COVID-19 “China Virus” or “Chinese Virus” has led to a wave of hate crimes against people perceived to be Asian or Asian-American.
Mental Health Crisis: Human beings are social animals, and social distancing is having an effect. Compound this with the fear of the illness, the rising rate of infections and fatalities, and the other dimensions of the crisis, people are fraught. They are fragile. And they need extra care. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked for mental health professionals to volunteer to work with people not presently under their care to begin to meet this mental health need. I expect other governors will do the same.
Everything is Different
The unprecedented scope of the crisis makes it difficult to predict what will happen next. This crisis is unlike others. Among the differences:
This is unlike prior pandemics. This is the first global pandemic in a social media world. Recent pandemics were geographically contained. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome was mostly confined to the Republic of Korea. Ebola was contained in the United States, and our military and public health experts were able to contain it in West Africa. And this is the first truly global pandemic in the lifetimes of most people in leadership positions.
This is unlike natural disasters. Most organizations are ready or can adapt to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods. But those are generally geographically confined and are sudden but short in duration. COVID-19 is widespread and will continue for a very long time.
This is not like ordinary corporate crises. Most corporate crises are limited to a particular company, sector, or geography. But this one affects every organization. And unlike most corporate crises, this one has the additional dimensions of public health, economic risk, information challenges, competence of government, and social dislocation.
The situation is constantly changing. The scope of contagion, the government and society’s response to it, and our understanding of risk to ourselves are in constant flux. In a matter of days we saw an escalation from no large crowds to no crowds at all to stay-at-home orders to full lock-down orders.
This is fundamentally reshaping our understanding of work. As millions of American workers learn how to work from home, and as companies experiment with different modes of delivering products and services, the likelihood of a return to pre-COVID-19 conditions is not clear.
Crisis Response Best Practices
Most ineffective crisis responses begin with leaders asking some version of What should we do? Or What should we say? The challenge with this kind of question is that it focuses on the we – on the entity or leader in crisis. This results in the consideration of options that may make the leader in midst of crisis feel less vulnerable. But it is unlikely to lead to what is necessary to maintain trust, confidence, and support of those people whose trust, confidence, and support are critical to the organization.
What is needed is a different kind of thinking that begins not with the I/me/we/us but rather with the they/them – with the stakeholders who matter to the organization. The leadership discipline of mental readiness – the readiness to shift frames of reference from the first person — I/me/we/us — to the third person — they/them — makes all the difference.
And that’s because of the way trust works.
A common goal for most organizations and leaders in crises is to maintain the trust and confidence of those who matter – shareholders, employees, customers, regulators, residents, citizens, voters, etc. Trust is what makes other elements of competitive advantage possible, from stock price to employee morale and productivity to support of regulators.
Trust, in turn, is the consequence of three related but slightly different things:
Promises fulfilled. These can be explicit promises, or implicit promises such as in a brand identity. If we are seen to break a promise, trust falls.
Expectations met. These can be expectations we set ourselves, such as by making promises. Or they can be expectations set by law or by government order. Or they can be expectations set by society. If we fail to meet expectations, trust falls.
Values lived. When those who matter to us experience us as living our stated values, the result is trust. If those who matter to us experience us as not living our stated values, trust falls.
And one of the patterns we notice is that it is much harder to restore trust once it has been lost than to maintain trust before it has been lost.
Asking What should we do? runs the serious risk of failing even to consider stakeholders’ expectations. Worse, it further risks the leader becoming stuck in his or her own perspective, in I/me/we/us. Hence, such crisis whoppers as BP CEO Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back,” or even President Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”
Most crisis response failures can be traced back to the ultimate decision-makers focusing on their own frame of reference rather than on their stakeholders.
The right question to ask when determining the appropriate course of action in a crisis is not What should we do.
Rather, it is this: What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do when facing this kind of situation?
For any stakeholder group we can answer the question, What would reasonable members of this stakeholder group appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do? to a very granular level. To the level of all employees, or only those employees in this one facility, or only those employees who were present when something happened. We can inventory those granular expectations for each stakeholder group, and we can then work to fulfill those particular expectations.
But regardless the particular expectations of any given stakeholder group, there is a common expectation that applies to all stakeholder groups all the time: In a crisis, all stakeholders expect a responsible organization or leader to care. To care that something has happened; to care that people need help; to care that something needs to be done.
What it means to care may be different from crisis to crisis, or from industry to industry. What it means to care in the early phases of the crisis may be different from what it means to care in the later phases of the crisis. But that we need to care doesn’t change.
The single largest predictor that trust will fall is the perception of indifference. And silence, when there is an expectation of caring, is interpreted by stakeholders as indifference. And it gives our adversaries, critics, media and social media, and trolls the ability to define us as uncaring, or incompetent, or as lacking integrity.
Applying Best Practices to COVID-19 Communication
As the Logos Institute team has studied institutional response to COVIID-19, we have derived these lessons applying the principle of caring to the pandemic.
Begin all communication, whether written or verbal, with a statement of values, or belief, or intent, or motivation. Don’t dive directly into the facts. Audiences are far more likely to read or listen, understand, and remember when the leader creates an emotional connection first, and that begins with the statement of values.
Show you care. Calibrate communication with empathy.
Be direct: No euphemism. Euphemism is confusing to audiences, especially when under stress. If an employee has died because of COVID-19, say so.
Tell the truth: Avoid misleading half-truths. Remember that you’re in this for the long term. And eventually you’ll need employees to continue to want to work for you, and customers to want to do business with you. If you know that layoffs are likely, and you’re asked whether there will be layoffs, it may be tempting to say something literally true — “At this point there is no plan to lay people off.” This may be true, but the question was not about whether there is a plan but rather about whether there would be layoffs. A better response would be “We haven’t made a final decision, and we will do whatever we can to protect employees, but layoffs are a possibility.”
Address all relevant dimensions of the crisis: public health, business crisis, economic crisis, information crisis, competence of government crisis, social crisis, and mental health crisis. It may be tempting to stay in a single frame, say, business crisis. But your stakeholders are experiencing all seven dimensions of the crisis.
Remember that expectations are dynamic. Yesterday’s expectations may not be helpful today. Calibrate against current expectations.
Communicate at multiple levels. Employees and other stakeholders need to hear from more than the CEO. At this point it is better to over-communicate than to under-communicate.
Align on values; allow granular detail appropriate to each level. Whether the CEO or an EVP or VP or department head or project team leader, there should be alignment on the level of values, belief, intent, or motive. But at each level the granularity should be appropriate to the level of the leader doing the communication.
Convey a positive attitude that balances urgency against the provoking of panic. Effective leaders keep the focus on the future even while demonstrating urgency. But emotions themselves are contagious. Leaders need to stop short of provoking panic.
Express emotion, vulnerability, and humility. Arrogance makes empathy impossible, and it is empathy that gets leaders and organizations through a crisis. Leaders are often reluctant to express emotion or vulnerability. But the most effective ones do.
Get good at being on TV. Whether recording a video for public consumption or conducting a meeting via Zoom or Skype or GoToMeeting, leaders need to get good at communicating through a video camera.
Remember, people are feeling very fragile. People are scared; they’re worried about their jobs and their friends and their families. People’s work lives and personal lives have been upended. And some people are being stigmatized. Now is a time that calls for kindness. Effective leaders care.
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Logos Consulting Group is pleased to announce that the next book by Logos President Helio Fred Garcia is now available for pre-order.
Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It is about the power of communication to do great harm, and how civic leaders and engaged citizens can hold leaders accountable to prevent such harm. Garcia focuses on the forms of communication that condition an audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against a targeted group, rival, or critic.
Sending Up a Flare
In the book’s preface Garcia writes,
“In my teaching and research, I study patterns: patterns that help leaders enhance competitive advantage, build trust and loyalty, and change the world for the better. I study the patterns of audience engagement and audience reaction. I study persuasion and influence, and the power of language to change people, mostly for the better.”
But he also provides a caution:
“I’ve also been acutely aware of the use of communication to hurt, to harm, and to humiliate, and of how dehumanizing and demonizing language can lead some people to commit acts of violence. I typically don’t teach those things in a classroom, but I often send up a flare, warning students, former students, and others of the predictable, if unintended, consequences of speech that, under the right conditions, can influence people to accept, condone and commit violence against members of a group.”
Garcia notes that he found himself sending up many flares in recent years, but that something changed in 2018. In the Fall of that year he posted on social media persistent warnings about stochastic terrorism, the technical term for language that provokes some people to commit violence. He says,
“My concern grew into alarm as the 2018 mid-term elections approached and as President Trump’s language crossed a line. I worried that someone would be killed by Trump followers who embraced his increasingly incendiary rhetoric about immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, and critics.”
Garcia’s fears were soon realized.
“In a single week, about ten days before the mid-terms, two separate terror attacks took place: one killed eleven people at worship in a synagogue; one failed but had targeted a dozen Trump critics with mail bombs. In both cases the perpetrators justified their actions by quoting Trump language. One of them, the mail bomber, described his conversion from being apolitical to being ‘a soldier in the war between right and left’ that resulted from his several years in Trump’s orbit.”
The following day Garcia posted a blog on Daily Kos describing the relationship between language and violence. That post was republished by CommPro.biz. Words on Fire is the continuation of that original blog post.
In reflecting on the President’s language, Garcia noticed another pattern: the forms of his language were familiar. He realized that the president was using the very same rhetorical techniques that had preceded previous mass murders, including genocides. He worried that, left unchecked, the president would continue, with increasingly dire consequences.
Garcia explored the kinds of language that historically had preceded acts of mass violence. And he studied contemporary sources including the U.S. Holocaust Museum Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. The center defines “dangerous speech” as:
“speech that increases the risk for violence targeting certain people because of their membership in a group, such as an ethnic, religious, or racial group. It includes both speech that qualifies as incitement and speech that makes incitement possible by conditioning its audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against people who belong to a targeted group.”
One of the key elements of creating such conditions is to dehumanize others. The Center’s handbook Defusing Hate notes that:
“Dangerous speech often dehumanizes the group it targets (e.g., by calling its members rats, dogs, or lice), accuses the target group of planning to harm the audience, and presents the target group’s existence as a dire threat to the audience.”
Garcia also studied the work of Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley, who says that when leaders persistently dehumanize others they lessen the capacity of citizens to empathize.
Dangerous speech begins with dehumanization but doesn’t end there. Garcia has identified twelve communication techniques that individually and collectively create a social context that conditions an audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against people who belong to a targeted group. Each technique is a bit different from the other, although the individual techniques have elements in common. They serve as a kind of Playbook that malicious leaders have used to divide communities and to accumulate power. The twelve forms are:
Dehumanize: Calling groups of people animals or vermin who are infesting the nation.
Demonize/Delegitimize: Attributing to a group or rival a menacing, evil identity or calling into question the legitimacy or qualification of a group or rival.
Scapegoat: Blaming a group for all or many of the nation’s problems.
Public Health Threat: Claiming that members of a group are carrying or transmitting dangerous diseases.
Safety Threat: Claiming that a group, rival, or critic is a threat to public safety – likely to cause death or injury to the nation or to the dominant group – or is a threat to civic order.
Violent Motive: Claiming that a group has violent or hostile intentions toward a dominant group.
Severely Exaggerating Risk: Labelling a minor issue or routine event a major threat.
Sinister Identities: Attributing vague or sinister identities to a group or its members.
Conspiracy: Saying that something is part of a sinister conspiracy.
Discredit Information: Discrediting the source of objective information or of information critical of the leader.
Conflation: Conflating the leader and the state, so that any criticism of the leader is seen as an attack on the nation.
Menacing Image: Juxtaposing a menacing image (noose, swastika, flaming cross) with a person or person’s image, a location, or a facility associated with the target.
Words on Fire documents these forms of communication, and the consequences of that language, both before Trump and by Trump.
But it does more. It assesses how American political life came to this dangerous and demoralizing place.
And it offers hope, a path forward: a framework, a mindset, and a set of techniques to help civic leaders and informed citizens recognize the patterns of dangerous speech early, intervene early, hold those who use such language accountable for the consequences, and ideally prevent such violence in the first place.
Garcia and a team of researchers spent 14 months working on the book. In addition to studying historic mass killings that followed the persistent use of dangerous speech, Garcia and his researchers watched hundreds of rallies, interviews, and public appearances by Donald Trump as candidate and president, and read thousands of his tweets. Garcia also examined hate crime violence statistics and trends. And he examined national security and law enforcement scholarship on lone wolf violence up to and including lone wolf terrorism. Garcia synthesizes the fruits of this research and describes how lone wolves develop a terrorist mindset and how they are activated to commit violence.
From Stochastic Terrorism to Lone-Wolf Whistle Terrorism
Since 9/11 the use of communication in ways that trigger lone wolves to commit acts of violence, up to and including terrorism, has been known as stochastic terrorism. The name comes from a principle in statistics and describes something that may be statistically predictable but not individually predictable.
But Garcia has concluded that the phrase stochastic terrorism is difficult to grasp, and even to say, and tends to limit discussion. He proposes a different way to describe the phenomenon, based on who is motivated to act on the communication – lone wolves – and what triggers them to so act – a kind of dog whistle that he calls a lone-wolf whistle.
“Acts of violence triggered by such language I call lone-wolf whistle violence. When such language triggers mass violence with a political, ideological, or similar motive I call it lone-wolf whistle terrorism.”
A Call to Action
Words on Fire also profiles leaders who stepped over the line and were called on it. All, in their own ways and in varying time frames, stopped what they were doing. As responsible leaders do.
Garcia also explores humility as an essential leadership attribute that makes empathy possible. It is empathy that allows leaders to see the damage their rhetoric may cause, and humility and empathy that lead them to stop.
The book closes by providing a framework for civic leaders, engaged citizens, journalists, and public officials to recognize when a leader may have crossed the line, and a way to understand the likely consequences of dangerous speech. Garcia takes the Lone-Wolf Whistle Terrorism Playbook and recasts it as a toolkit or checklist in the form of questions to ask that can help determine whether a leader’s rhetoric is likely to inspire lone wolves to take matters into their own hands.
Early reaction to Words on Fire by those who have read the manuscript has been quite positive, and the book has several early endorsers.
David Lapan, Colonel, USMC (ret), former Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security spokesman, says:
“Language is power, and powerful. It can uplift, or harm. Helio Fred Garcia is an astute student of language and communication. This book offers historic examples, keen insights and valuable advice on recognizing patterns of language that can harm or lead to violence.”
Evan Wolfson, Founder, Freedom to Marry, says:
“Drawing on history and his deep expertise in communications, Helio Fred Garcia documents how Trump’s barrage of hate, divisiveness, falsehoods, and triggering are even uglier and more dangerous than we thought, right out of the autocrat’s playbook. During the Nixon administration, John Dean blew the whistle on the ‘cancer growing on the presidency.’ Words on Fire provides a clear and alarming CAT-scan of the cancer growing from this presidency, and a highly readable guide to how we can call out and combat Trump’s toxic language and malignant agenda, pushing back against the corrosive forces that enable Trumpism and put our country in such peril.”
James E. Lukaszewski, America’s Crisis Guru®, says:
“Many of us were taught a lie as youngsters that sticks and stones can break our bones, but words will never hurt us. Fred courageously, graphically and powerfully illustrates that it is words on fire that bloodlessly, without scars or visible traces cause deep internal permanent damage while often triggering accompanying physical damage. And that if we remain silent one victim incinerated by words on fire damages the rest of us.”
“Words On Fire should be mandatory reading and a guide book for every reporter and editor anywhere. Journalists have significant responsibility for spreading the flames of intentionally incendiary, punitive, abusive language. There should be ethical and cultural sanctions for mindlessly but intentionally originating or transmitting dangerous language. Every business school needs to develop courses for managers and leaders in detoxifying and extinguishing fiery, intentionally emotional and harmful language, whatever the source, followed by every religious leader and elected official. Important institutions in our society and culture have the affirmative responsibility to stand up and speak out against the users and use of words on fire.“
Public reaction has also been positive. In the week after Words on Fire became available for Amazon pre-order, it became the Amazon #1 New Release in Rhetoric and #2 in New Releases in Public Administration the #3 best seller in Public Administration.
Words on Fire is scheduled for publication in mid-June. It is available for pre-order in both paperback and kindle edition.
Prior Books by Logos President
Words on Fire is Garcia’s fifth book. His first, published in 1998, was the two-volume Crisis Communications, now out of print.
Garcia has been on the New York University faculty since 1988. He is an adjunct professor of management in NYU’s Stern School of Business Executive MBA program, where he teaches crisis management, and where he was named Executive MBA Great Professor. He is an adjunct associate professor of management and communication in NYU’s School of Professional Studies, MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication program, where he twice received the Dean’s award for teaching excellence, in 1990 and in 2017. In that program he teaches courses in communication strategy; in communication ethics, law, and regulation; and in crisis communication.
Garcia is an adjunct associate professor of professional development and leadership at Columbia University, where he teaches ethics, crisis, and leadership in the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Garcia is also a Senior Fellow in the Institute of Corporate Communication at Communication University of China in Beijing.
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The French philosopher and writer Voltaire warned that those who can make us believe absurdities can make us commit atrocities.
We have seen this phenomenon play out in all parts of the world for the nearly 300 years since Voltaire first warned us. And sadly, we see it playing out in the United States now.
I have spent nearly four decades studying leadership, language, power, and the intersection of neuroscience, anthropology, and influence. Most of my work has been in the service of helping good leaders become better leaders. But sometimes my work calls on me to send up a flare; to warn others of what I see happening and about to happen. Events of the last few weeks compel me to send up such a flare.
Genuine leaders understand the consequences of their words and actions and take responsibility when they see that they are having a dangerous impact. Self-absorbed leaders do not.
There’s a phenomenon well known to those who study violent extremism and authoritarianism: the use of mass communication to inspire lone wolves to commit acts of violence. About six years ago it got the name Stochastic Terrorism, named for a principle in statistics about seemingly random things still being predictable.
Stochastic terrorism doesn’t make a direct call to violence. Rather, it leads people to take matters into their own hands. So stochastic terrorist violence is statistically predictable, even if it will not predict that a particular individual will commit a particular act against a particular person.
A Clear but Indirect Danger
The First Amendment protects free speech but not calls to violence that create a clear and present danger to people. But stochastic terrorism is insidious because it is a clear but indirect, yet still predictable, danger.
The Stochastic Terrorism Playbook
In the weeks just before the 2018 mid-term elections we saw President Trump use many elements of the stochastic terrorism playbook, that were amplified by conservative media and by Trump supporters who were running for office.
Dehumanizing populations. This includes referring to groups of people as vermin who are infesting the country. And carrying disease – in this case including diseases that have already been eradicated or are very rare, such as smallpox and leprosy. But still scary.
Claiming that an entire population is a threat. From his first day in the race, Trump defined Mexicans as rapists, gang members, and criminals. Candidate Trump also called for the total and complete ban of Muslims entering the country. And on his second day in office he passed an executive order, later overturned by the courts, banning people from seven primarily-Muslim countries. What the singling out of these groups, and others, have in common is that they create an Other — a group to rally against.
Labeling an ordinary thing a serious threat. President Trump labeled a rag-tag group of impoverished men, women, and children walking north seeking asylum a Caravan. Note that seeking asylum is legal. And the people were more than a thousand miles away at the time, and on foot. Despite this, he further said that the Caravan is invading the country. Hence the very word Caravan (always capitalized) became itself a menacing word, repeated across all forms of communication — in speeches, in social media, and on television news headlines. He called the Caravan a national emergency. He also called to mobilize the military to prevent its arrival. And this wasn’t even the first time he had used the Caravan scare. He did it in April as well. That group of migrants fizzled out before most of them reached the border. Those who arrived sought asylum. We should have recognized the pattern.
Attributing vague menacing identities to that group. For example, the claim that the Caravan has been infiltrated by a number of middle easterners.
Saying that something is part of an evil conspiracy. In this case that the Caravan is funded by George Soros, which is white supremacist code for an international Jewish conspiracy. Note that the first bomb received in late October was sent to George Soros. Followed by an attack on a synagogue by a person driven by an urgent need to prevent Jews from bringing in refugees in order to kill Americans.
Within a single week in late October we saw tangible evidence of such rhetoric inspiring violence.
A bomber attempted the largest assassination of political leaders in the history of the U.S., sending bombs through the mail to more than a dozen people who had each been the target of President Trump’s vitriol. Thankfully, none of the devices exploded, and all were retrieved. But authorities found the names of nearly 100 Trump critics on the bomber’s target list.
A gunman attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue during worship, killing eleven and wounding many more. He posted online about “Jewish infestation.” In the hours before the attack, making reference to a more than century-old refugee resettlement agency, he tweeted, “HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” During the attack he yelled “All Jews must die!”
A gunman tried to penetrate a Louisville black church but found the doors locked, and instead went into a neighboring Kroger’s store and murdered two black customers there.
There are likely to be further such acts.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama this week, in interviews about her forthcoming memoir, described her reaction to Donald Trump’s birther campaign, which put him on the political map for the 2016 presidential campaign. For years before and during his presidential campaign Trump persistently insisted that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and therefore was not a legitimate president. Trump refused to acknowledge Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate, and frequently made other claims that challenged Obama’s legitimacy as president.
In her book Michelle Obama writes that this campaign was
“deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks. What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. And for this, I’d never forgive him.”
This is a vivid example of stochastic terrorism at work.
Plausible Deniability is an Essential Part of Stochastic Terrorism
The stochastic terrorist uses inflammatory rhetoric in the full expectation that it will trigger someone somewhere to act out in some way. But there is also plausible deniability built in. The stochastic terrorist can deny that he or she had anything to do with the violence that occurs. Indeed, President Trump falls back on this frequently, including in the aftermath of the bombs sent to people he had criticized. The Washington Post reported,
“Trump told reporters later that he did not think he bears blame for the alleged crimes ‘No, not at all,’ Trump said as he left the White House for a political rally in North Carolina. ‘There’s no blame, there’s no anything,’ Trump said.”
But Why Do People Believe Absurdities?
So why do people believe absurdities, which is a precursor to committing atrocities?
The Pittsburgh gunman believed deeply that Jews were importing refugees to kill “our people.” There was no evidence that Americans were being killed by refugees. But evidence didn’t matter. There was no evidence that the migrants walking north were infected with smallpox and leprosy, claims repeated frequently by conservative media. President Trump even called members of the Caravan “young, strong men” but also said that they were diseased. Why would people believe such easily refutable claims?
To answer that question we need to recognize that the rise of Donald Trump is not a cause but rather a consequence.
It is the predictable result of decades of degradation of political discourse. This degradation was facilitated by a media more interested in grabbing an audience’s attention than in covering issues. The worst part is that we should have seen it coming.
In fact, we could have seen it coming if we had known what to look for. We should have known.
Even now as the frightening reality is finally being recognized, we seem to be grappling only with the symptom of the problem — what Trump says — without recognizing that there’s a greater challenge that will continue regardless of how we address the immediate problem.
We can solve the Trump problem but still be as vulnerable to another authoritarian figure who energizes the disenfranchised, the angry, and the scared to similar effect.
Most educated Americans are familiar with Nineteen Eighty-Four. This popular novel is based in a dystopian future. The nation is in a continuous state of war. The intrusive and authoritarian government keeps people uninformed, and uses political language that is intentionally misleading. So the Ministry of Peace wages war. The Ministry of Truth controls all information, news, propaganda, and art. The Ministry of Plenty rations food. Our term “Orwellian” refers to the use of language to convey the opposite of reality.
But most educated Americans are not familiar with the essay that served as the novel’s basis. Sadly, Politics and the English Language helps us understand the current state of the American body politic, and it isn’t pretty.
“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”
“Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties… – is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
The problem arises when politicians use language in a disingenuous way, asserting things they don’t necessarily believe and making arguments that may sound compelling but that logically don’t make sense.
“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were instinctively, to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.”
However damaging individual instances of political language, of insincere speech, or of intentionally misleading statements may be, it’s the effect of these that causes harm.
The central idea in Politics and the English Language is this:
Political speech has the effect of reducing citizens’ critical reasoning skills….
…This creates a self-perpetuating cycle…
…where as people become less discerning they become more susceptible to political speech…
…which further diminishes their critical reasoning skills…
…and so on…
…and so on…
…until a fully uninformed public creates conditions for authoritarian government to thrive.
A Cause Can Become an Effect, And So On: It’s The Cycle That Matters
The key idea, though, is the relationship between cause and effect.
Orwell notes that an effect can become a cause, and a cause can become an effect. It’s the cycle that matters. In the end the result is a citizenry that remains intentionally ignorant of the issues that matter, unaware of what is happening to them, and easily manipulated by politicians.
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.”
“Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”
The predictable result of this cycle is a citizenry that is easily manipulated. It becomes immune to persuasion by evidence and reasoning. And it doesn’t notice the multiple contradictions all around.
Candidate Donald Trump following the Nevada primary, February 24, 2016
Five years ago Orwell’s argument that political language causes a decline in critical thinking was supported by research by professors at Yale, Cornell, Ohio State, and the University of Oregon. Their study, Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government, showed that math problems that seem to be about benign topics are easily solved by people with strongly held political views. But when the same math problems are framed in terms of polarized political issues — in this case, gun rights — both progressive-and-conservative-leaning participants have a very hard time getting the math right.
The authors conclude that
“Subjects [use] their quantitative-reasoning capacity selectively to conform their interpretation of the data to the result most consistent with their political outlooks.”
A 2011 essay in Mother Jones by Chris Mooney on the neuroscience of political reasoning helps us understand why this is so. The piece begins with seminal research from the early fifties by famous Stanford psychologist Leon Festinger, who concluded:
“A man with conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.”
“Since Festinger’s day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions.”
“This tendency toward so-called “motivated reasoning” helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, “death panels,” the birthplace and religion of the president, and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.”
Emotion Trumps Logic
Humans are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines, who also think. We don’t think first; we feel first. What we feel determines what thinking will be possible. This is sometimes known as motivated reasoning.
“The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call “affect”). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of it.”
“That shouldn’t be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.”
“We’re not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn’t take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that’s highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.”
“We have seen this trend for several decades, where for political expediency citizens have been conditioned to not trust any source of news that includes conclusions contrary to those consistent with a political point of view.”
This is likely to be intensified when the news media is seen to be both purveyors of fake news and enemies of the people, two themes President Trump continuously emphasizes. This results in his followers choosing not to believe anything written in such media.
We Apply Fight-or-Flight Reflexes Not Only to Predators, But to Data Itself
Such citizens, who reflexively flee from the facts, are unlikely to be aware of, or even care about, contradictions. Simultaneously holding two contrary positions, the very definition of absurdity, would ordinarily dismiss someone as not to be taken seriously. But in the political world such contradictions seem not to matter.
In such an environment citizens literally are unable to notice absurdities. But the same part of the brain, the Amygdala, that causes the flight response also causes the fight response. So any intruder is seen to be worthy of a fight. And violence tends to ensue.
Within a week of Trump calling for a ban of all Muslims entering the country we saw a rash of attacks on mosques and on people perceived to be Muslim or Arab. We have seen people removed from his rallies while being taunted by Trump from the podium, calling for his supporters to punch the person being removed in the face. In the aftermath of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August, 2017, which President Trump refused to condemn, we saw dis-inhibition in the workplace. People who previously would have kept their racist or anti-immigrant or anti-Semitic opinions to themselves felt emboldened to act out, treating colleagues and customers with insult, rudeness, exclusion, and even violence.
“The hate in the United States came into full view last year as white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Va., with lines of men carrying torches and chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” Swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti have been cropping up on synagogues and Jewish homes around the country. Jews online are subjected to vicious slurs and threats. Many synagogues and Jewish day schools have been amping up security measures.
The Anti-Defamation League logged a 57 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017, compared to the previous year — including bomb threats, assaults, vandalism, and anti-Semitic posters and literature found on college campuses.
Are the Calls to Violence Intentional or Merely Reckless?
Plausible deniability is built into the dehumanizing of groups, making it difficult to draw a clear line between a particular act of speech and a particular act of violence. Some, including the president’s allies, could conclude that President Trump is not making such statements with the intention of people committing violence. Rather, he’s speaking his mind and cannot be held accountable if some crazy person takes matters into his own hands.
Contrast today with 10 years ago. Late in his 2008 run for president Senator John McCain saw the crowd crying for blood, and was admonished by people he respected about the likely effect of his rhetoric. He took those admonitions seriously, and he dialed it down. As a responsible leader does.
“As the election barreled toward its conclusion, something dark and frightening was unleashed, freed in part by the words of the McCains and Palin. At rallies across the country, there were jagged outbursts of rage and accusations of sedition hurled at Obama. In Pennsylvania and New Mexico, McCain audience members were captured on video and audio calling the Democrat a “terrorist.” In Wisconsin, Obama was reviled as a “hooligan” and a “socialist.
With the brutish dynamic apparently on the verge of hurtling out of control, a chagrined McCain attempted to rein it in. In Minnesota, when a man in the crowd said he would be afraid to raise a child in America if Obama were elected, McCain responded, “He is a decent person and not a person you have to be scared of as president.” A few minutes later, he refuted a woman who called Obama “an Arab.”
Senator McCain heard from two of his heroes: civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis, and life-long Republican and former Joint Chiefs Chair and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Game Change reports:
McCain’s efforts to tamp down the furies were valorous, though they did nothing to erase his role in triggering the reaction in the first place. The civil rights hero John Lewis, whom McCain admired enormously, compared the Republican nominee and his running mate to George Wallace and said they were “playing with fire.”
Civil Rights Legend, Representative John Lewis (D-GA)
Another prominent African American was watching with alarm. Colin Powell had been friends with McCain for twenty-five years. The senator had been actively seeking his endorsement (as had Obama) for nearly two years. Powell warned McCain that his greatest reservation was the intolerant tone that seemed to be overtaking the Republican Party. McCain’s selection of Palin bothered Powell because he saw her as polarizing. He was dismayed by Mc-Cain’s deployment of Ayers as an issue, perceived it as pandering to the right.
And then there were the hate-soaked rallies, which he considered anti-American. This isn’t what we’re supposed to be, he thought.
Powell had leaned toward staying neutral, but these outbursts were all too much—and McCain had moved only belatedly to stop them. Obama, by contrast, had displayed terrific judgment during the financial crisis, Powell thought. And his campaign had been run with military precision; the show of overwhelming force struck the general as a political realization of the Powell Doctrine. On October 19, he endorsed Obama on Meet the Press.
Colin Powell endorses Senator Barack Obama on Meet The Press
The general’s repudiation was a stinging blow for McCain. Beyond their longtime friendship, Powell represented the same brand of Republicanism as McCain’s. Tough on defense. Fiscally prudent. Pragmatic and nondoctrinaire. McCain had to wonder what had become of him if his current incarnation was repelling someone like Powell. He was startled by the crazies at his rallies. Who were they? Why were they there? And what did they see in him? In the final two weeks of the race, McCain began to try to salvage something of his reputation.
He put away the harshest of the personal invective against Obama and went back to talking about the economy, rash spending, and Iraq.”
Leaders Choose Responsibility
Senator McCain saw the unintended consequences of his fiery rhetoric and stopped. As a responsible leader does. Leaders choose responsibility, even if there is not a direct line between what they say and the violence or threatened violence that ensues.
There are two possible conclusions about President Trump’s incitement of violence. Either it is intentional or it is reckless. Either he wants the violence, or he doesn’t care about the violence. Neither absolves him of responsibility. Indeed, it may be even more frightening if the violence is not his intention, but that he is indifferent about it.
The poet TS Eliot gave us a way to understand this.
“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm; but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”
But whether intentional or merely the result of indifference, the victims of violence experience it as real. And an effective leader would stop.
# # #
Please note: Helio Fred Garcia is executive director of Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership and is on the adjunct faculties of both New York University and Columbia University where he teaches, among other things, ethics. But the views expressed here are solely his own and not necessarily reflective of any other entity.
https://i1.wp.com/www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/The-Dangers-of-Indirect-Calls-to-Violence-BLOG-heliofredgarcia.jpg?fit=1489%2C570&ssl=15701489Helio Fred Garciahttps://www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/HQ-Lambda-Consulting-Lockup-1030x562.pngHelio Fred Garcia2018-11-11 19:16:552021-09-07 21:49:57Opinion: The Dangers of Indirect Calls to Violence
Columbia Engineering’s Professional Development and Leadership program enhances the talents of graduate engineering students and broadens their skills in life and work. The program aims to build the engineering leaders of today and tomorrow.
PDL’s core modules provide engineers with skills and perspectives needed to succeed in a fast-changing technical climate. All 1,500 incoming Columbia Engineering graduate students are required to take core courses in a range of PDL disciplines. Chuck teaches modules in Communication, Networking, Emotional Intelligence, and related fields. Fred teaches the module on Engineering Ethics. Fred also teaches PDL electives in Advanced Engineering Ethics and in Crisis Management. He also teaches the ethics module for the introductory engineering survey course for undergraduates.
This spring Chuck and Fred are team-teaching two separate leadership courses. The first is a required module for all graduate students on Leadership, Followership, and Teamwork. This course is delivered entirely in video format. Chuck and Fred delivered the Leadership and Followership portion; The Teamwork portion was delivered by PDL Executive Director Jenny Mak.
The second course they will team teach is an invitation-only intensive leadership program for the top one percent of the first-year graduate student body, known as PDL Fellows. Chuck will focus on off-campus experiential learning, including a mountain hike up Bear Mountain and a briefing on logistics of industrial-scale food production at Culinary Institute of America. Fred will take the students through multiple intensive half-day workshops on the power of communication as a leadership discipline. The course will also include individualized instruction and mentoring.
Below is the video module on leadership and followership:
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Garcia has been an adjunct associate professor at Columbia Engineering since the summer of 2017, where he has taught Introduction to Ethics to all 1,400 incoming 2017 graduate students. The pilot for the elective in advanced leadership and crisis management was conducted on November 10, 2017. More than 140 students, or about ten percent of the student body, enrolled in the course.
The course focuses on the drivers of trust and how engineers can make smart decisions in a crisis by achieving mental readiness: a combination of emotional discipline, deep knowledge, and intellectual rigor. It builds on material that students learned in Garcia’s Introduction to Ethics course.
The Advanced Leadership: Crisis Management for Engineers course features three case studies of crises involving engineering and engineers.
The first, the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion. BP’s mishandling of what became the nation’s largest environmental disaster cost CEO Tony Hayward his job.
The company suffered significant consequences:
BP pleaded guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter and one count of lying to Congress.
BP paid $62 billion in fines, penalties, and settlements.
BP stock lost $105 billion in value in the months following the explosion, and remains depressed even seven years after the explosion.
The second case study was on General Motors’ handling of problems with the ignition switch in Cobalt and similar model cars that had been implicated in fatal accidents. The problem was discovered in 2001, but, according to an independent investigation in 2014, because engineers failed to fully understand the way the car was designed, GM labeled the issue a “customer inconvenience” rather than a safety defect, and therefore took very little action to resolve it for more than a decade. By 2014, 124 people had been killed, 17 people had suffered catastrophic injury such as multiple amputations or pervasive burns, and 250 others had been hospitalized with major injuries.
The consequences to General Motors were also significant:
GM paid $600 million to families of those killed or injured.
The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
As part of the deferred prosecution agreement, GM forfeited $900 million.
The third case study focused on Apple’s dispute with the FBI following the terrorist shooting in San Bernardino, California. In early 2016 the FBI obtained a court order compelling Apple to design software to allow investigators to unlock a suspect’s iPhone and to overcome the encryption of any data that might be on the phone. Apple refused, saying that such software would make it possible to unlock every iPhone, creating significant safety and security risks for millions of Apple customers around the world. Two days later, Apple CEO Tim Cook received a standing ovation at the company’s annual shareholder meeting.
. . . . . . . . .
Logos analyst Holly Helstrom helped Garcia design the course and the case studies, as well as his Introduction to Ethics course and an advanced ethics elective that will launch in December, 2017,
The Crisis Management for Engineers course is offered through Columbia Engineering’s Professional Development and Leadership program, which is intended to help engineering graduate students develop skills that will help them navigate the world of commerce, government, and academia following their course of formal study.
https://i0.wp.com/www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Logos-President-and-Climb-Leadership-CEO-to-Team-Teach-Columbia-Leadership-Courses-BLOG-logosconsulting.jpg?fit=200%2C200&ssl=1200200Logos Consulting Grouphttps://www.logosconsulting.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/HQ-Lambda-Consulting-Lockup-1030x562.pngLogos Consulting Group2017-11-11 16:36:592021-09-07 23:27:22Logos President Launches Crisis Management Elective at Columbia Engineering
Religions for Peace is the world’s largest and most representative multi-religious coalition, advancing common action among the world’s religious communities for peace. Logos Consulting Group has advised Religions for Peace as a pro bono publico client for more than 15 years, and Logos president Helio Fred Garcia has served on its Board of International Trustees for the past six years.
The global Religions for Peace network comprises a World Council of senior religious leaders from all regions of the world; six regional inter-religious councils and more than 90 national ones; and the Global Women of Faith Network and Global Interfaith Youth Network.
L to R: Bishop Gunnar Stalsett, Bishop Emeritus of Oslow, Church of Norway, and Honorary President of Religions for Peace; Metropolitan Emanuel Adamakis, Vice President, Conference of European Churches; Cardinal Raymundo Assis, Archbishop Emeritus of Aparecida, São Paulo, Brazil.
In mid-October 2017 Religions for Peace held its annual meeting of its World Council of religious leaders and its Board of International Trustees, as a strategy planning session for the next World Assembly of Religions for Peace, in 2019.
Dr. William H. Vendley, Secretary General of Religions for Peace, briefing the meeting on the current state of Religions for Peace.
The theme of the meeting was “Advancing a Moral Alliance Among the World’s Religions for an Integral Ecology,” using a phrase that Pope Francis coined in a recent encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’. The meeting began with a private audience with His Holiness, Pope Francis, in the Vatican.
His Holiness addressing the Religions for Peace World Council of Religious Leaders and Board of International Trustees in the Vatican
In his address to the Religions for Peace World Council and Board, His Holiness said,
“I express my esteem and appreciation for the work of Religions for Peace. You provide a valuable service to both religion and peace, for religions are bound by their very nature to promote peace through justice, fraternity, disarmament, and care for creation.
There is a need for a common and cooperative effort on the part of religions in promoting an integral ecology. The religions have the wherewithal to further a moral covenant that can promote respect for the dignity of the human person and care for creation.
Thanks be to God, in various parts of the world we have any number of good examples of the power of inter-religious cooperation to oppose violent conflicts, to advance sustainable development and to protect the earth. Let us continue along this path.”
Logos president Helio Fred Garcia meeting His Holiness, Pope Francis at the beginning of the Religions for Peace Board meeting.
L to R: Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje, Grand Mufti, Uganda Muslim Supreme Council; Cardinal Jean Louise Tauran, President, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, the Vatican; Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad, Dean, Department of Islamic Studies, Academy of Sciences, Iran; Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, Chairman, Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, UK, Kenya, India.
The two-day meeting featured substantive planning of critical issues to be addressed in the next World Assembly of Religions for Peace, held every seven to nine years, that brings together more than 2,000 religious leaders from all major faith communities in the world.
L to R: Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Trustee, Professor, Columbia University, and Special Advisor, UN Secretary-General on Sustainable Development Goals; Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje, Grand Mufti, Uganda Muslim Supreme Council;Bishop Gunnar Stalsett, Bishop Emeritus of Oslow, Church of Norway; Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja, Nigeria; Religions for Peace Secretary General Dr. William Vendley; and Mrs. Christine Brown, Trustee, and Chair, Institute of Healthy Air, Water, and Soil, Louisville, Kentucky.
The planning meeting in mid-October, 2017 included working groups in three separate work streams:
Conflict transformation: the use of religious leadership and religious community to stop violence being conducted in the name of religion; to prevent conflicts from occurring in the first place; and to create social conditions for peace and stability in otherwise unstable parts of the world. Religions for Peace acknowledges the reality that religion is all-too-often being misused in support of violent threats to Peace – by extremists, by unscrupulous politicians, by the sensationalist media, and others. Through the years Religions for Peace has amassed a record of successful engagement in a number of conflict areas, including: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Burundi, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, South Africa, Sri Lanka, theMano River and Great Lakes African sub-regions, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Iraq, Israel and Palestine, and Syria.
Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Damad, Dean, Department of Islamic Studies, Academy of Sciences, Iran, denouncing ISIS and others who hijack the identity of Islam to commit violence, and calling for all Islamic leaders to denounce violence in the name of Islam.
Sustainable development: equipping religious leaders and communities with the necessary resources and knowledge to address critical issues of health and well-being, education, climate action, and distribution of resources to reveal the potential inherent in all human communities. Extreme poverty threatens peace and human flourishing by depleting health, perpetuating existing inequalities, and jeopardizing access to basic human rights.
Jeffrey Sachs, Trustee, Professor, Columbia University and Special Advisor, UN Secretary-General on Sustainable Development Goals, addressing the challenges of sustainable development.
Protecting the earth: addressing climate change, safe drinking water, and other environmental challenges. Religions for Peace is faced with a clear moral imperative to respond to threats to the planet. For the world’s major religions, care for the earth is a religious obligation. Working with top climate scientists and development experts, Religions for Peacehas developed and deployed climate sensitive advocacy and action training materials across its global networks as well as implemented multi religious initiatives in partnership with other concerned entities—especially the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Vatican.
Logos President Helio Fred Garcia presenting a strategic path for religious leaders and communities to protect the earth.
Each working group developed a statement of problem, a proposed path forward to engage the world’s religious communities, and actionable steps to take between now and the World Assembly to show the impact that multi-religious cooperation can have on each of these challenges.
L to R Religions for Peace International Co-Moderators, Dr. Vinu Aram, Director, Shanti Ashram, India; Rev. Kosho Niwano, President-Designate, Rissho Kossei-kai, Japan.
These recommendations will now become part of the work coordinated by Religions for Peace’s International Secretariat, based at the United Nations in New York, and will be implemented through the six regional and more than 90 national inter-religious councils in the Religions for Peace network over the next two years. Results from that work will form the policy agenda for tenth World Assembly of Religions for Peace in 2019.
The Religions for Peace World Council of Religious Leaders, Board of International Trustees, and invited civic and foundation leaders, at the American Academy in Rome
How Lyft’s new slogan capitalizes on the ethical shortcomings of its biggest competitor and why leaders need to pay attention
Lyft’s new slogan “It matters how you get there” prompts a natural and provocative follow-up question, what matters how you get there? The answer, is the integrity of the individuals, companies, or organizations consumers choose to be involved with. “You always have a choice,” begins actor Jeff Bridges in the televised version of the ad, “choose to ride with the right people, doing things for the right reasons, you’ll always end up in the right place.”
The slogan is a thinly veiled yet tactful jab at Lyft’s larger and ethically dubious competitor, Uber. 2017 was the year Uber fell from grace as the vaunted $70 billion ridesharing pioneer to the poster child for everything-wrong-with-Silicon-Valley-companies. Allegations of sexism and harassment (see former employee Susan Fowler’s astounding blog post), intellectual property theft (see Google’s lawsuit against Uber), and evasion of the authorities (see the Department of Justice’s investigation into its use of “Greyball” software) all make the list of Uber’s missteps for the calendar year, culminating in co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick’s forced ouster in June under pressure from board members. Lyft, all the while, watched and waited silently in the wings. Until now that is.
(Travis Kalanick, photo Source: Scottamyx.com)
Themes of right and wrong, good versus evil are as captivating as they are ingrained in the human experience because they force us to contemplate our identity, and ask which side am I on? Which side is (insert company/public figure/organization) on? Which side should I choose? Lyft’s emphasis on choice and choosing “right” not only speaks to the human preoccupation with where we fall on the spectrum between good and evil, it also elevates Lyft as the ethical superior to Uber, spelling dollar signs for Lyft and more defensive maneuvering for Uber.
Behaving ethically is not good for business only in terms of image, which is easily shattered when actions incongruent with stated values become public knowledge. Ethical integrity is and will continue to be a critical part of business’ ability to attract and retain top talent and customers, which are essential to survival. “They no longer look at it as just a paycheck,” CEO of Pepsi Indra Nooyi said recently in an interview with Fortune,of the sea change she’s observed in the needs and desires of today’s workforce. “We have to weave purpose into the core business model of the company.” The purpose Indra Nooyi speaks of is fundamentally linked to the fulfillment that comes with compliance with ethical standards. Clearly stated ethical standards give people the opportunity to live as they know they should, and fulfill the expectations set before them creating a sense of competence that is essential to happiness and productivity. As for consumers, the ability afforded by social media to say and do something about one’s concerns means people will continue to call out businesses and their leaders for ethical breaches, both real and perceived.
What are ethics anyway, and why should leaders, businesses, and organizations care about them? Ethics are standards of behavior that inform how a society, or any group of people with common interests, should behave. Ethics are concerned with the actions people take, and the rightness or wrongness of those actions. Morals, which are related to but conceptually distinct from ethics, inform why a person chooses one action over another or believes one action to be better than another; morals are a person’s internal belief system of what is good and bad. It is possible however, for a person to perform an action that is against his or her internal belief system; morals are not obvious in the way a person’s actions are. Ethics are public; morals are private.
Companies and leaders would be wise to take a page from Lyft’s playbook on the following:
Capitalize on opportunities to share what you and your business are doing right. People instinctively want to identify with being “good” and “right” and will choose the product, service, or company that’s actions align with this desired self-concept.
When it comes to the competition, play the long game. To paraphrase Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist, prudence is essential to victory over one’s enemy. After five years of being compared as the plucky number two to Uber’s domineering number one spot in the ridesharing sector, Lyft knew how and when to capitalize on their competitor’s missteps, without interference or immature gloating on their part.
If there is one thing to learn from Lyft’s clever and disciplined response to its competitor’s self-inflicted wounds, it is that genuinely maintaining the ethical high ground provides opportunity for lasting and substantial competitive advantage.
Logos Consulting Group is pleased to announce that Logos president Helio Fred Garcia has been appointed to the faculty of Columbia University.
Effective August, 2017, Fred is an adjunct associate professor teaching in the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, also known as Columbia Engineering. Fred will teach ethics to all 1,500 incoming graduate students through Columbia Engineering’s Professional Development and Leadership program. Fred’s course will cover the foundations of ethics and ethical decision-making, the evolution of professional ethics in general and ethics in engineering and applied science in particular. He will also cover particular ethical issues in science publishing and in academic settings.
In addition to this course at Columbia Engineering, Fred also teaches ethical decision-making for U.S. military public affairs officers in the Joint Senior Public Affairs Officer course and Joint Intermediate Public Affairs Officer course in the U.S. Defense Information School.
Fred also taught business and communication ethics in New York University for more than 25 years, most recently in the M.S. in Public Relations and Corporate Communication program. He remains on the NYU faculty, as an adjunct associate professor of management and communication in the M.S. in Public Relations program, and as an adjunct professor of management in the NYU Stern Executive MBA program, where last year he was named Executive MBA Great Professor.
During the 1970s and 1980s Fred was a graduate student at Columbia, where he studied ethics. In 1980 he received an M.A. in Philosophy from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He continued his graduate studies in Greek philosophy at Columbia for several years thereafter.
(Helio Fred Garcia at the Philosophy Building on the day of his M.A. graduation, May 14, 1980)
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The Trump administration’s January 27th executive order banning refugees and certain legal immigrants from entering the United States galvanized businesses into action. Companies immediately affected by the ban, like airlines, scrambled to manage the impact on their customers. U.S.-based companies with global operations and diverse workforces, like Coca-Cola, Ford, Goldman Sachs, Google and Nike made forceful public statements opposing the ban. Technology and media companies expressed concern for their employees and operations. Starbucks announced plans to hire 10,000 refugees. Companies like Amazon and Microsoft joined the State of Washington’s successful lawsuit challenging the legality of the immigration ban. Apple and more than 125 other companies signed a brief defending the nationwide restraining order. Even companies that have not addressed the impact of the ban publicly are managing its fallout. From assisting affected employees to fielding inquiries from concerned employees and others, few large enterprises could avoid addressing the federal government’s sudden attempt to close U.S. borders to certain groups of people, targeting refugees and Muslims.
The immigration ban is the first of many ethical dilemmas companies will confront under this administration.
The Trump administration brings unprecedented levels of uncertainty for businesses. The immigration ban is the first of many ethical dilemmas companies will confront under this administration. Trump’s controversial proposals include detaining and deporting all undocumented residents of the United States, including children; and creating a Muslim registry. Corporate boards, CEOs and their advisors are asking themselves how the most extreme Trump proposals would affect their company’s people, customers and communities, and how their company should respond. Companies prefer not to address these questions on the fly.
Well-managed companies anticipate risks to their business and plan accordingly. It is no surpsrise that some of the global brands moving quickly to defend the rights of their employees, customers and communities against harmful executive action on immigration in the United States have been working for years to integrate human rights considerations into their global operations. Nike, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Google, Ford and Microsoft have all faced human rights challenges in the past – from child labor to complicity with abusive security forces to government censorship – and have drawn management lessons from their mistakes. Companies reacting to the immigration ban are pursuing many strategies used by companies seeking to meet their human rights responsibilities, but without articulating any conceptual framework for their actions.
The business and human rights movement provides a roadmap for managing business risks under Trump. Executives and managers looking for a conceptual framework to organize their responses to Trump’s policies, and road-tested tools to manage them, can apply the corporate responsibility to respect human rights to their United States operations.
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect Human Rights
The business and human rights movement provides a roadmap for managing business risks under Trump.
“Business and human rights” is a management discipline that has emerged over the past three decades. An international benchmark, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011) (PDF), reflects the working consensus among business, governments and civil society on what companies can do to meet their corporate responsibility to respect human rights. Specifically, companies must:
Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur; and
Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.
To meet this standard, companies have adopted human rights policies, are conducting due diligence to understand the human rights impacts of their operations and business relationships, and finding ways to prevent, mitigate and remedy adverse human rights impacts.
Most attention has focused on the human rights impacts of multinationals outside their home countries, typically in places where corporate activity is connected to human rights violations – like child labor, human trafficking and torture – and where legal accountability for perpetrators and remedies for victims are lacking. The most familiar examples are sweatshops in global apparel supply chains and complicity with abusive security forces by oil and mining companies, but advocates have shined a spotlight on the human rights impacts of companies in sectors ranging from agriculture and consumer products to healthcare and technology.
Business and Human Rights under Trump
The business and human rights landscape in the United States shifted dramatically with the election of Donald Trump.
The business and human rights landscape in the United States shifted dramatically with the election of Donald Trump.
The prospect of stronger U.S. government action to protect individuals from corporate misconduct has vanished. One of the final initiatives of the Obama administration in December 2016 was the release of a U.S. National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct describing the federal policies and governmental expectations for the conduct of U.S corporations operating abroad, including their responsibility to respect human rights consistent with the UN Guiding Principles. Corporate accountability advocates are rightly concerned that the Trump administration will fail to consistently implement the laws and policies contained in the National Action Plan. The ideology and policy prescriptions of Trump’s advisors and cabinet, abetted by Republicans in Congress, means the likely weakening of protections for consumers, workers, and communities against corporate abuses under federal U.S. law, especially concerning the activities of U.S. companies abroad. Regulations of corporate conduct are more likely to be stripped than strengthened. (One exception may be the issue of tax avoidance, for which companies could face greater scrutiny if Trump’s rhetoric becomes policy.) The modest federal human rights reporting requirements enacted during the past decade, like the conflict mineral provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, are already targeted for elimination. The Trump regime may even stop prosecuting companies for bribing foreign officials under the Foreign Corrupt Practice Act. Advocates will have to rely on other tools to promote corporate responsibility for human rights impacts.
Absent government enforcement, voluntary corporate action has become the backstop for meeting the corporate responsibility to respect human rights in the United States. The policy shift in Washington may be good news for business executives who subscribe to a “profits at all costs” business model. It is deeply troubling, however, for the business leaders, managers and employees who know that business success in the long run (beyond the next earnings cycle) is inextricably tied to meeting the expectations of customers, investors and employees that companies demonstrate corporate responsibility, their so-called “license to operate.” Leading companies, especially those companies that have integrated compliance and human rights standards into the way they do business, are unlikely to make bribery or human rights violations part of their business plans. Unethical executives will be less likely to get caught, but responsible companies will continue to comply with the spirit of the UN Guiding Principles. U.S. federal regulators may be instructed to look the other way when companies do harm, but the corporate responsibility spotlight now shines brighter than ever on business operations in the United States.
In a complete role reversal, business leaders may need to mobilize to hold the U.S. government accountable for protecting human rights and obeying the Constitution. U.S. companies face the real prospect of human rights violations connected to their operations much closer to home. Multinationals operating in the United States will be asked to demonstrate that they are respecting human rights whenever U.S. government policies fall short of international standards, and significantly, if government actions violate the United States Constitution. Businesses will also face pressure, as they are right now regarding the immigration ban, to deploy corporate resources as a check on the U.S. government.
Rights under Threat
The corporate responsibility spotlight now shines brighter than ever on business operations in the United States.
Internationally recognized human rights threatened by proposed actions of the Trump administration include the rights to non-discrimination; to recognition and equality before the law; to protection from arbitrary arrest and from interference with privacy; to personal security; to freedom of opinion and expression; to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; to political participation; and to freedom of association. These rights, defined under international law in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights and labor treaties, are the focus of corporate efforts to manage their human rights impacts outside the United States. Other rights that have received less attention by most companies may now come into play, such as prohibitions of “propaganda for war” and “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” (ICCPR, Article 20), and the right of “ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities” to “enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religions, or to use their own language.” (ICCPR, Article 27). The Trump campaign and administration have demonstrated a willingness to engage in such tactics in the United States, and to target minorities.
The Corporate Responsibility to Respect the U.S. Constitution
Companies operating in the United States should consider the U.S. Constitution together with the international human rights instruments to define their potential human rights impacts. Most internationally recognized human rights are protected in some form under United States law at the federal, state and/or local level. The United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights, for example, enumerates rights including the free exercise of religion (First Amendment): the freedoms of speech, of the press, and of assembly (First Amendment); freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures (Fourth Amendment); the right to vote (Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, Twenty-Sixth Amendments); and the rights to citizenship, due process and equal protection of the law (Fourteenth Amendment).
Companies can add “US Constitutional rights” to human rights principles as another lens through which they manage the impacts of their operations in the United States.
Companies can add “US Constitutional rights” to human rights principles as another lens through which they manage the impacts of their operations in the United States. If federal, state or local authorities in the United States engage in systematic discrimination; target individuals or groups for harassment based on national origin or religion; curtail press freedoms; seek to arrest undocumented individuals; separate children from their families; or arbitrarily restrict the right to vote; their actions or omissions are likely to be both unconstitutional and violate international human rights.
Human Rights Impact Management
In the Trump era, companies must exercise due diligence to identify, prevent and mitigate the domestic human rights impacts of their operations and business relationships in the United States.
Companies can manage the risks of contributing or being connected to government actions that violate human and Constitutional rights using the same concepts and tools that apply a human rights lens to their non-U.S. operations. In the Trump era, companies must exercise due diligence to identify, prevent and mitigate the domestic human rights impacts of their operations and business relationships in the United States.
If U.S. government action violates rights, companies must take steps not to cause or contribute to any of the human rights impacts, and must be prepared to respond appropriately when any of these scenarios touch their people, products, or partners.
Companies should be prepared to do five things to manage their human rights impacts and meet their responsibilities to respect rights under Trump:
1. Protect employees.
When government actions threaten or harm employees, companies must act to support and protect them. The priority for companies in the wake of the immigration ban has been to identify affected employees, ensure their safety, and provide assistance, such as travel, legal and financial support. Providing employees with clear, accurate information about the immigration ban and its impact, so that individuals can take action to protect themselves and their families, is a first step companies can take to meet their responsibility to employees. Employees are the stakeholder group companies can help most directly, but businesses must also consider how to support and protect others connected to their particular business, such as customers, business partners and the communities where they operate.
2. Avoid complicity.
Companies must ensure that they are not contributing to rights violations in any way. A practical first step for businesses is to apply international standards for effective human rights due diligence, such as human rights impact assessments, to their corporate operations and business relationships in the United States. Airlines that refuse to allow passage to refugees in the wake of the immigration ban, for example, are at risk of complicity with violations of the right to seek asylum under international law. Particularly important will be corporate relationships with the U.S. government, its agencies and the Trump administration. CEOs serving as advisors to the Trump administration are already attracting extra scrutiny from customers and rights advocates. If the Trump administration were to attempt to detain all undocumented residents of the United Sates or to create a national registry based on religious belief, companies should not provide information nor supply products or services that would foreseeably contribute to rights violations.
Once a company understands how its operations, products or relationships are connected to potential or actual rights violations in the United States, the business must act to cease or prevent its own violation or contribution, and use its leverage to prevent and mitigate violations by others. Exercising leverage may take the form of challenging rights violations or opposing harmful policies. Companies connected to human rights violations committed by government security forces outside the United States have intervened with government authorities seeking to prevent the violations, promoted standard-setting and training initiatives to prevent future violations, and have ended business relationships to ensure they are not connected to violations. U.S. companies are beginning to use their leverage, individually and collectively, to prevent and mitigate the impact of the immigration ban. One can imagine scenarios in which companies refuse to provide goods or services to U.S. government agencies violating rights, or in the case of non-U.S. companies, pull out of the U.S. market altogether if the violations are sufficiently severe.
3. Mitigate harmful impacts.
When companies are unable to stop harmful policies and actions by others, they can seek to mitigate the negative impact on their employees, customers, business partners and communities. Companies have sought to comply with the spirit of international human rights standards outside the United States by protecting rights “within the factory walls.” Brands sourcing from factories in China, for example, where independent trade unions are banned, have promoted the creation of factory worker councils to bring concerns over working conditions to management. Businesses must consider ways to ensure that their U.S. workplaces provide safe spaces where individual rights are protected. Adopting workplace policies reinforcing a commitment to non-discrimination and prohibiting the harassment of any individual based on national origin or immigration status is one concrete way to meet the corporate responsibility to respect rights.
4. Challenge rights violations.
Companies must obey the laws wherever they operate, yet the corporate responsibility to respect human rights goes beyond legal compliance. What is lawful may still violate an individual’s rights. Challenges arise for companies when local law or its enforcement conflicts with international standards. Companies must be prepared to challenge government actions that are unconstitutional or violate human rights.
In countries where laws explicitly contradict international human rights standards, companies have found ways to minimize their connection to human rights violations by others. In China, Brazil and elsewhere, for example, foreign technology firms have insisted upon valid judicial orders before acquiescing to demands from government officials to turn over personally identifiable user information for questionable purposes. Companies may face similar situations in the United States if asked by law enforcement authorities to turn over personal information related to their employees’ or customers’ national origin, immigration status or religious beliefs. Businesses can exhaust all available legal processes, as Apple successfully refused to collaborate with the FBI to unlock encrypted iPhones, and challenge the legality of government actions in court, as some companies are now doing in opposition to the immigration ban. Companies can also communicate publicly about government actions that violate rights, using transparency to highlight actual and potential rights violations. Since 2009, for example, Google has published a “Transparency Report” with data on government requests to hand over user data, and how the company responds. Companies will need to be more transparent about what the U.S. government under Trump asks them to do, and the likely consequences of compliance.
Corporate advocacy is most effective when it reinforces company values. U.S. companies in recent years have publicly opposed state laws in the United States that would permit discrimination based on sexual preference. Since the election, U.S. companies have spoken out to let their stakeholders know where they stand on the most extreme Trump proposals.
When engaging in public advocacy on rights issues in the United States, companies will need to overcome any cultural reluctance to speak out publicly. This will seem even riskier because Trump has embraced the “naming and shaming” of individual companies to advance his political agenda. Companies at the center of the business and human rights movement, however, understand that customers, employees and investors often view corporate silence in the face of rights violations as tacit complicity.
Human rights impact management accounts for all of these strategies.
The discipline that accounts for all of these strategies is human rights impact management, an approach that more and more business leaders may now embrace to effectively manage the Trump administration. What is your company doing to meet its corporate responsibility to respect rights in the United States?
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