The Difference between High Stakes Performance and High Stakes Jobs

Current research suggests that first responders and protective service personnel are under more distress and suffering from higher rates of potential trauma, PTSD, and secondary trauma than ever before. If we want to continue to be able to rely on them to rescue us when we need them, we should be providing them with the latest research-based training and support available.

Disasters, both man-made and natural, are a worldwide and increasing phenomenon (Federal Emergency Management Act [FEMA], 2011; Johnson, Ronan, Johnston, & Peace, 2014; Saul, 2013), and more of the population will become vulnerable to natural disasters over the next several decades (Johnson et al., 2014). As stated in an executive summary report to Congress by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security (2013), “we are facing increasing risks and mounting costs from disasters in the near- and long-term future” (p. iii), and “the worldwide loss of life and economic disruption caused by disasters is an increasing focus of attention” (p. 2). While there are calls for an increase in the focus of attention on disasters which, are driven by the increase in the frequency, intensity of, and human vulnerability to natural disasters (FEMA, 2011; Johnson, and Ronan, 2014; Saul, 2013), there does not seem to be an equal focus on an increase in training and support for first responders.

Current research suggests that first responders and protective service personnel are under more distress and suffering from higher rates of potential trauma, PTSD, and secondary trauma than ever before. If we want to continue to be able to rely on them to rescue us when we need them, we should be providing them with the latest research-based training and support available.

http://www.thehoodgroupllc.com

References

Federal Emergency Management Agency (2011). A whole community approach to emergency management: Principles, themes, and pathways for action. Retrieved from http://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/20130726-1813-25045-0649/whole_community_dec2011__2_.pdf

Johnson, V. A., & Ronan, K. R. (2014). Classroom responses of New Zealand school teachers following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Natural Hazards72(2), 1075-1092.

Johnson, V. A., Ronan, K. R., Johnston, D. M., & Peace, R. (2014). Evaluations of disaster education programs for children: A methodological review. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction9, 107-123.

Saul, J. (2013). Collective trauma, collective healing: Promoting community resilience in the aftermath of disaster (Vol. 48). London, UK: Routledge.

Thapa, A., Cohen, J., Guffey, S., & Higgins-D’Alessandro, A. (2013). A review of school climate research. Review of Educational Research83(3), 357-385.

Increasing First Responder Suicide Rates Spark Concern. Retrieved from: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/pennsylvania/articles/2017-03-25/increasing-first-responder-suicide-rates-spark-concern

“Smiling doesn’t win you gold medals”

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What Simone Biles can teach us about High Stakes Performance

– Lorie Hood

“Smiling doesn’t win you gold medals” was a shot heard round the world. And it’s about time.

As a High-Stakes Performance expert, I read people for a living. As a former gymnast and professional dancer, I understand a thing or two about performance and dance. As a woman and mother of two children, I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face after hearing Simone Biles respond to the host on “Dancing with The Stars” Monday night.

The Question  The question really wasn’t a question, it was a statement posed as a pseudo-question, and it demanded a response. Well, that and the microphone host Tom Bergeron shoved in Biles’ face while allowing the silence to hang in the air. “I was waiting for you to smile at some of the compliments, you didn’t” said Bergeron. Translation: “What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t appropriately fawning over the judges? They gave you some compliments and you should be grateful and smiling to have gotten their compliments.”

The Pause  Biles was uncomfortable and understandably so. Bergeron’s statement placed her in a tough position; she could choose to conform and play along with him or say what she was really thinking. Make no mistake, Simone Biles didn’t get where she is by always smiling and conforming however, she didn’t do it by blurting out every thought that crossed her mind, either.

The Mind and Body of a High Stakes Performer  As a researcher of High Stakes Performers, I was fascinated by watching how quickly Biles cycled through her emotions, thoughts, and choices. Her face and body language revealed everything from confusion and frustration to fear and anger, yet she managed all the external and internal stimuli and calmly came to a place of resolution.

The long-hand version was (consciously and unconsciously) likely the product of the following: Ms. Biles has gotten the message most girls do growing up in American Society. If she smiles and conforms with social norms, she will be rewarded. Yes, this is still the case in 2017. Even search engines support these biases. A recent study showed that Bing more often retrieved photos of women when searching for “warm traits” such as “emotional” and retrieved photos of men when terms like “rational” were used. The researchers even observed a backlash effect, where individuals who did not fit socially accepted norms were penalized.

Because of this conditioning, Ms. Biles experienced all the pressure placed upon her just like any other young American woman. However, she is different. Very different.

The Resistance of the Pressure to Conform  As an athlete with a High Stakes Performance mindset, I saw a young woman carefully assessing her response. Indeed, her response may have been to smile and go along with what was expected of her prior to her “four gold medals” stage of life. The point is that she is consciously aware of herself, her feelings and how what she says and does will affect her and those around her. This is the ability of a High Stakes Performer – to be “conscious self-evaluators who are consistently present for themselves and their work” (Hood, 2015). For the opposite of this, read about, Choking Under Pressure.

The Response  Bergeron (and most of those watching) fully expected Mes. Biles to smile, be “polite” and self-deprecating which is what he wanted or he wouldn’t have presented her with a question/statement that placed her in a (nearly) no win situation. Faced with the choice to give him what is expected or allow her true self to come through, she chose the latter because “Smiling doesn’t win you gold medals.”

Ahhh…can I just write that again? “Smiling doesn’t win you gold medals.”

Thank you Ms. Biles.

And now it’s up to the rest of us. Do we, as a society, put her back into the good girl box or do we applaud her for allowing us to see how a true High Stakes Performer responds to pressure?

 

Why “Like-minded” People are Killing Your Growth

Why “Like-minded” People are Killing Your Growth

I tend to like people who agree with me. They are make me feel heard and often validate my self-perception. When I surround myself with “like minded” people my world feels safe, predictable and under control. However, if I never hear an idea or opinion that differs from mine, how will I deepen my thinking or broaden my worldview?

Scientists call this tendency to surround ourselves with people who agree with us Confirmation Bias and our brains are hard-wired for it. It is part of what makes us social beings and has helped us survive as a species for millennia. It also means that we often ignore or are unconsciously threatened by things that contradict our world view (Knoblauch-Westerwick and Meng, 2009). Confirmation bias accounts for our tendency to make choices based on information that supports our biases and assumptive worldview. Information from things like religion, political affiliations, and social groups. Not only do we make choices to belong to groups comprised of individuals who confirm our views, we are also influenced by individuals who belong to those same groups, institutions, affiliations.

Behavioral economist Dan Ariely has found that our decisions are strongly influenced by our environment in what he calls the everybody else is doing it effect (Ariely, 2014). He found, through his studies on lying and unethical behavior, that when individuals identified a person as part of their social group (read: “like minded”) they were more likely to adopt the other person’s behavior. In Ariely’s research, students who saw a participant who was a fellow student (in this case Princeton) cheat and get by with it, they were more likely to cheat as well.

If we tend to surround ourselves with people who confirm our worldview and if we are influenced by those same individuals, how much more powerful are these influences with the addition of social media?

Social Media

Social media is defined as social communities that use forms of electronic communication for users to share information, photos, videos, personal messages and other online content (Merriam Webster, 2016).

Social media has also taken the “everybody else is doing it” effect to a whole new level. Given that it has only been around since 2009, and only increasing, the true effects of social media are yet to be determined. What we do know is that social media transmits messages rapidly and exponentially, and is a natural conduit for, and likely amplifies confirmation bias. In addition, most social media is, at best, a disconnected (non-face to face) form of communication and, at worst, completely anonymous.

How our Communication has Changed Since the Birth of our Nation

Unlike the myriad options to communicate and form social groups today, in the early part of our nation’s development, there were only a few; and they were, by today’s standards, grindingly slow. One could speak to others face to face, read a newspaper or other written publication, disseminate flyers or other written material or communicate through public debate, forum or other physical gathering. Through these types of communication, one was often face to face with the person or persons with whom they were communicating, which would provide a natural and very human way to debate and discuss ideas, morals, values and opinions.

Another natural important difference between communication during the early years of our nation and communication today is time. Precisely because written transmissions of communication were so slow, they allowed time for people not only to talk face to face and to absorb and process their own thoughts and feelings, but time to reflect upon the ideas of those around them. Thus, the process of confirming one’s world view was a slow, deep, ongoing and bounded. There were only a limited number of individuals within one’s social circle because there was limited access to those outside one’s physical proximity. This bounded social grouping was important. If one disagreed with another, there was a certain amount of interaction that one was forced to have with that person-like it or not. Today, one has access, through the internet, to anyone else who has a computer in the entire world. And through social media, one can select those who confirm their world view with the click of a mouse or a quick change of settings, thus, narrowing and refining one’s world view and confirming one’s biases.

So the next time someone disagrees with you, take the time to consider their opinion, and perhaps respond with a thoughtful question. If you change your “settings” instead of the settings on your computer, you might be surprised at how much you can grow.

Exploring Dance and Movement Through Intuition – Lorie Hood

Abstract

Through a review of the literature on the subtle senses – specifically the intersection between intuition and the behavioral sciences – and dance, this paper explores the logical connection between the intuition and dance. The author further explores, through a phenomenological approach, the nature and use of insight and how they inform movement and create dance, as well as how dance in turn may inform the self through the channel of intuition.

               Keywords: intuition, movement, dance, intuitive dance

 

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to explore the potential healing benefits of dance and movement through the experience of intuition. While dance has been used therapeutically for decades by professional dance therapists, and dancers have throughout recorded history tacitly acknowledged using intuition in their dancing, there has been very little scholarly attention given to a direct connection between intuition and therapeutic dance.

Many artists acknowledge unconscious, intuitive and spiritual processes in their creative work. Also, intuition is often mentioned in the literature on the arts, health, education and management. However, the subject of intuition has not been established as a clearly delineated line of inquiry (Hodgkinson, Langan-Fox & Sadler-Smith, 2008). This disconnect between literature and practice is problematic for those seeking to further explore intuitive processes and emotional integration through dance, or those who wish to use their intuitive abilities and dance to help others.

This issue extends to dancers and dance therapists who often acknowledge intuition as part of their experience. Because there is so little research on the nature and role of how intuition may inform movement, it appears that intuition is being used therapeutically without scientific evidence to support it. Explicit exploration is needed to help begin to ground the professional practice of movement and dance in evidence-based research.

Definition of Terms

            Merriam Webster defines movement as “a physical motion between points in space” (Movement, 2017), and dance as “a sequence of rhythmic steps or movements usually performed to music, for pleasure or as a form of social interaction” (Dance, 2017). Intuitive Dance is “an extension of interpretive dance, is experienced primarily through the subtle senses and holds the potential for self-healing for the dancer” (Hood, 2017).

Intuition and Insight

Although intuition is colloquially discussed and generally acknowledged as an important aspect of being human, historically there has been very little research on intuition, especially as it applies to the psychological sciences. As a group, psychologists have been “reluctant to acknowledge intuition as a viable construct, often consigning it to the ‘fringes’ of the field of psychology, within the realm of parapsychology, telepathy and premonition (see e.g. Claxton, 2000; Klein, 2003) and to esoteric and ‘New Age thinking” (Boucouvalas, 1997).

However, as noted by one prominent researcher on intuition, over the past two decades, “The number of experimental studies of phenomena described as ‘intuition’ has increased.” (Osbeck, 1999, p. 232). Given that Osbeck’s statement was made nearly two decades ago, there is currently four decades of research on intuition. In addition, both lay and academic interest in the intuitive processes seems to be growing across divergent domains with books like Blink (Gladwell, 2005), The Upside of Irrationality (Ariely, 2010), The Invisible Gorilla (Chabris & Simons, 2010), and Gut Feelings (Gigerenzer, 2007).

It is important to separate the term intuition from other constructs that have historically overlapped in the research literature. The term intuition was used to describe a process, the product of which was called an intuitive judgment (Dane & Pratt, 2007). It was further described as an impulse to act, a sense of knowing, or a judgment that was not the product of a rational, conscious thought process. Insight was defined as a new and conscious thought that appeared suddenly, especially when conscious attendance to creating the insight had been absent (Dane & Pratt, 2007; Hodgkinson et al.). Insight was commonly referred to as an ah-ha or light bulb moment because of its sudden appearance from seemingly nowhere (Dane & Pratt, 2007).

Another perspective came from Hodgkinson, Langan-Fox, and Sadler-Smith (2008), who published a review of the literature across several domains within the behavioral sciences. In their book, Intuition, A Fundamental Bridging Construct in the Behavioral Sciences, they adopted a definition provided by Dane and Pratt (2007). Intuition is a “non-conscious process involving holistic associations that are produced rapidly which result in affectively charged judgments” (Hodgkinson, Langan-Fox, & Sadler-Smith, 2008, p. 36). In addition, several authors they reviewed described intuition as part of a dual-process system of cognition and specified it as automatic, non-rational, unconscious, affect-laden, experiential, associative, holistic system of processing.

Osbeck (1999) conceptualized intuition by dividing it into three attributes: (a) an unconscious process, (b) an inferential process akin to conscious processes, and, (c) irrational rather than rational. Osbeck also placed these attributes within the context of two distinct but parallel systems of processing which supported the findings of Hodgkinson, Langan-Fox, and Sadler-Smith. Based on Osbeck, and the many authors that were reviewed, a consensual dual-process conception is a “highly plausible framework for understanding the dynamics of intuitive and analytic processing” (Hodgkinson et al., p. 12).

Movement

Movement is not dance (Movement, 2017). Movement is simply moving from one point in space to another. While it can be deduced from this that dance is movement, based on this definition, movement is not necessarily dance. What then makes movement dance? What makes movement into dance is the human part of a human being. It is not music, not professional dance training nor even the intention to dance. What makes movements become a dance is the life infused into it by the dancing human. As John Blacking (1977) put it in his book, The Anthropology of the Body, “All that is known about the minds of non-human animals is derived from observation of their movements, gestures and non-verbal communication: much can be learnt about the human animal when it is studied in the same way” (p. 16). While every human being experiences movement, understanding their intuitive process necessitates focusing on intentional movements – and the experiences of those choosing to move and dance.

Dance

Artists and philosophers have, throughout history and across multiple domains, acknowledged unconscious, intuitive and spiritual processes in creative work. Some have even said that their art was not a product of their own but that of God. Friedrich Nietzsche said, “I could believe only in a God who would know how to dance.” (Nietzsche, 1896. p. 49). Martha Graham, who was known as the grandmother of modern dance, once stated, “Dancers are the messengers of the gods” (Graham, 1953).

Carlos Santana, one of the most famous guitarists of all time, not only alluded to being connected with intuition but described going into his guitar or going into a note. “I’m curious about how to penetrate in­side the note” (Santana, 2017, para. 10). When asked in an interview, “You talk a lot about trances. Do you go there when you hit one of those long notes?” he responded, “You have to give yourself chills before anyone else gets them. I become less of a ringmaster. I forget to correct anyone onstage. I just go into my guitar. I can see the rest of the musicians going, ‘Yep, he’s hungry, and he’s helping himself'” (Santana, 2017, para. 12).

Intuitive Dance

An overview of the literature revealed that there was no scholarly definition of intuitive dance. Indeed, the definition that most closely approximates the exploration of dance through the subtle senses is the definition of interpretive dance provided by Merriam-Webster. Interpretive dance is “a form of modern dance in which the dancer’s movements depict an emotion or tell a story. A style of theatrical dancing that is not as restricted as classical ballet; movements are expressive of feelings” (Interprative dance, 2017). Another helpful view comes from Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (1966/2015), whose seminal 1966 book, The Phenomenology of Dance, elegantly described the way in which people intuitively experience dance.

When a dance is there for us, we intuitively know that it is there; something alive and vibrant is happening on the stage, and as we are totally engaged in our experience of that happening, we too are alive and vibrant: we have a lived experience. Judgements, beliefs, interpretations are suspended: our experience of the dance is free from any manner of reflection. (p.1)

Phenomenological Experience

            Throughout the research for this paper, I have undertaken a phenomenological approach to integrate the scholarly and anecdotal literature with my own experience as a dancer. Despite not having had any formal dance training until the age of 23, I choreographed and performed from the age of nine and was a professional touring dancer by the age of 19. This lack of formal training was often a disadvantage for me as a professional dancer and choreographer because I did not always speak the same dance language as other professionals. However, the experience of growing from childhood to adulthood and experiencing dance without the imposition of others became an advantage as a researcher.  The following describes a narrative between and with myself and another person, capturing this untrained experiential phenomenon of dance.

“Do you always dance with your eyes closed?”

I open my eyes and become aware of a slight jarring of my senses. I respond with something like, “Um…yeah. I guess.” Feeling a little annoyed and imposed upon, I take a deep breath and let it out in an attempt to release my negative feelings. I open my eyes       completely and reorient myself to the room. The lights are low – almost off – because I           don’t need them when I dance. I only need them to navigate my way to and from the    room.

“Do you always dance with the lights off?”

Again, I feel annoyed and as if he is asking me to share something sacred. As I listen to    my thoughts and feel my bodily and emotional reactions, I also become aware that I am             feeling superior, as if my ego is in charge.

“Why the silly questions?”

I think this to myself, but I want to say it out loud. However, when I look at his face, I see            a child-like look of something that approaches wonder. He smiles and says, “Aren’t you      afraid you are going to bump into something or fall?”

            The above interaction initiated a profound shift in self-perception. In the matter of a few minutes, I had gone from a lifetime of feeling as if I was at a disadvantage as a dancer because I lacked professional training to the realization that instead, my lack of training was a gift. Because I had learned to dance by listening to myself and my impulses to move, rather than someone else telling me how to move my body, I had honed my intuition. I was and am simply a human being who dances. The fact that I am a researcher and scholar only compliments my experience and, hopefully, allows me to understand and communicate my experience to others more effectively.

I have always danced alone for the pure joy of the experience of moving my body, the only exceptions being when I was pregnant or with my children and when they were young. When my babies were too young to walk, I danced with them in my arms. When they were older, they danced with me or sometimes watched me dance. They never asked me why I closed my eyes when I danced.

            Given the conceptual model adopted for this paper, which describes intuition as part of a dual-process system of cognition that is an automatic, non-rational, unconscious, affect-laden, experiential, associative, holistic system of processing, I have come to realize that perhaps I have been dancing through intuition my entire life. In reflecting further on my history with dance, I also realized that I have danced intuitively for self-healing. I recalled times when I danced my anger or sadness, for hopes and dreams. I have danced joy and love and gratitude. I have danced myself and I have danced my life.

           

References

Ariely, D. (2010). The upside of irrationality: The unexpected benefits of defying logic. New        York, NY: Harper Collins.

Blacking, J. (Ed.). (1977), The Anthropology of the body London: Academic Press.

Chabris, C., & Simons, D. (2010). The invisible gorilla: And other ways our intuitions deceive us. New York, NY: Crown Archetype.

Movement. (2017). In Merriam Webster’s collegiate dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/movement

Dane, E., & Pratt, M. (2007). Exploring intuition and its role in managerial

decision making. Academy of Management Review, 32(1), 33-54.

Fricke, D. (2017) Q & A: Carlos Santana. Rolling Stone Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/carlos-santana-20080612

Gigerenzer, G. (2007). Gut instincts: The intelligence of the unconscious. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Company.

Graham, M. (1953). Dancers are the messengers of the gods. Website. Retrieved from http://www.quotegarden.com/dancing.html

Hodgkinson, G.P., Langan-Fox, J. & Sadler-Smith, E. (2008). Intuition: A fundamental bridging construct in the behavioral sciences. British Journal of Psychology, 99, 1-27.

Interpretive Dance. (2017). In Merriam Webster’s collegiate dictionary. Retrieved from: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/interpretivedance

Movement. (2017). In Merriam Webster’s collegiate dictionary. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/movement

Nietzsche. F. (1896), Thus spake Zarathustra: A book for all and none. (A. Tille, Trans.). Website. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/thusspakezaralt00nietuoft

Osbeck, L. M. (1999).  Conceptual problems in the development of a psychological

notion of “intuition.” Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 29(3), 229-250.

Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2015). The phenomenology of dance. Philadelphia, PA: Temple

University Press. (Original work published in 1966).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

High Stakes Performance: What it is and (more importantly) what it isn’t

jetBy: Lorie Hood

“A High Stakes Performer is someone upon whose ability to consistently perform at their potential rests the win or loss of something of great importance.”  ~ Lorie Hood

Merriam Webster defines “stakes” as “something you could win or lose as in a contest” and “high” in the context of “high stakes” as “of great relative importance.”

Performance is defined as, “the execution of an action, the fulfillment of a claim, promise, or request and the ability to perform.”

Given the above, a simple definition of a “High Stakes Performer” is: Someone upon whose ability to perform rests the win or loss of something of great importance.

I first conceptualized the term “High Stakes Performer” (HSP) well over a decade ago as a researcher working with profoundly intelligent individuals. I had worked through the research on intelligence and creativity, motivation and eminence, nature and nurture, under achievement and perfectionism. I had, by about midway through my doctoral training, successfully raised two profoundly intelligent children and been identified as profoundly intelligent myself. I had figured out that high intelligence did not equal high performance. It did not equal success or happiness either. What I had not figured out (nor had anyone else) was what made some people able to perform at high levels while others were not? More specifically, why were some individuals with more than enough intelligence, opportunity, education, support, and other things that we as researchers believed were predictive of “success” winding up wildly unsuccessful, while many we were identifying as “high risk” were succeeding in terms of fulfillment, performance, happiness and, well, life!

Part of the answer came when I defined “success” differently however, much of it came in realizing what HSP was not.

It took almost another decade of research on trauma, posttraumatic growth and resilience and well over 1,000 interviews and case studies to come to my current understanding of what High Stakes Performance is and, more importantly, what it is not.

  • High Stakes Performance is not simply being a top producer. While HSP’s are high producers, high producers are not necessarily HSP’s.
  • High Stakes Performance is not simply being a top performer. There must be a high stakes component to the equation. For example, an attorney working a death penalty case.
  • High Stakes Performance is not simply working in a performance position where you earn a high income. Yes, many HSP’s are top income earners however, income is not what drives them.
  • High Stakes Performance is not being a rainmaker and, in fact, many of them resist being “reduced” to being “only” a rainmaker.
  • High Stakes Performers are multipotentialities. They have likely struggled with multipotentiality as a child and even into adulthood however, they have learned how to use it to serve their choices. It does not debilitate them.
  • High Stakes Performance is not simply having a lot of power however, they are some of the most powerful people you will meet, they seek a different kind of power. HSP’s seek a power that comes from the personal satisfaction of putting their abilities to good use.
  • High Stakes Performers rarely drink, use drugs or engage in other numbing behaviors.
  • High Stakes Performers tend to be very intuitive and use a balance of intuition and pragmatism. They consult from a place of heart and mind.
  • High Stakes Performance is not (and this is a biggie) being able to white knuckle it, apply all your assets, skills and abilities and then be crumble and be unable to perform for the next several weeks to months. True HSP’s do not burn out because they have trained to access, at will, any of their abilities at any given time. They have also honed their ability to”turn off” skills and parts of themselves to which they do not need access. This highly trained ability to only access what is needed in the moment conserves mental, physical, psychological, emotional and other forms of energy.
  • High Stakes Performance is not easily won. There are very few true HSP’s out there and those who are the real deal have worked at self- mastery on multiple levels for a very long time. When you meet them, you will know them. They somehow ride the edge between the mundane and overwhelm. They can be calm and smooth yet accomplish amazing things in less time than most of us. They are neither ego driven nor self-effacing. They hold their place in the universe without apology. They feel powerful yet safe to be around. True High Stakes Performers can teach us all how to handle the high stakes situations and events in our own lives.

 

 

 

This is Your Brain. This is Your Brain on Politics.

This is Your Brain. This is Your Brain on Politics.

social-media

By Lorie Hood

thehoodgroupllc.com

The 2016 presidential election will no doubt go down in history as one of the most polarizing and divisive events in American history. The question is, why? Political historians, journalists and scholars have long documented what has become known as dirty politics and most trace the beginnings of it back to 1800 when Thomas Jefferson fought John Adams for control of the Presidency. In his book Mudslingers: The 25 Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time (2008), political professor and author Kerwin Swint cites the 2004 presidential race between George W. Bush and John Kerry and the 1970 Alabama Democratic primary between George Wallace and Albert Brewer as two of the most vicious battles in American history. However, when he published his book in 2008, the depths to which American political processes would fall were unknown.

Political Ethics

Political Ethics is defined as the study of the morality of political action. It is generally divided into the two concentrations; the ethics of policy which focuses on judgments about policies and laws, and the ethics of process which studies public officials, their behavior and methods they use. The latter, is the focus of this article.

If politics processes have been “dirty” and candidates have engaged in “mudslinging” since the birth of our nation, what is different about the current political climate? What has made it so polarizing? Is the behavior of political candidates that much worse than it was in 1800? Are the words that they use more offensive? Are the tactics more immoral or illegal? Have public officials, their behavior and methods changed that radically since the birth of our nation or have we and the technology we use changed them and thus, the process of political ethics?

Words

Jefferson’s men referred to Adams as having a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman” (p. 57). Adams’ cohorts called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” The slurs were insulting for their time and the words and labels were used as weapons just as they are today. Words like fool, hypocrite, criminal, and tyrant were used to attack Adams’ character while Jefferson was labeled with words like atheist, libertine, weakling and coward (Swint, 2008).

Although at the time there was no such thing as actively “campaigning” for political office, Jefferson did give birth to the first “hatchet man” by hiring a man named James Callendar to spread rumors about Adams. To his credit as a man but his downfall as a politician, Adams considered himself above such schemes. Callendar convinced enough Americans that Adams wanted to attack France and although this was untrue, Jefferson defeated Adams in the election.

The First Amendment

First Amendment to our Constitution provides:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (U. S. Constitution).

When we refer to the first amendment, we generally think of it as the granting of the freedom of speech however, the first amendment was written to protect unpopular political speech; a specific kind of speech called “core political speech.” Core political speech consists of words and behavior that are intended to gain public support for a specific candidate, issue, or position. The Supreme Court has ruled that the discussion of the qualifications of candidates are necessary forms of political expression and integral to our system of government (Buckley v. Valeo, 1976). As such, they have provided an interpretation of the first amendment that allows citizens and candidates to say nearly anything without the risk of the law being used to silence them.

Restrictions are rarely placed upon core political speech and when they are they must weather “strict scrutiny” analysis. The primary exception to this would be within the context of the electoral process, whereby the Supreme Court has ruled that suffrage or standing for political office as a candidate are not political speech and thus can be subjected to significant regulations; such restrictions have been upheld in Buckley v. Valeo. Thus, circulating flyers, posting signs and making speeches are all forms of core political speech, so long as they address social issues, political positions, parties, candidates, government officials, or governmental activities.

supreme-court-building-1209701_640

Enter SCOTUS

While it may appear that smearing one’s opponent’s character, name calling and slander have been a part of American politics from the beginning, there is a critical difference between the politics of 1800 and 2016: Jefferson’s hatchet man was punished for his unethical behavior. Recall that the ethics of process focuses on public officials, their behavior and the methods they use. As such, the ethics of process in the 1800’s supported the idea that spreading lies about one’s political opponent was a punishable offense. Thus, Callendar was sentenced to jail for slander. When did we transition from a society that refused to tolerate slander and viewed lying as unethical to one that not only accepts it but expects it as part of the political process?

The Supreme Court and Changes to the Process of Ethics

The political landscape surrounding the first amendment and the ethics of political process dramatically changed in 1960 when U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan.The Supreme Court overturned the Appellate Court’s decision with the following opinion:

“We consider this case against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials” (1960-1969).

The Court continued with “erroneous statement is inevitable in free debate” and that punishing critics of public officials for any factual errors would chill speech about matters of public interest. The high court established a rule for defamation cases that dominates modern-day American libel law. The Court wrote:

“The constitutional guarantees require, we think, a federal rule that prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with ‘actual malice’ — that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not” (376 U.S. 254).

The Court required a public official defamation plaintiff to show evidence of actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth by “convincing clarity” or clear and convincing evidence. This threshold has meant that many defamation defendants have stopped defamation suits before they go to a jury.

Thus, the gloves came off.

It is difficult to argue with the above Supreme Court opinion and while the language is clear that any statement must possess actual malice for it to be considered illegal, there were also unwritten rules about how far one could push the boundaries of what the public collectively deems acceptable—until now.

Unwritten rules

Within the context of political ethics, unwritten rules are behavioral constraints imposed on individual candidates that are not voiced or written down. They are part of a collective agreement within a group or society and are supported through tacit assumptions. Unwritten rules allow groups of people to feel emotionally and psychologically safe because they create predictable behavior by individuals based on context.

In 1788 James Madison (under pseudonym) wrote specifically about the necessary qualities of a would-be President. In Federalist 57, The Alleged Tendency of the New Plan to Elevate the Few at the Expense of the Many, he makes clear that one of the most important qualities of a leader is self-control.

“The aim of every political Constitution is or ought to be first to obtain for rulers, men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous, whilst they continue to hold their public trust” (376 U.S. 254).

Since the Supreme Court has given free rein to political candidates to use speech that is “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials” (376 U.S. 254), what is left to impose limits on those attacks?

Madison would argue that the only safeguard left would be the self-restraint imposed by the candidate him or herself. Is the apparent lack of self-control; the “wisdom to discern” and the “virtue to pursue the common good of the society” (Federalist 57) what has produced the polarization in this presidential election? Is there a collective understanding about the how far a candidate can push those unwritten rules? Does either party have a moral high ground on which to stand to convince the American electorate they are in ethically safe hands? A brief review of political news, blogs and social media over the last year reveals that Americans have a more negative view of both candidates than in any point in history.

One senses a common experience of ethical freefall.

Even though The Supreme Court of the United States has made clear the letter of the law which essentially allows for very little control over political speech, until recently, there have been unspoken rules which most political candidates at the national level observed. In an article written for The Economist, entitled The Debasing of American Politics, author,Taegan Goddard writes, that “healthy democracies depend on unwritten rules” however, the speech and behavior of Republican nominee in the current presidential election has “trampled all over them” (2016, page 1).

Social Transmission Theory and Unethical Behavior

We tend to like people who agree with us and we attend to things that confirm our world view. This is called Selection Bias and while it seems harmless, it also means that we often ignore or are unconsciously threatened by things that contradict our world view (Knoblauch-Westerwick and Meng, 2009). Selection bias also accounts for the tendency of people to choose social groups that support their biases and assumptive world views: things like religion, political affiliations, morality and social groups. Not only do we tend to choose those with whom we surround ourselves through Selection Bias, researchers found that we share lying tendencies with them as well. In a study on social contagion and unethical behavior, Mann, Garcia-Rada, Houser and Ariely (2014) found that lying behavior was spread through social transmission. The authors are quick to point out that causality could also work in reverse. That is, that individuals with similarities (i.e., a similar world view) may be drawn to the same social networks and thus, those with similar lying tendencies may join similar groups.

Add to Social Transmission Theory the findings by behavioral economist Dan Ariely that our decisions are strongly influenced by our environment in what he calls the “everybody else is doing it” affect (2014). If we tend to surround ourselves with people, information and experiences that confirm our worldview and if we are influenced by those same social networks, how much more powerful are these influences with the addition of social media?

Social Media

Social media is defined associal communities that useforms of electronic communication for users to share information, photos, videos, personal messages and other online content (Merriam Webster, 2016).

Social media has also taken the “everybody else is doing it” effect to a whole new level. Given that it has only been around since 2009, and only increasing, the true effects are yet to be determined. What we do know is that social media transmits messages rapidly and exponentially, is a natural conduit for and likely amplifies confirmation bias. In addition, most social media is, at best, a disconnected (non-face to face) form of communication and, at worst, completely anonymous.

Unlike the myriad options to form social groups today, in 1800, there were only a few ways to communicate; and they were, by today’s standards, grindingly slow. One could speak to others face to face, read or write in a newspaper or other written publication, disseminate flyers or other written material or communicate through public debate, forum or another physical gathering. Through these types of communication, one was often face to face with the person or persons with whom they were communicating which, would provide a natural and very human way to debate and discuss ideas, morals, values and opinions. If one was reading a written publication there were still ample opportunities to discuss, face to face, one’s reactions and feelings, and to listen to those of others.

Another natural part of communication during the early years of our nation was time. Precisely because written transmissions of communication were so slow, they allowed time for people not only to talk face to face and to absorb and process their own thoughts and feelings about political speech but time to reflect upon the ideas of those around them. Thus, the process of selection bias was a slow, deep, ongoing and bounded. There were only a limited number of individuals within one’s social circle because there was limited access to those outside one’s physical proximity. This bounded social grouping was important. If a neighbor or fellow church member disagreed politically with another, there was a certain amount of interaction that one was forced to have with that person; like it or not. Today, one literally has access through the internet to anyone else who has a computer in the entire world. And through social media, one can select those who confirm their world view with the click of a mouse or the change of settings that tell the computer to narrow and refine that selection bias.

At this writing, the election less than a week away. It is difficult to know which nominee the American electorate will place in the Oval Office. Never in history have all three branches of government been open for the transfer of power at the same time. At this moment in history, they are. There are two and potentially three Supreme Court Justices who will be appointed by the next President of the United States. Given that Supreme Court Justices hold lifetime appointments, whoever is our next president has the power to tip the Supreme Court toward a more liberal ideology or a more conservative one for the decades to come.

As important as which way scales of power between Democrats and Republicans tip—and it is important—what cannot be minimized is the fact that the unspoken rules of behavior, decorum, and formally public display of taboo attitudes and behaviors have changed. It will difficult, if not impossible to find our way back to the former unspoken rules of political ethics. Until we do come to a collective understanding of unspoken rules, will continue to feel unsafe. I happen to think this is a good thing.

Perhaps since we have been unable to admit to ourselves that we have large groups of our population that feel marginalized, betrayed, unheard, hopeless and angry, we need to get rid of the old unspoken rules. If we can use our understanding of the human brain, social media, decision making, ethics and all of the research that surrounds these and other literatures we can find our way through this collective identity crisis.

Let’s do what we Americans do best; innovate, create and turn our hardship and trauma into opportunity.

References

Buckley v. Valeo. (1976). 424 U.S. 1, 96 S. Ct. 612, 46 L. Ed. 2d 659

Callender, J. (1800-1801). The Prospect Before Us (Richmond, Virginia: Printed for the author and sold by M. Jones, S. Pleasants, Jun., and J. Lyon, v. 2 pt. 2, p. 57.Bottom of Form

Chance, Z., Gino, F., Norton, M.I., Ariely, D. (2015). Everyone else is doing it: Exploring social transmission of lying behavior. Frontiers in Psychology, (6)1 – 6.

Goddard, T. (2016). http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21708723-healthy-democracies-depend-unwritten-rules-republican-nominee-has-trampled-all-over

Gino, F., Ayal, S., & Ariely, D. (2009). Contagion and Differentiation in Unethical Behavior: The Effect of One Bad Apple on the Barrel. Psychological Science, 20(3), 393-398. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02306.x

Knobloch-Westerwick, S., & Meng, J. (2009). Looking the other way: Selective exposure to attitude-consistent and counter attitudinal political information. Communication Research 36(3), 426–448.

Krebs, V. (2008). New Political Patterns. Retrieved December 2010 from http://www.orgnet.com/divided.html.

Swint, K. C. (2006). Mudslingers: The top 25 negative political campaigns of all time: Countdown from no. 25 to no. 1. Westport, CT: Praeger.

The Seven Broken Guardrails of Democracy

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/the-seven-broken-guardrails-of-democracy/484829/

NewYork Times Co. V Sullivan, U.S Supreme Court Media – 2008 – http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1963/1963-39

Madison, J. (1788) Federalist No. 57

U. S. Constitution, Amendment 1