Volkswagon: Polluting the American Psyche

VW, another corporate enterprise with no heart. In Indian thought there are seven energy centers in the human body, called chakras. Considering this as a valid depiction, it can be said VW only exists at the level of the first three chakras, located from the base of the back to the abdominal region, thus exhibiting only the instinctive impulses for “I want to be Number One” and “I want to dominate.” VW forgot the heart chakra, where empathy and compassion reside. Shame on VW.

The VW emissions charade is not a potential car accident issue, but a more pervasive health issue. With this cover up VW evaporated all the good will it has built over the years. Think about the old VW ad, Lemon, which declared VW would not accept any imperfections in its cars, not even on the glove box.

This current affront to the common good seems all to similar to when Wall Street shorted junk mortgages. In both cases, ill-willed corporations short-sold every Tom, Dick and Harriet on Main Street. Commercial greed kicked dirt on homespun grace.

The earth shifted that every American walks on when, for the first time, new words such as “sub-prime,” “derivatives,” and “ponzi” were jammed into the American lexicon. Now, VW has sucked out even more trust from the American psyche.

We, the people, are scratching our heads and wondering how all this happened? Americans are becoming justifiably cynical about the state of corporate sincerity.

Big Biz Doesn’t Get It

In too many instances, big business still refuses to “get it.” Instead, executives often talk contrition, but in reality are just waiting for time to pass and the headlines to recede from memory. They refer to a few “bad eggs” while declaring the fundamentals of their enterprise are still sound.

Well, let’s get down to fundamentals. People don’t live their lives based on “fundamentals.” People are not technologies. Emotion always trumps numbers, and people (AKA: customers, consumers, shareholders, voters) are emotional beings.

So what’s VW’s CEO to do to earn back the trust of the American people?

Earning Trust…in Four Timely Steps

First, the unit of time that business leaders orient to must be expanded beyond their daily call to Wall Street and their quarterly reported ‘expedient present.’ Trust takes time and grows slowly over time.

Secondly, trust comes from people feeling understood, and showing understanding means much more than mere rational(e) explaining. Corporate speak is for obfuscating. Only plain talk demonstrates understanding and understanding only comes from respect for and empathizing with ‘The Other.’

Thirdly, trust comes from a shared past, a collaborative present and a co-authored future with mutual self-expansion between corporation and ‘the people’ as the goal. Secrets, and behind the scene maneuverings, corrode trust. Stultified, scripted language annuls trust. Narratives that give voice to the dynamics of our deepest human selves must supplant cliché, linear propositions, and black-or-white simplifications.

Fourth, access encourages trust, even when it means acknowledging mistakes. Here, for example, social networking may help. Websites such as Facebook could be used by corporate executives to allow some business-decision dynamics – and even some personal information – to be made “public.” Likewise, two-way communications could be encouraged. Sharing helps to instill trust.

Cognitive Reforms and Vitality

Furthermore, earning back the trust of the American people requires a wider cognitive vision from business leaders. Government oversight alone is insufficient to prompt change.

This change in cognitive orientation need not be based on altruism. It can be meaningfully based on a re-cognition of the nature of vitality. When people – along with companies – feel their authenticity has been recognized and can be further expanded via a co-authoring with a corporation, they feel more optimistic, self-responsible, social and happy. A sense of “me” and “you” are connected is cultivated, such that through each other and the relationship, both grow. Venues for such cognitive revamping include:

1. SOCIETY, NOT JUST MARKETS
Markets imply mechanistic models whereby human dynamics are given short shrift. Society means a common amalgam given rise by the human commerce of emotion, belief and belonging.

2. QUALITY OF LIFE, NOT JUST INCOME
Money is great, and having a lot of it is a way of defining self-worth, but money can’t buy a sense of well-being and peace of mind – things of real value.

3. REASONABLENESS, NOT JUST EXTREMISM
People must have a human sense of scale; and human investment strategies must take into account their biography, persona and local contingencies when taking action. This tempers the currencies of a corporation wanting just to be “bigger” or “more.”

4. CONNECTEDNESS, NOT JUST INDIVIDUALISM
Given the complexity and the conflicts of the world today, the task of everyone is to transcend our individual identity without negating our individual identity, such that we recognize the fundamental idea that ‘The Other’ is in us.

Together

It is a bedrock of capitalism – particularly in the last part of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st – that one yearns for gratification from individual financial success and fame. Perhaps now is a good time to recall the 1946 Gregory Peck movie, The Yearling. In its dramatic culmination, Peck’s character explains the sometimes-harsh facts of life to his son:

“Life is a fine thing… powerfully fine, but not easy. Sometimes we have to see it through together.”

America must develop a culture of commonality in which the individual and the group can thrive. In that way, America can live up to the idea of “WE, the people.”

Trust is not something one individual or entity does. Trust is a relationship. When those who sit in the boardrooms of corporate America can conceive of establishing a relationship with the Toms, Dicks, or Harriets sitting at home in their living rooms, that’s the meaning of America. When that happens America will become itself.

The time is right. It also coincides with Pope Francis’ underlying message in all his speeches while in the US: morality and connectedness.

VW: Very Worrisome.


– By Dr. Bob Deutsch, CEO, Brain Sells

The article originally appeared in Dr. Bob’s Huffington Post column.