Bankers, trust, and empathy

The on-going furore over what bankers have done with LIBOR rates provides a neat example of the difference between trust and empathy, as well as a reminder of our own contribution to events.

Any remaining trust that the public had in the people who run the banks is swiftly draining away. De-regulation of banks and money markets is now being seen as a mistake. It involved trust — when de-regulated, bankers were being trusted to act wisely and honestly. A less naive version would be that, alongside being allowed / encouraged to increase profits to the max, bankers were being trusted not to be too corrupt. Now that the trust has been shattered, it seems likely that regulation will be increased.

But we can still experience empathy for bankers, in that we can imagine how it was to be young and feel powerful in those days of endless growth and champagne. And, by imagining how it was, we can understand how people might have slipped into ethically dubious actions.

Doing this empathy by no means condones those actions or the ethical climate that contributed to them happening. And the trust remains torn and thrown away, like some old agreement no longer worth the paper it was written on. Doing the empathy does not evoke any sympathy with those responsible. However, it lets us understand the complexity of the situation more fully, and points to our own responsibility in what happened. The chairmen and CEOs who failed to provide moral leadership need to go, but we perhaps all need to play a bigger part in shaping the moral climate within which we live and work, as workers,  shareholders, parents, employers, tax-payers?

4 Responses to “Bankers, trust, and empathy”
  1. Interesting, but I’m not sure what the word ‘too’ is doing in the sentence,’bankers were being trusted not to be too corrupt.’ Does that imply that you accept all the sector to be somewhat corrupt? Also feel many, like myself, will not find it at all easy to empathise with the young, powerful, champagne drinking classes, whose thought is only for profit. It is hard to understand that mindset.

    • Lynne Cameron says:

      Thanks for the comments!

      It’s not about ’empathising’ as in going along with, agreeing with, feeling sympathy for – it’s empathy as in letting moral judgements be active and disagreeing, allowing that to be as it, while also trying to imagine how it was to be them, then.

      I agree with you about the “too” – just trying not to be too naive – there’s another one!

  2. Ah, you have answered what was to be my query – do we DO empathy or FEEL empathy? DOING empathy is more active, more a matter of will….?

    Have just read the headline ‘Barclay’s concede Diamond’s not for ever.’ Neat.

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