Friday, October 1, 2010

Understanding Empathy Key to Furthering Corporate Social Responsibility

By: Olivia Coleman

More often than not, Corporate Social Responsibility is understood as moral obligation. We believe that CSR is important simply because it's the right thing to do. Sometimes, we also cast CSR as a set of practices that enables companies to become more efficient. What many don't consider, however, is what certain intrinsic human qualities we develop when we promote Corporate Social Responsibility.

Jeremy Rifkin, an economist, writer, and political advisor argues in his recent book “The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis" that, contrary to previously held notions of human nature, we are soft-wired to empathize with others. Drawing from the latest research in neuroscience and other fields, Rifkin essentially says that we have an inherent desire to connect with others, to share, and to alleviate suffering.

With the new globalized economy, however, we are now faced with some of the most urgent dilemmas in the history of the human race. From global warming to military conflict, our planet's sustainability has become increasingly fragile. These problems Rifkin sees have resulted from using old ways of thinking in a completely new world. In other words, at the center of our most pressing global problems is the stagnation of human consciousness.

Rifkin points out that throughout history we have placed limits on our ability to empathize by extending our sympathy only to those within certain social groups. Initially, our race was tribal, and aggression was exerted to those outside our respective tribes. Eventually, with the rise of religion, we replaced tribalism with religious ties. Once the concept of nation states formed, aggression worked in tandem with nationalism.

Rifkin cogently notes that with the development of communication technologies, previous fictional barriers that have retarded the scope of our empathic abilities, like the concept of nation states, are slowly unraveling. Here's where Corporate Social Responsibility comes in. Governments are often concerned only with the welfare of their own nation states, while transnational businesses have the ability to work beyond these fictional boundaries. In this light, the work of CSR is to expand human empathy, to promote it, and to change the way we think on a very fundamental level.

While many decry the rise of a globalized economy, in which businesses cross borders, it is these very businesses--if they make it a point to promote the connection of people and ideas around the world--that have the power to make a substantive difference, and to save our planet from the problems that currently plague it. Thus, if we understand CSR as more than just a mere "responsibility" or a way to make businesses function more efficiently, we have an added motivation to further our goals in making this planet a better place.


This guest post is contributed by Olivia Coleman, who writes on the topics of online colleges and universities. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: olivia.coleman33