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Empathetic Equity in the Community and the Workplace: Managerial Theory and The Adjustment Bureau

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Candi Choi
July 14, 2020

“You’re future is about your choices, not theirs”
~David Norris, Fated Politician, The Adjustment Bureau.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory explains the psychological needs of belongingness as a part of human motivation; a place where relatability taps into human actualization. Empathy is one of many terms that defines how we can relate to one another by sharing and understanding the feelings of each person. Equity is fairness. Equitable choices and actions can be effective for obtaining a greater good, so long as everyone is choosing to make such choices. Public policies have long tried to mesh empathy and equity together; an empathetic equity. However, empathetic equity is burdensome because it is bias toward groupthink. “You’re future is based on your choices, not theirs,” says David Norris, the leading character in The Adjustment Bureau. Thus, public approaches to human affairs must yield caution.

Empathy and equity aren’t mutually exclusive, nor are the working components of situations. Individual actions within a situation lead to more reactions. In his article, “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” Saul McLeod elaborates, “Growth needs stem from a desire to grow as a person.” Eventually, that growth leads to self-actualization. When applying emotional empathy into Maslow’s belongingness theory, we can consider some difficulty with bias to groupthink. For instance, take trading in the stock market. We perceive and receive information to make choices for selecting stocks. When processing our intended outcomes based on Warren Buffet’s actions, we limit ourselves to his independent goals. When his decision supports a different approach we change our perspective and maneuver toward a better outcome, similar to his. Then, our perspectives and judgements become more biased and seem less equitable. Consequently, human actualization requires individual efforts and realizations.

Empathy to understand when someone is going through something difficult is pivotal. Lending help when it is needed is especially important. But, actually thinking that one can experience someone else’s challenges and successes is wrong. Walking in someone else’s shoes is difficult and naive, especially when everyone has their own shoes to fill. Society is made up of individuals with different experiences and perspectives that have helped mold and shape them and developed generational changes, such as shared duties in the home. Thus, humanity’s effectiveness is based upon a series of independent actions, rather than an ability to simply understand and relate to each other on an eye-for-eye basis.

Our perspectives and moral judgements are often set by expectations of our network of support—often for good reason. Those expectations suggest that we can actually do better than what we think. In the book, Readings in Managerial Psychology 4th Edition, Irving Janis says, “The mutual enhancement of self-esteem and morale may have functional value in maintaining capacity to take action, but it has maladaptive consequences in so far as concurrence-seeking tendencies interfere with critical, rational capacities and lead to serious errors of judgement.” Therefore, action can occur from encouraging emotional values, but it can prevent appropriate adjustments and cause problems when rational capacities are interrupted.

In the classroom, expectations are based on evidence of capacity and capability. However, the policies that pre-determine the outcome for the student’s actualization limits their ability to produce a different outcome. For instance, if a student isn’t doing well in school there might be a policy to protect them from getting below a C grade. It protects a continuum of choices that lead to a netted outcome. Inputs plus outputs equal outcomes. Not doing well plus getting a C grade equals success. It’s irrational. Enforcing polices like that suggest that people cannot do better. It limits the ability to produce a different outcome, to make a change and to learn.

To solve problems quickly, policymakers may enforce empathetic equity codes based on perceptions and agreement, rather than allowing for a fluctuating paradigm. On resolving groupthink, Irving Janis recommends accepting criticisms about judgements, so disagreements can occur and enhance critical thinking. Expectations and criticisms from others often challenge us and help us succeed, but the enforcement of policies limiting those expectations and criticisms actually hurts us. Empathetic equity policies limit the ability to perceive or act upon one’s own situation to determine moral value and maintain the resilience necessary to succeed.

In the movie, Harry Mitchell, a member of the Adjustment Bureau says, “We’re not built to lead with our emotions like you, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have them.” Managing emotions is primary for growth into self-actualization. Resilience to bias requires rational fact-based action. An understanding that failure exists. There is competition in society concentrated toward independent outcomes. That competition is found in families and extends into the greater community and the workplace. Supportive relationships require the ability to understand that there is truth in experiences during times of success and competition. Individuals are layered and their experiences overlap, creating Venn diagrams among many circles that compete. People can do better to own their unique situation and make decisions based on their intended outcome. It is difficult for a public approach to determine what will help another person succeed. Self-actualization happens at the individual level.

Author: Candi Choi holds an MPA with specialization in local government management. She has experience with local budgeting, planning and constituent affairs. Her contact email is [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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