sychopath up.” says Dr. Kevin Dutton, a leading expert on functional psychopathy. “A bit of localized psychopathy is good for all of us.”
Huh? Your first reaction might be that Dutton, a research psychologist from Oxford University, and author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths, might have had one too many servings of bangers and mash. Think again.
Psychopathic traits fall on a spectrum – a scale that balances frequency and severity. The most distinctive traits are ruthlessness, fearlessness, ability to charm and manipulate others, and lack of empathy and conscience. Let’s flip that. What if ruthlessness translates into decisiveness; fearlessness into coolness under pressure; manipulation into charisma; and lack of empathy and conscience into the ability not to take things personally? Dutton calls it “functional psychopathy” which has to do with how psychopathic traits are combined in an individual. Simply put, a functional or good psychopath can be very useful in today’s world – the kind of person we might need.
Ask yourself a few questions. Do you want a ruthless (decisive) CEO to run the company where you own stock or someone who can’t make up his or her mind? If there’s a bomb scare, do you want it investigated by someone who is terrified or someone who is cool under pressure (fearless)? Do you want a President who can use his charm to manipulate leaders of Congress into taking action or someone so worried about what everyone thinks that nothing is accomplished?
A lot of research has been done on these questions – studies I’ll discuss in future blogs. You don’t need the results to consider how you feel. If psychopathy is not an “all or none” condition, and most psychopaths are not violent, maybe we need to rethink how we view them. No – we don’t want Ted Bundys and Jeffrey Dahmers in our midst – but what about tough business leaders; thick-skinned politicians; and Navy Seals who go in and get the job done?
Few things in life are black–and-white – we live in shades of gray; nuances that are seen as good, bad, or something in-between. It’s particularly clear in human behavior. Neither good or bad actions fully define you (unless you’re a serious criminal). You make simple and complex choices on a daily basis – should you continue a one-sided relationship; is that chocolate chip cookie worth breaking your diet; should you side with the boss instead of your peers? Each decision comes with the weight of conscience and empathy – you’re sad about the relationship, you feel guilty about the cookie, and you identify with the workers. The good psychopath is free of these extra emotional weights – able to get the job done without worry. It might not be so bad to have them in the right place.
“These guys might want to sting us,” Dutton says, “but they might also save our lives.”