We are not chameleons.
It was said in defence of the guards in the concentration camps that they were kind to their dogs.
So they retained some traces of human decency, despite working in a micro culture of gratuitous brutality.
A psychological experiment at Harvard during the early sixties put ordinary citizens in a position of power to administer electric shocks to other participants in the study. In a micro culture of obedience to authority figures in white coats they acceded to becoming torturers.
Micro culture does strange things to human beings. Kids in gangs behave in ways they would find abhorrent outside the gang environment.
People living in gated communities or in nice houses in leafy shires come to believe those not so fortunate are all scroungers, idlers or freeloading immigrants.
Until they fall ill. Reduced to relative impotence by their illness, lying in their hospital bed and attended by caring, multi ethnic staff they rediscover their humility.
Their micro culture dissolves, and they are part of one society once more.
The question is: how do we dissolve toxic, me-centered micro cultures?
Well we don’t start with City traders and their ilk. Staring at screens with blinking numbers all day, and supercharged by adrenaline-driven greed, they are disconnected from society for most of their waking lives. Their micro culture is almost inviolate.
We could look to people who lead and manage banks. But the recidivism apparent at every depressing new revelation indicates they are not yet in the foothills of culture change. Even if they have learned to mouth the words.
As long as the phrase honorable banker is an oxymoron we have to look elsewhere.
Our most effective plan is probably to look inward and start with ourselves. We can – and should – affect our own micro culture. Each one of us is capable of achieving this.
If people around us are dissing others – inside or outside our organisation – we can refuse to take part, and be clear we are doing so. Having made our position clear we can go on to say only positive things about our colleagues, our customers, our suppliers and even our competitors.
Good behaviour, like bad behaviour, spreads, and affects the micro culture.
Every journey begins with a single step. Those around us become the chameleons, copying our colours, and absorbing our values.