Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Psychopaths I have known

Last autumn, I came across this article in the Globe and Mail which includes an interview with author Kevin Dutton and an overview of his book The Wisdom of Psychopaths. I felt a dropping in my stomach as I read it, because at the end of the article were two lists: one denoting leadership traits, the other the corresponding psychopathic traits. The first list came fairly close to describing my father. The second list pretty much nailed him. I sat in a mild state of shock for a few minutes, then logged into my local library's web site and put a hold on the book.

Dr Kevin Dutton begins The Wisdom of Psychopaths with tales of his own father and his father's audacity. Neither Dutton's dad nor mine was a serial killer (so far as I know). This is the point. We use the term "psychopath" as a synonym for "serial killer". This isn't so, and Dutton is by no means the first person to make this point. Most of us probably personally know people living with autism, Parkinson's Disease or schizophrenia. (I certainly do.) Why wouldn't we also know functional psychopaths?

Dutton describes how the very qualities that help politicians, surgeons, military intelligence operatives, CEOs and sales people rise in their professions and succeed in what they need to do are similar to traits shared by some of the most dangerous people in our society. He calls these "The Seven Deadly Wins": ruthlessness, charm, focus, mental toughness, fearlessness, mindfulness (as in living in the here and now), and action ("Psychopaths," Dutton declares, "never procrastinate.").

As I read, I thought of the possible psychopaths I'd encountered in my own life: a boy at school who could turn friendliness on and off like a tap, a teaching partner whose relationships with the students we shared made me uneasy, at least two of the Resident Fan Boy's bosses, and yes, my own charming, reckless, and heartless father.

I admit, though, I'm nothing but an armchair psychologist and this book, written in a glib, popular-science style, is nothing more than food for thought. An interesting read, but not something on which to base your life philosophy. Unless, like a psychopath, you have little in the way of a conscience.


JoeinVegas said...

You read so much!

SOL's view said...

I guess when you think about it, most of the really successful people must have some psychopathic tendencies or they wouldn't be successful. To my way of thinking it takes a certain amount of ruthlessness and drive to lead and lead well. :)