Fighting your dark side at work: may the force be with you


The new Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens will be in theaters soon (hurray!); fans all over the world are rejoicing at the idea of having yet another taste of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fischer, Mark Hamill and the rest of the original cast. That fantasy world created by George Lucas more than 30 years ago still resonates with audiences for its mix of spiritual and pragmatic lessons. The reason for that can be found in the constant tension between the forces of light and darkness. But rather than suggesting a manichean universe, with good and bad characters, Mr. Lucas underlined that anyone can be seduced by the intensity of negative emotions (i.e. fear, anger, jealousy, envy, greed, hatred, and rage), and the lust for power and control over others.

In these modern times of power games at work, the Star Wars saga ethical and moral concepts are more prevalent than ever. This might come as no revelation: it would seem emotions keep on being ‘the elephant in the room’ nobody wants to talk about or acknowledge in office spaces. And yet, ignoring the need to address underlying interpersonal conflicts and agendas derived from emotions, favors the proliferation of negative tactics (mobbing, bullying, isolating, taking credit for work, etc.) that cause tremendous suffering, and cost money to business and organizations.

At the core of the problem lies our ability or inability -as co-workers and managers- to embrace, process and observe our own emotions without drama, and reflect upon the kind of action (or inaction) we will take. Expressing emotions in a healthy way and listening mindfully while those emotions are expressed by others are necessary skills to be a team member and leader. As the movie Inside Out so brilliantly illustrated, these skills are ideally developed during childhood, a time when we are struggling to discover who we are, and how our minds and feelings operate. By opening up about emotions at work (granted, not all the time and without any filter), we become authentic and real, the kind of person (and leader) other people relate to. New conversations get started, underlying fears understood, and empathy and compassion can flourish.

The Buddhist, and Hindu doctrines express this same belief in the principle of ahimsa: the avoidance of harm and violence to all living creatures. Ahimsa precludes not only ‘the act of inflicting a physical injury, but also mental states like evil thoughts and hatred, unkind behavior such as harsh words, dishonesty and lying’. One of the main promoters of this principle in life and politics was Gandhi, who inspired the American civil rights and pacifist movements. Star Wars was written by George Lucas against the backdrop of the Vietnam war and those same movements. He asked himself how a good person can turn into a bad person, and concluded that ‘most bad people think they are good people, they are doing it for the right reasons’. The merit of the Jedi is to recognize the temptation as well as the danger of getting lost in the wicked and cruel dark side. Ultimately, he reminds us to only use the force within the limits of self-defense, and under the light of kindness, fairness and justice.

May the force stay with you!