Herd Instinct

In the recently published draft findings of the Nyberg Commission of Investigation into the Irish banking crisis among the listed causes were ‘group think’ and a ‘herd instinct.’ To say that the narcissism, betrayal of trust, the greed, avarice, profit-targeted fixated mentality, the depersonalisation of both employees and customers, secretiveness and unethical behaviour can be explained by an unsubstantiated phenomenon as ‘herd instinct’ is seriously worrying.  I need to inquire of the investigators of the worst recession that Ireland has experienced: ‘how did they come to such a conclusion, and, even more especially, how does one change ‘herd instinct?’ At some level – conscious or unconscious – this is a whitewash – a covering up of the true reality of what happened – that it was individual bankers who perpetrated the disastrous responses that led to the recession. The Nyberg report, carried out by individuals, failed to name any one individual, even though the dogs in the street are barking their names.  It is not that I want to support any witch-hunt of these individuals, but I do want to provide these persons with the emotionally safe and non-threatening opportunities to reflect and critically examine the powerful emotional processes that lay at the root of their ruthless actions and, most of all, learn from them.

In my opinion, the report offers no hope that we will not experience another recession within a decade or two; history repeating itself appears to be on the cards. Unbelievably, the Commission will not name any individuals in its final report, even though it is not systems or organisations or business models that perpetrate mistakes, but individuals! However, there is still time for a mature review process to take place and for those individual bankers, politicians and property developers to learn from their mistakes for the benefit of themselves, others and the country. Their unethical behaviour, arrogance, superiority and ongoing denial are defensive behaviours, unconsciously created, in response to the emotional, behavioural, social, intellectual and creative threats that each experienced in their individual life stories. There is no attempt here to name, blame and shame, but it is a matter of great concern if these major players in our economy – many of whom are still in place – do not come into consciousness of their powerful defensive responses and the experienced threats that led to the formation of these devastating responses that have rocked the country.

The truth is that when political, social, educational and economic leaders and managers operate from defensive places they are not in a mature place to govern because they have not attained a conscious and mature government of self. I do not believe that their actions were ‘evil’ but we need to urgently know how did it come to pass that they were so blinded by their avarice and greed! Certainly, the government policy for jobs rather than for personal maturity was a contributory factor, but there are deeper issues that stretch back into the childhoods of these ‘elite’ few who had such a stranglehold on our psycho-social and economic wellbeing. We need individuals to be named – not left hiding in the ‘herd’ – and we need those individuals to be helped to own their actions and learn from their disastrous mistakes.

At the moment there seems little likelihood of this happening and the frightening issue is that those who conducted the investigation of what happened may themselves need more help than the individuals they investigated. The fact that they came up with such a weak explanation of ‘herd instinct’ would indicate that their level of personal and professional maturity is suspect. To put the record straight, instincts in human beings have been long eroded by the much more powerful processes of individuation and socialisation. It is these dynamic processes that determine how each of us lives with self, others and the environment. A question that is abegging: did the Nyberg investigators possess the psychological skills to be able to identify the personal defences of the bankers that lay at the heart of their cataclysmic actions – I suspect not!

In my view, it is only by face-to-face interviews with each of the ‘elite’ group of individuals that we have some chance of unearthing the truth. Such interviews would need to be of a non-threatening and non-judgemental nature and carried out by individuals who possess the requisite pscho-social skills; otherwise truth is unlikely to emerge.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist, is an author and national and international speaker. His books, Relationship, Relationship, Relationships: The Heart of a Mature Society and The Mature Manager are relevant to today’s article.