Empathy in Decision-Making, Analysis and OSINT
Speaker 1: Welcome to The World of Intelligence, a podcast for you to discover the latest analysis of global military and security trends within the open source defense intelligence community. Now onto the episode with your host, Harry Kemsley.
Harry Kemsley: So, to our guest today, Dr. Claire Yorke. Hello, Claire.
Dr. Claire Yorke: Hi, Harry. Thank you so much for having me.
Harry Kemsley: Dr. Claire Yorke is an author and academic researcher. She's currently the Marie Skłodowska- Curie Fellow at the War Studies Center in the University of Southern Denmark, leading a new project funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 fund on empathy and international security. Between 2018 and '20, she was a Henry Kissinger Postdoctoral Fellow and lecturer at International Security Studies and the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University. She's currently writing two books on empathy and emotions, the first on their role in diplomacy and the second on how empathy and emotions are critical to effective political leadership. In addition, she has co- edited two volumes on diplomacy which were published in April 2021. So, Claire, perhaps we can start with a question about how did you get into the study of empathy?
Dr. Claire Yorke: So, I work on empathy partly because when I worked in politics in Parliament and Chatham House, I noticed that there's a lot of understanding and curiosity about the world, but it's not necessarily always translated into the insights that we use in politics or to design strategies. So, a lot of people know a lot, but then you get this gap in why are we not always incorporating this into the heart of how we design policies. My PhD was on empathy and diplomacy and international security, and I define empathy as an attempt to try to understand the perspectives, experiences, context, background, and emotions of another, and that another might be one- on- one, like if I was talking to you, I'd be trying to get a sense of where are you from, what can I connect with, but it might also be with a community or a country. So, when you're dealing with a country, it becomes harder in many ways because often we talk about empathy as this interpersonal dynamic which is very logical or biological or neurological. This idea of mirror neurons is used often in the context of empathy or how you feel effective empathy. When you're dealing with it at state level, it's how does this state conceptualize itself. How do they derive meaning? What are the stories they tell of their past? What stories do we project onto them about their past? What are the things they're proud of? What are the things they're ashamed of? What are the kind of cultural symbols or the historical figures that really represent them or mean something? Why is that significant? How do they feel about... And especially in diplomacy, I think about it in the context of if I imagine that I am, say a British diplomat because so much of my work is from Britain as a Brit, if I'm a British diplomat and I go into the world, what does Britain represent to these different people that I'm engaging with? Not solely in the present, not solely what they know about the interest of the government I represent and the strategy we have for engagement or influencer outreach, but how have our past and historic engagements had a bearing on their perceptions of us and our trustworthiness, our credibility, our responsibility towards them, our likelihood to follow through on our promises. And I think we see that, especially right now with talk, for example, of decolonization. To us, that means something different maybe to if you are Barbados and you want to seek independence from the queen, or the king now.
Harry Kemsley: Yeah. That's really helpful. Help me then differentiate what you've just described from our understanding of culture. As you describe what empathy would give you, it sounded like you were describing our understanding of a culture, an understanding of the alternative cultures that we are trying to interact with. Is that fair or is that not quite right in terms of empathy and culture?
Dr. Claire Yorke: I'm going to be very much sitting on the fence or be that kind of middle of the road. It is true. It is about understanding culture, but intentionally what I want us to do in the security strategic defense community is be much more open about talking about emotions, and empathy is a lens to emotions because culture can again be kind of artifacts, and they don't necessarily have emotional meaning or resonance. We shy away from talking about emotions because they're seen as a weakness or they're seen as irrational, they're seen as unquantifiable, but we're humans. We are emotional. There's this very gendered dimension to it too, that women are more emotional than men, but anyone who looks at American politics during the Trump era, men are just as emotional as women. We just frame it differently. We have different norms and expectations. So, I want to get people talking about emotions as something that is essential to making better decisions and making more human connection. So, it is a problem.
Harry Kemsley: Okay. I think in that then I think I found a hook that I wanted to explore. So, just bear with me for a second, Sean. So, I get what you've said. I like the addition of the word emotion around culture that starts to define the so what of empathy in the international relations. Fundamentally, our podcast is, as you will have known from either Claire or you've heard about the power, the potential exploitation, the thing we could exploit from open sources and its value. What I want to try and do there is I want to find a thread, Sean, that attaches itself very nicely to this. My sense of it is that in the modern world, where do we get most of our information from? It's not now so much from the library, the reference books, or even from school. It's actually we just go straight to the internet and we find from open sources all kinds of things about other cultures, and we develop our own understandings of those cultures frequently by social media and other channels that we exploit for all kinds of purposes. In the open source intelligence world, which I would differentiate from open source information or data, we're trying to derive insights. We're trying to actually take from that set of data that is available open source to derive insights that might drive decisions and might derive more research or whatever, and in the cultural plus intelligence ethical world we want to work in, which is about empathy, I believe, and I'm being very, very mechanical in my trying to describe it that way, I think there's a role for open source. I think there is something about the disinformation of open source, for example, that might give us the wrong impression and not allow us to be empathic. So, I'll pause there because I feel as though I'm running away with myself, but that's how I'm starting to connect the dots in my head in terms of what you've said which is, as I expected it would be, fascinating, and then, Sean, what we've been talking about in terms of open sources. Claire, how does that trigger with you when I describe open source value around this discussion, this need for empathy?
Dr. Claire Yorke: One of the challenges that we have in this space which I think is where empathy connects and I think this goes to what you're also saying is that we see data as this kind of landscape. We can get all this information, but it becomes very two- dimensional. So, you don't necessarily know the meanings people attribute to that data. You don't know what qualities or emotional characteristics it maybe has, how much does it resonate, and you can access this information, but what actual pull does that have. How do you maybe get the contours of that information by understanding what it means? What is the symbolism of it? I don't know if that makes sense, but I feel inaudible.
Harry Kemsley: Yeah, it does. So, Sean, I can sense you're trying to speak. Let me shut up for a second, give you a chance to speak.
Sean: No, I'm thinking for change actually, which is unlike me. So, exactly as Harry said, I mean, this is a subject, it's fascinating. I mean, your thesis there, we could go on so many tangents, but they wouldn't be specific to open source intelligence, and so that's what I was thinking about. How do we apply this to us trying to get information that we need? Your point there about two dimensions is really, really well made. One thing we're really bad at in our community is not putting ourselves in a different, I would call it culture, but a different culture's perspective. So, exaggerating effects. Some cultures do it all the time. If you want to get the most out of people, and I look back to my days in NATO where I knew instinctively if I wanted some, I'd call it human intelligence, hum- int, from whichever country's delegation, I knew we'd either take them for a beer, go out for a curry, have a cup of coffee at breakfast, but you knew exactly what to do and how to do it. With my Turkish colleague, it would take three hours before I'd even get to the subject because you had to warm them up, whereas if it was my US mate, it would just be, " Right, tell me what's going on." So, that's only one very specific. But I'm still trying to, as you've done a little bit, Harry, make the link between how do we use empathy to get the information that is not just the two- dimensional facts, but get the meaning.
Harry Kemsley: I think it's in the dimensions, Sean. I think it's in the dimensions. So, let's use that idea, the paradigm of two dimensions. So, I get a set of data from which I derive insights. Okay? Those insights are telling me things that I thought I wanted to know. The third dimension might be how those things change over time. But the fourth, and I think, Claire, what you're saying, really important dimension is how do I interpret that, how do I understand that through a prism that's probably influenced by my culture, my background, and my perception of your culture and your ethics, and so on. That fourth dimension, Sean, if I'm going to use the fourth dimension in that way, is where I think it starts to link. Now, just to get rid of the block that might be in your mind, Claire, for the words open source and intelligence, let's just talk about publicly available information because that's really what we mean. It's not quite as simple, but essentially, I go to the publicly available information set that's available to me by various freely available tools, Google search, there are other search engines, he says for completeness, and I derive from that some level of insight which we would call intelligence. So, public available sources, how do they influence the way we should be thinking about, or how could we use publicly available sources of data from the various means, channels to help us better use an empathic view of the world?
Dr. Claire Yorke: Oh, that's such a good question. I mean, I guess one of the challenges, and this extends more broadly in how we engage with data, is that we project an image on the other of what we're looking for already, and we really saw this during 9/ 11 that you look for male of a certain age who is Muslim who comes from this town, therefore he must be a risk. He might just be a male of a certain age who's a Muslim, and he just liked going to that coffee shop that you know another guy who is a problem goes to. He might be completely innocent, but we've projected this idea of threat on, and I think therefore, how do we get access to other sources of data that maybe other people hold as credible outside of our bubble that reaffirms what we already know.
Harry Kemsley: Sean, you're an analyst.
Dr. Claire Yorke: Yep.
Harry Kemsley: You've had decades of experience of being an analyst. You're now staring at a set of publicly available information that you are trying to understand in amongst which you've started to find a series of potential threads that come together into a trend or into an insight, and yet you haven't looked at it empathically. You haven't thought it through beyond the two dimensional data that you've got in front of you. I think what Claire is saying is there is a horrific tendency for bias, maybe by your culture, education, your experience-
Sean: Yeah. Oh, no question.
Harry Kemsley: ... and they'renot striving for the empathic view. You're missing a dimension. I think that's what you're saying, Claire, again, in short.
Dr. Claire Yorke: Yeah. And I think a key that I missed from my definition, which is in all the books and articles that I write, but a key part of empathy is self- reflection. So, it's understanding both the way in which you engage with the world and the assumptions and prejudices you have, and that is unavoidable. It doesn't matter how much I keep on trying, I am never going to be able to fully understand what the world looks like, even from maybe the two of you who I know are also from... Know London, you know the UK, we're still going to have that gap. But it's this capacity of what are my blind spots, why do I think that, and also this is where it gets back to emotions. How am I approaching this? Am I approaching... And again, I find 9/ 11 fascinating because the attacks were so horrific, but the response to that created with it so many other additional security problems that we didn't need to have because there was anger and there was hurt and trauma that clouded that decision- making. This is why I think I get quite pragmatic about this idea of emotions. If you know I can't approach this information without this anger and this lens that makes me want to punish or to find perpetrators, you cloud your judgment. You're not able to really see what you're looking for because you find things that support your need for vindication.
Harry Kemsley: Yeah. That revenge motivation certainly drives a lot of bad behaviors that we see, and I'm not talking about just 9/ 11 as a bad behavior, but there's a series of things that spike out of all of that, for sure. Sean?
Sean: So, one of the other two things that I covered, sorry, just because this is relevant for this is that, not just sort of the anger piece, but the ambition. So, I'm quite vocal about we've have some senior military leaders who are very, very ambitious, almost by definition, who have a life view and certainly an operational view, if they're head of an operation, for example, in Afghanistan, and you as the intel guy come up with something that does not fit their view of what they see and it doesn't meet their plan, I have known it to happen, no names, no pack drills, that they have almost said, " I do not want to hear this again because you're obviously wrong as the in- person brackets because I've got military experience and this is my plan, and if it seemed to be failing then I don't get promoted." So, that was one very side. So, the empathy in terms of having empathy within your own community, but I totally understand, recognize, and have at times wrestled with my own conscious and unconscious bias, and we all always in the military intelligence community say, " Right, okay," and this is the second part of that is, " What is the culture of the opposition? We need to get into their mindset." And then we all say that, go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, right," and then totally ignore it. So, what doesn't seem rational to us, and therefore we either discount it or think something else may be completely rational in the way a different person sees it. So, when you were talking about empathy, I thought is it the other way round? Are we understanding their empathy from the opposition perspective? So, why has Putin invaded Ukraine? We just think he's a very bad man who wants to take over the world, and I still think that, but once you start getting into their history and their understanding that they've always felt under pressure, and then you put the map of Russia in the center and put all of NATO around it, then you can start to understand a little bit about why they're acting as opposed to what they're doing.
Harry Kemsley: Yeah. I think it reminds me, Sean, of the apocryphal story of a wedding in the Middle East in a war zone where the people attending the wedding pointed their AK- 47s to the sky and celebrated the wedding by firing weapons into the sky and then was seen as a target.
Dr. Claire Yorke: Yeah.
Harry Kemsley: Now, I think it's more than just understanding the culture of the audience and the culture or the thing they're looking at in the video, in this case, the visual imagery they're seeing, and then saying to first the audience, " Your lack of understanding of the culture of the people you're looking at prevents you recognizing that as a celebration within a wedding environment." But it's more than that, isn't it? It's not just a cultural understanding of celebration in that way if you have a weapon in your hand. It's about understanding why they're probably carrying weapons in the first place. The history of that part of the world and the reason they're carrying weapons needs to be understood as well. And then to use your example, Sean, the idea that somebody's done something you consider to be bad without trying to understand why they might have done it means you're not empathizing with them and therefore you're likely to react, in quotes, " irrationally." I know that sometimes lack of rationality is sometimes just a human dynamic.
Sean: Subjective as well, yeah.
Harry Kemsley: But I've got a feeling that that's where empathy really starts to make the difference in the decision- making process in what you and I would call national security intelligence. That's where the feed comes in, I think. Claire?
Dr. Claire Yorke: Yeah. I've got a couple of threads I'd like to pick up from those if that's okay. I'll try and number them.
Harry Kemsley: Absolutely. Yeah.
Dr. Claire Yorke: I think my first is absolutely, Sean, like you said about intelligence in Afghanistan, and I've spoken with a few people who served there as cultural advisors or who were very connected with the communities and I used to work with some of the military on human terrain stuff, and I don't think the knowledge was lacking. I actually think there was actual, there were pockets of real empathy and understanding. It didn't serve the political purpose, and that's what we've got to be conscious of is if we don't see empathy as useful, if we don't see its value, it gets dismissed as inexpedient or inefficient. And actually, if you had known that and you'd incorporated that at the heart and put your... If the person in charge had put an ego or self- interest aside, you might have then got far more sensitive policies because from what I know, the people on the ground normally say, " Go and have tea with these people. Go and meet with them. They don't want to work against us, actually." You will get the odd bad apple, but you've got that in every society.
Harry Kemsley: Sure, sure.
Dr. Claire Yorke: It doesn't benefit them to have more violence here. And that connects with this idea of I talk about levels of empathy. So, you also mentioned it too, this idea of connects to this self- reflection. Having a culture in which empathy is valued facilitates your more junior men and women coming to you and saying, " Look, what you're doing at the top doesn't match what I'm listening to on the ground. These images are circulating and maybe they're really popular, but actually, I know where that is. That's a nightclub." Maybe that is where you say, " There are lots of party poppers or there's gunshots that go off, but no one has ever injured because they all know what they're doing." So, if you don't have a culture where you can listen to voices that maybe say, " Think about this differently," it hinders its capacity to make a change. And I do think there is as well this importance that we have to address, which is why I'm trying to make empathy something we talk about more, you can simultaneously believe, as I also do, that Putin is a bad man and that he should not win, but also try and understand because that is the root of his whole initiative. He wouldn't have embarked on this unless he felt somehow that there was a grievance and that he had a chance of victory, and if he did do this thinking that he had no chance of victory, then it's even crazier than it appears. And so, you have to be able to tolerate that, and part of the challenge we have is that within a political public discourse that's very difficult countenance, and you end up with these Twitter spats about being a sympathizer. I think maybe the Mearsheimers go a little bit too far, but you should be able to at least say within certain circles who advise the center of government and strategy, " What are we really dealing with here? What is his world view as if he sees it? Why is that?" And then what is it that might be done in order to find a way around this that both mediates and mitigates and minimizes that threat, but also doesn't end up with the worst- case scenario which is the use of nuclear weapons or the continued genocide of the Ukrainian people?
Harry Kemsley: Yeah. So, Sean, I'm now reaching into the so what for the listener in terms of if I'm an analyst, I know I live in a world or in a culture perhaps that doesn't have as much empathy as it should or any empathy at all or any attempt to understand the opposition and their position. I have a boss that I'm briefing as the analyst who is similarly afflicted in terms of being unable to really care about understanding those wider issues. So, for the analyst I guess, it's about understanding the need for empathy and that their boss doesn't necessarily have empathy and that needs to be blended into the way they brief what they're briefing for the decision support process presumably. And then the counterpoint is as the boss, the decision maker, he or she needs to listen and understand that they may not have the degree of empathy they should in terms of tiering that you talked about, Claire, and that they need to try and hear the brief through a different lens. They need to hear it through this lens with more empathy. So, for me, that feels like a so what for the audience that we do this inaudible which is the analyst and the decision maker.
Sean: There's two nuances/ questions on that. I mean, crikey, my brain is now all over the place, but is there... I think that for the open source intelligence, PAI, commercial say analysts, I think they're probably better equipped to use empathy and probably do so because they're not in a hierarchical, regimented structure where if the boss says something, you make what you say fit with what he thinks because otherwise it's career damning. And also is there a generational thing because that may not be... The military is certainly trying to become more empathetic, you could argue. You could also use the W word, which I won't, but I'd love to have a deeper conversation, Claire, with you about this though, because I agree a hundred percent with your thesis that people need to be more empathetic. But have we created a society now where only one side gets the voice? And if you're against that voice, be it whether it's to do with climate change, whether it's to do with locking down whatever, you get shut down? So, I would almost say we're getting further away from... And this is maybe slightly a broader sort of element to empathy if you like, but yes, we should be having that conversation now, but are we getting further away from it?
Dr. Claire Yorke: Oh, yeah, and it speaks to so much of... I think this speaks as well to the public so what, because I think on all sides it's about, firstly, we need to get better at accepting that politics is complicated, and one of the challenges with social media is it's reduced it to sound bites. It's this or it's that, and all the interesting stuff in politics happens in the gray space, and we've become very bad at communicating that gray space, that there are trade- offs and compromises, and we should still call out, and this is a challenge. If you don't have more nuanced news and more nuanced analysis, it becomes harder to hold people to account because it's always this story versus that story. If you look back at the news reporting from the kind of 1920s, 1930s, 1940s when in America, for example, they're designing the China policy, it was all over the front few pages of The New York Times at that time, really, really detailed, super small print, " This is what we're doing with China, these are the trade- offs with China," and we've lost that. You get editorials or opinion pieces, but we're missing I think certain parts of nuanced and complex news and we have to get better as a public at understanding that.
Harry Kemsley: A hundred percent. I'm really struck by that. I have a daughter, Claire, that is an actor, and she talks about the fact that when she was studying acting, she noticed that films used to have scenes that would last minutes without a camera break, without an editorial camera position change. Today, apparently it's measured in seconds before the camera position changes and has got something to do with the way we've been prepared to watch films. People who are not prepared to watch films with long scenes become quite uncomfortable with the fact that it seems all a bit clunky and a bit slow. And that for me tells you about how our society's become increasingly sound bite oriented. We don't like reading long articles because we believe we haven't got time to read the articles. There are several journals you could pick up off the shelf online or in newsagents that have very, very long, deep analysis of things, like your 1920s example, but they're not often read because people don't, quote, " have the time to do it." What we prefer to read is the 20- second burst from a social media tweet or some such. So, I wonder therefore whether another takeaway, another so what for the audience that are not analysts or decision makers is empathy takes time because it requires judgment and judgment requires knowledge and knowledge requires learning and so on. There's this set of activities that we're not predisposed these days to actually follow to really understand things. And that actually in some ways it's just easier just to say, " I believe that, I'm going to go," and not really spend any time empathizing,
Dr. Claire Yorke: Yeah, and I think there's other principles or emotional qualities, I think of them more as principles, that should be in the debate. When we're talking about particularly on these issues, it's about affording people dignity. I can disagree with you. I am a very pro-remainer, and I cannot get inside the head of a pro- Brexiteer, but I'm also not going to call them an idiot because they did it because I think that's... I don't see how that's constructive. It doesn't help me understand what would've been a very natural response for them to make that decision.
Harry Kemsley: I would also say, Claire, if I may, that that decision, like others that we've seen in recent times in the political realm, were actually caused by a lack of empathy with the debate. So, I remember distinctly feeling in the Brexit debate in the UK that there was an awful lot of name calling and mud throwing going on that wasn't actually analyzing the issues. It was just stating that the other side is wrong. And that lack of empathy meant that we ended up with a vote and the vote went the way it did. But I wonder how many of those that voted one way or t'other might have been different votes had they actually had somebody sit them down, empathize with their starting position, and then argued the conversation there afterwards.
Dr. Claire Yorke: I mean, as I said, I'm a really pro- remainer. I live in Denmark, I speak several languages, but I think the remain campaign did not understand the power of emotion, and the leave campaign gave a vision. They understood how people felt. They understood grievances. They understood how people felt left behind and marginalized and overlooked. And the remain campaign led a kind of, well, it's all about the economy, and you're like, " No, tell us why it's amazing to be European, how you can be a part of that." And I think that that's why we need to talk about emotions, the power of them to move people. And so, I think in these debates, whether it's about being woke or the culture, whenever I talk about empathy, I say you can have empathy with boundaries. If you have boundless empathy, then you're actually not being empathetic.
Sean: You're not going to achieve anything, yeah.
Dr. Claire Yorke: And so, I could talk to you, and you might be an ardent Trump supporter, and I would say, " You know what? I really don't like Trump. But express to me, tell me what it is about him you find fascinating. What is it that compels you?" And I hope in doing that you feel, " All right, well, she's not dismissing me as a person, but she clearly disagrees with me." And I think that's different. You can listen to someone.
Sean: The point is that what you're effectively saying is that you need analytic process whereby you consider all of the options. We call it trade craft in the business in terms of you have to consider all your sources of information from wherever they come, try and get rid of the unconscious and the conscious bias, consider everything from a position of objective analysis and assessment, and then come up with your best assessment of what you think you're seeing. That is the essence of being intelligence expert. So, effectively what you're saying is that empathy is one tool to make sure that you are seeing all angles of a particular problem set.
Dr. Claire Yorke: Exactly. I think to go back to Brexit, because I think you raised that really well, is if I am in a position of power at the heart of government, which I'm not, I can be pro- remain. For all my reasons that are both, it's probably not necessarily rooted in fact. They're also rooted in my own emotional connection and I acknowledge that. But you'd go, " Okay, well, if I go to Hull, why do people in Hull overwhelmingly dislike Europe? They're talking about jobs. They're talking about money. Let's get up the data. What is the data saying about is money from Europe reaching Hull? Are people from Hull traveling to Europe at all? Maybe there's no contact. Maybe there's no funding for exposure to Europe. Maybe language lessons are down there." And you can then start to unpack this picture, okay, why is it in Cornwall, which we assume might be remain because it's so close to France, what is going on there that they are not. What's the data saying about trade, about relations with French fishermen? And that then gives you all sorts of very open source data. You can get demographic information, you can get trade and travel information. You can get the distribution of GDP, and that might reveal that it's not necessarily Europe, it's about Britain concentrating wealth in only a number of cities in the southeast, and that that maybe is more the problem. I think if they'd have unpacked that a bit more, you might have got a different approach to how you go into constituencies.
Harry Kemsley: As opposed to just shutting the argument down because I disagree with your point of view and you're talking nonsense, therefore, let's move on. You're wrong, let's move on.
Dr. Claire Yorke: And that goes back, okay, we are using the Brexit thing now, but had... When David Cameron went in and said, " Look, I'd rather we got a meeting of minds within our view or a view and the EU view," and of course he wasn't taken seriously. So, it's like, " Oh, don't be stupid. Yeah, we are what we are." Now, that's a perception, obviously. Might not be true, but I was kind of out there at the time. But had there been more empathy with understanding what the concerns were in the UK, I suspect we wouldn't be where we are now because it'd be, " Oh, you're serious about this. Right, okay, let's see where we can meet and come up together."
Harry Kemsley: Yeah. Well, I tell what, let's put a screeching halt on the Brexit.
Sean: Yeah, let's do that.
Harry Kemsley: Let's just pivot around, not because I'm afraid of the Brexit conversation, but because I think what I really want to do is then just scream this round towards so what or the value of open sources, how that can help the empathy we need in analysis, in decision support and opinion forming, because that's also come up in this conversation in the last half an hour is how I form opinion is probably driven by my experience, my education, my culture, my sex or gender, and all of those things I need to be empathic about that I know that I will have inbuilt bias. That feels like a big takeaway for me in terms of the audience thinking, " Okay, I've never really thought about it through an empathic lens. I should." And it's not just about cultural understanding or language. It's about an emotional component. I think that's the bit that you've really added for me, Claire, is that emotional component that comes with empathy, above and beyond the two or three dimensions of what's happening, why it might have happened, and what might happen next. It's now, so why is it happening. What's really going on? What's driving those behaviors? What's the motivation? Is that fair?
Dr. Claire Yorke: Yeah. And I think about it also in the context of some of the MeToo movement, which I know again can be polarizing, but it's that idea of if you're a man of a certain age and background, if you just think, " Okay, well, this makes sense to me because this is the world as I can move through it," and especially if you're in the security domain and you know can look after yourself, but then what would I feel like if I was a 5'2 woman. How would this maybe look? If I'd had a history of sexual harassment and very small, minor aggressions which actually add up to culminate to something that makes me feel quite insecure at night on public transport, wherever, how does this then look? I think it's about having that awareness of, and without getting into the kind of woke discussion, having an awareness of how your position and lens informs what you see, and then just going, " Okay, what if I look at it this way? Do I see it the same? What about this way? Does it look the same way that?"
Harry Kemsley: Sean, isn't this rather like the... When we talk about trade craft, we talk about wanting to find multiple sources to triangulate to get the, quote, " right answer," whatever that might be. We talk about the ability to interlock intelligence across multiple other intelligence to see that it's not an outlier or not on anomaly, and then we talk about quality assurance, where we talk about forms of bias, somebody to take unconscious bias out. Is empathy, Sean, in short, another element of the quality assurance we should be doing on intelligence process?
Sean: It certainly should be, but as long as it is empathy and not that unconscious bias or even a cultural bias. This is where my brain's going now. Yeah, I absolutely agree. It should be another part of the trade craft. I always go back to an example again in Afghanistan. There were two US intelligence organizations. One was land, one was joint. They had exact the same intelligence, and they were diametrically apposed as to what it meant. I mean, this is strategic stuff over the course of the campaign against the Taliban, and on the video in front of some very senior people, they were knocking seven bells out of each other because they were so passionate and so believed in what they thought, and they were diametrically opposed. I mean, it was just fascinating, and the fact that they were so engaged that it didn't really matter that a really senior person was there that they would never normally expose that sort of vitriol to each other.
Harry Kemsley: So, Claire, in your research, when you help somebody, can you train somebody to understand their lack of empathy or help them become more empathic? Is that something that you could say to somebody, if you really want to be effective at this quality assurance, Sean, talk to the chief of intelligence on a particular desk with multi- intelligence analysts around them, and he's heard this podcast and thought, " Yeah, maybe I'm missing something here, I don't know where to start," is there somewhere where they can go? Something they could read or touch?
Dr. Claire Yorke: Oh, I'll try and get a win. I'm hoping my book will be the thing that...
Harry Kemsley: Yeah, there you go. That'll work.
Dr. Claire Yorke: I think you can definitely train it. One of the things though I say is it's not comfortable, and that's what we've got to accept, because empathy sounds like it's really nice, and that's why we don't like empathy. Oh, it's a bit soft. It's like I'm asking you to step inside the mind maybe of a convicted murderer and understand why he's organized this assault on these people. Why is that? That is not something you're going to enjoy. It shouldn't be enjoyable. Or, I'm asking you to take the perspective of someone who has such a different worldview to you that it will confront you with realities that aren't easy. And so, a huge part of it is that it's not comfortable, but there are training courses. I designed one for King's College, for policymakers, for the Institute of Government. There are others as well. I think there are increasingly kind of courses popping up on empathy. A lot of it is around management and leadership training, so not really in this space, and that's what would be really interesting.
Harry Kemsley: Well, by the way, management is no different than in, sorry, civilian life than it is in military life. We just generally call it leadership rather than management. There is a difference. But the point I'm making is I suspect much of what you just talked about will be immediately transferrable into the environment that I have in my head. I want the listener to come away from this thinking, " I haven't really considered empathy as a function of my analytical process. I certainly haven't thought about it very much in terms of the way it's been described in this podcast. So, what am I going to do about it?" One of the things that I always do at podcasts and those that will listen to it will know it is if you had the one thing, Claire, the one thing you'd want people to understand about empathy, and I want you to focus the answer, if I may ask you this, on the national security environment. What's the one thing in there that you'd want them to hear from this podcast that they would take away?
Dr. Claire Yorke: I think, oh, we all face a number of complex threats that we cannot manage on our own, that we require cooperation for, and that we cannot determine or control, and that is going to be our strategic security landscape. Empathy to me at the heart of security ensures that you enter into a relationship of iterative design and engagement with multiple constituents and audiences in the public to then constantly shape it, but it's also dependent on having a longer term strategic vision. So, empathy's not just something you add on and then it's done. It's a constant process and a practice and an ethos and a mindset that should make you more sensitive and attuned to how that security landscape is evolving and what you need to keep ahead of it.
Harry Kemsley: Wow. I have literally nothing to add to that other than to thank you. Sean?
Sean: That's not fair because that was just spot on. I mean, the mindset is there. So, I think, and again, I don't know if it's just me or as a military thing, but we do tend to think in very definitive terms. It's what we're trained to do, make a decision. I've generally got two minutes to get everything that my boss needs to know to make his decisions. And so, that doesn't mean to say I haven't spent lots and lots of time distilling that, but I think you can't... It just echos what you said really. You can't go, " Right, what about the empathetic bit? Oh yeah, there is a different perspective." It's got to be part of what you're thinking. There's several examples going in my head, things like everybody's assumed in Syria that because the Alawites were this sort of leading organization or sort of tribe out there that had all the money, that the Syrian war would soon be stopped because Assad was an Alawite, and they'd say, " You're ruining our economy here, therefore don't do this." And so, we said the whole thing had six months, and we're saying that every six months and it's still going on six years later because we just didn't understand and we didn't empathize with the fact that the Alawites were more loyal, if you want to use it that, or sort of patriotic, if you want to use that phrase, and so that trumped over their pure economic way of thinking. So, it is a way of looking at things through a certain lens as opposed to a right, now I've got to tick this box, which is quite, it's quite a revelation, actually.
Harry Kemsley: Yeah. I think that's my takeaway, Claire, is I hadn't thought about empathy as a feature of how we think about the world beyond my own personal experience. I think I've never thought about it in the professional environments I've been in, and that lack of empathy probably has allowed me to make poor decisions in the past because I wasn't trying hard enough to really understand the motivations and the causes of those motivations, and therefore, in quotes, " understand the behavior." Not because I now agree with it, but because I now understand it, I can perhaps ameliorate my reaction, perhaps slow my myself down just that little bit before I leap in with both feet and keep that very clearly. I think for the audience it's going to be, for some, it's mumbo jumbo tree- hugging nonsense. Push it away. I think that's quite likely to be the case for some of the listeners to this, and others will just think, " What? This is way too complicated. I just need to know what I need to know and get on with my job." But I hope that a number of the listeners just pause for a second and ask themselves the question, have they actually thought about an empathic view of what they're seeing, trying to interpret, and then causing reactions to it, because if they're not, they might be missing something really important.
Speaker 1: Thanks for joining us this week on The World of Intelligence. Make sure to visit our website, janes. com/ podcast, or you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts so you'll never miss an episode.
Harry Kemsley and Sean Corbett are joined by Dr Claire Yorke, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow, to discuss the fascinating subject of empathy and why it is so important in decision making, our analysis and open-source intelligence.