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While in Yangon for the first time to deliver a team development program, I learned that the people of Myanmar have a distinct word for empathy: “Ko chin sar-nar-hmu”. Empathy, widely recognized as a core trait for effective leadership, is deeply rooted culturally and resonates strongly across all corners of Myanmar society and business. Leaders for example are expected to have realistic expectations of their subordinates and couples should not be forced to live apart because of professional duties. Lacking empathy or being inconsiderate (or too direct, not uncommon for a Dutchman) typically causes animosity.

When we express or experience emphatic behaviour, a hormone known as oxytocin is released. This hormone also manifests when we bond with others and when we experience trust in or from others. The more people bond with eachother, through family, friendship or common (cultural) beliefs, the more this hormone flows. Absence of common beliefs does the opposite with lower levels of empathy as a result. It’s effect can be observed in Western society with it’s deeply divided nations.

Oxytocin is the ultimate trust hormone and chemical manifestation of love. It propels generosity and care for others, which may explain why you can observe empathy in the form of altruism in Yangon’s everyday society; from preparing food for the monks and feeding stray animals to charity donations for the poor and other social causes. In fact, according to The CAF World Giving Index 2015, a larger proportion of Myanmar people give money to charity every month than any other country on earth, by far.


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