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Beyond Behavior — Could Nockwood be used as an ethical or moral compass?

What is it? Confirmation bias? Cognitive dissonance? Some profound alignment between the suits of the Nockwood cards and all other human dynamics. Right now, it seems as though everything I see in the world falls into the framework of the 6 suits of Nockwood — Hearts, Coins, Diamonds, Shields, Spades and Flags. I know that the suits of the cards were born of historic wisdom and human understanding, but it still surprises me when other, newer concepts also fit within it.

I was recently reading a wonderful book by Social Psychologist and ethics professor of the Stern School of NYU, Jonathan Haidt. His book, “The Righteous mind” explores the core beliefs and ideals of the left and right of the political spectrum. Within the book, Jonathan describes “social intuitionalism” which is a new concept to me, but one I’m certainly going to explore much more. The core idea here is that people’s beliefs come initially from their intuition and that rational thought, or reason, only comes into play later, to justify these intuitive beliefs. I could not agree with this more and the cards were my attempt to tap into our primal intuitive knowledge. From first use, the cards have proved invaluable for unlocking, previously inaccessible intuitive understanding about ourselves, the decisions we are making in life and the identities and cultures of the brands and businesses we are creating.

What was even more enlightening, and somewhat astonishing, was the second part of the book where Jonathan laid out a framework for six intuitive ideas that underpin our moral thinking. He articulated these as: care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. From these he goes on to argue that these are six ideas form the basis of core themes in human morality and ethics, such as divinity, community, hierarchy, tradition, sin and degradation.

Wow, 6 dimensions of intuition! Foundational concepts for our moral and ethical decisions. Could it be that these align with Nockwood’s six dimensions? Could Nockwood cards also be used as a tool to guide ethical and moral navigation?

Here’s what I found. Below is a brief discussion of each of Jonathan’s core tenets compared to the suits of the Nockwood deck:

Care and community = Flags suit (social) “Care”, one of the most important dimensions according to Jonathan, which leads to human need for “community”. No doubt here. This certainly maps neatly to Nockwood’s ‘Flags’ suit.

Authority and hierarchy = Coins suit (power) “Authority” and “Hierarchy’” another easy fit to the idea of power and the suit of Coins.

Sanctity and purity= Shields suit (protection) "Sanctity", which in many cultures relates heavily to female sexuality, is not just about sex, according to Jonathan. It’s about the virtue of controlling what you do. He describes it as protecting and maintaining purity which aligns almost perfectly with the Shields suit. In fact, this interpretation of the Shields suit brings a much richer reading than simply ‘protection’ that I’d previously associated it with. This is about our ability to seize control of the things that are important to us, stabilize them and call them to order.

Liberty and freedom = Diamonds suit (discovery) One of the most important dimensions of morality according to Jonathan, is that of ‘Liberty’ and freedom. It is also at the heart of western democratic and American values. Again, this is a bit of an expansion of my interpretation of the Diamonds suit. Clearly the values at the core of acts of ‘discovery’ and exploration’, is the ideal of ‘freedom’. Freedom is about our ability to take that step that breaks with ‘what is’ to find ‘what could be’. Like the Diamonds suit, freedom gives us our right to step out on a unique and individual path, free from constraint, attack or persecution from others. It is only because of our freedom to explore that we are able to make any discoveries at all.

Fairness and justice = Spades suit (Truth and practicality) It’s interesting that both Nockwood and Jonathan use a physical tool to represent these ideas (Jonathan uses the symbol of the scales to represent the ‘justice’ and within Nockwood, I used the spade to represent grounded and practical). The spades suit is very much about rationality and our ability to understand multiple perspectives on a particular, often complex topic. It’s not hard to see the strong connection between the moral idea of ‘fairness’ and the human desire for structure, order, logic and the pursuit of truth, in the face of complexity (which is everything Spades).

Loyalty and love = Hearts suit (passion and creativity) I left this one to the end because the connection was not immediate to me. Outwardly ‘loyalty’ felt more aligned to Flags than hearts, but Jonathan makes a big distinction between ‘care’ and ‘loyalty’ — both of which are seemingly about our relationship with others. It was only when he said that core to the idea of ‘loyalty’ was the set of value that makes us intuitively feel that our ‘blood is thicker than water’. This is when I made the connection to love and connections of the heart…and the suit of Hearts. On reflection, I realized that Jonathan is a social psychologist and as such puts an emphasis on social dynamics rather than inward looking ones. But Loyalty isn’t just about loyalty to others, there’s an equal and more important loyalty to your selves, your own feelings, your own ideas and thoughts as well as those of others. Loyalty to self, who you are, how you identify and what you love (self and others) feels right as a ‘Hearts’ oriented definition of loyalty. What Maslow might call ‘love and belonging’ or ‘self-esteem’ vs. ‘Intrinsic values’.

What I love about this discovery is that it’s bringing a number of new dimensions to the six suits of Nockwood. The fact that these behavioral archetypes might also have a foundation in our intuition and the morals and ethics that inform behavior, is fascinating to me. While the titles and the ‘action statements’ for each card are written with a behavioral emphasis, I am interested to add a moral and ethical layer to each of the suit descriptions.

I’m going to keep working on this as I think it makes a lot of sense that the cards originate from a place of human intuition. A set of constructs, not necessarily learned but with us from birth. These intuitive constructs guide our actions and behaviors, not because our capacity to reason or intellectualize but from some deeper, less conscious place. I love the possibility that the cards could be more than just a behavioral guide and might be able to be more of a moral or ethical compass for people and businesses.

I’d also like to thank Jonathan Haidt for his amazingly rigorous research and inspiring book.

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