The Gut-Brain Axis (Ethical Questions)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

I am a long-time advocate of systems thinking. It has risen in importance as an increasing number of our greatest human challenges can’t be understood or resolved without it.

Today, I’m taking a look at new findings on the human microbiome, which is known to impact the brain in important ways. You may have already seen the recent news about advances in our understanding of the Gut-Brain Axis.

Hidden in the walls of the digestive system, this “brain in your gut” is revolutionizing medicine’s understanding of the links between digestion, mood, health and even the way you think.

The Brain-Gut Connection, John Hopkins Medicine

 The cells that make up our bodies are now better understood, and the current estimate is that only 43% of them are human (Adam Jezard, World Economic Forum). The rest of the cells are referred to as our microbiome. 

Not All Bacteria and Viruses are Bad

We have traditionally thought of bacteria and viruses as always bad and tried to kill them off. “There is now a multitude of evidence to suggest that this kill-all approach isn’t working (Adam Jezard, World Economic Forum).”The reason that killing all the bacteria and viruses in our bodies is not good is that some of them are necessary for our health, and can actually help our bodies fight the bad ones. Antibiotics are a kill-all approach that also eliminates the good bacteria. When the good bacteria are gone, it’s easier for the bad bacteria to take over.

A Second Genome

“Prof Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiologist from Caltech, argues: ‘We don’t have just one genome, the genes of our microbiome present essentially a second genome which augment the activity of our own” (James Gallagher, BBC). In the article, he goes on to say that what makes us human is “the combination of our own DNA, plus the DNA of our gut microbes (James Gallagher, BBC).” Clearly, we need to use systems thinking (and not cause-and-effect thinking) for this to make any sense.  

How the Brain is Impacted

Here are some things we have learned about the multiple ways the microbiome impacts the functions of the brain:

“Insights into the gut-brain crosstalk have revealed a complex communication system that not only ensures the proper maintenance of gastrointestinal homeostasis, but is likely to have multiple effects on affect, motivation, and higher cognitive functions.”   

“microbiota influences stress reactivity and anxiety-like behavior.”

Carabotti, Scirocco, Maselli and Severia, The gut-brain axis: interactions between enteric microbiota, central and enteric nervous systems, Annuls of Gastroenterology

There are clearly many reasons to protect the health of our microbiome. How do we do that? We can start by eating a healthy, high fiber diet. If we eat a healthy, high fiber diet, are the good bacteria in our microbiome safe if we don’t take antibiotics? Not so fast. According to a recent study, many of “the world’s rivers are contaminated with antibiotics” (Kara Fox, CNN).

Protecting the Microbiome

Now we know that the health of our microbiome is intricately connected to overall human health. It is not something to be treated as an invader. It should instead be treated with care. Individuals will need to reconsider how their diet and habits will impact the microbiome, and businesses will need to assess the positive or negative impact of their products. 

Since our understanding of the microbiome and its importance to our health has advanced, the burden is now on all of us to adapt. Use the list of Ethical Questions below to determine the next steps. 

Ethical Questions

  1. What kinds of meals, snacks and drinks are we serving in our food services, meetings, conferences and retreats?
  2. How could our products be impacting the gut microbiome?
  3. Do our products feed the bad bacteria or the goodHow high is the sugar content? The fiber content?
  4. As we market our products, are we encouraging habits that support a healthy microbiome or an unhealthy one?
  5. What should we change about our products and marketing to align with new information about the microbiome and its impact on human health?

Resources:

How Your Gut Might Modify Your Mind, Chemical and Engineering News, American Chemical Society

Gut-Brain Psychology: Rethinking Psychology From the Microbiota–Gut–Brain Axis, Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience

 

 

 

 

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The Complexity of Ethical Thinking and Decision Making (Part 3)

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Ethical Thinking and Decision Making require staying grounded in ethical values, but there is much more to do than knowing our values and living them every day through our choices. In Part 1 of this series, I explored the Depth of our thinking, and in Part 2, I broke down issues related to understanding Context. In Part 3, let’s take a look at Complexity.

Embracing Complexity is Part of Leadership

Complexity has become a way of life. To make ethical decisions, we must embrace it and incorporate it into our thinking processes. That means digging into issues until we understand their multiple dimensions, connections, and contradictions. It means being intentional about decision making and avoiding making snap judgments.

Leaders who develop a high level of thinking complexity will be better able to help our organizations understand and work through a wide variety of challenges, problems, and opportunities. They will make sense of issues and problems that are multidimensional and connected. And they will be prepared to do what all great leaders do – help those they lead deal with increasing complexity.

         — Linda Fisher Thornton, Dealing With Complexity in Leadership 

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Don’t Do

  • Use oversimplified approaches to understanding complex issues
  • Ignore the complexity of an issue because “it’s too hard to figure out.”
  • Fall into the trap of only noticing data that conveniently backs up their current beliefs

What Ethical Thinkers and Leaders Do

  • Ethical thinkers and leaders know that complexity is part of the leadership sphere and they embrace it 
  • They look for, notice, and talk about complexity
  • They work to find clear and compelling ways to communicate complex issues so that others can understand them

When we ignore complexity, many around us can easily see that we are not operating in reality. They can see that we’re not taking informed action and not solving problems in responsible ways. By embracing complexity, we stay on the path that leads to ethical solutions that work in the real world.

Stay tuned for Part 4 in this series! 

Dealing With Complexity? Use Ethical Thinking

 

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©2019 Leading in Context LLC

They’re Trying to Tell Us Something

By Linda Fisher Thornton

Since I started researching ethical leadership, I have begun to notice just how many different people are trying to steer us in the right direction. Their ethical messengers cross geographic and time boundaries and professions. The messages they leave are compelling. They are trying to tell us something important.

The messages are packaged in a multitude of different ways including books, music, quotes and stories. People who have realized important insights about ethics are leaving a trail for others to follow. But to follow, we have to notice.

Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and other ethical sages don’t have an “exclusive” when it comes to ethical wisdom. There are many more recent messengers. Popular songs engage us in learning about how bullies harm and how each person should be respected. Dr. Seuss wrote about human rights and sustainability in The Sneetches and Other Stories and The Lorax. Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Malala Yousafzai and many, many others have imparted wisdom to us about what it means to live ethically.

“I want to thank all of you out there who have been brave enough to walk point and force change. To fight for basic human rights that…my son’s generation and the generations to follow will so greatly benefit from.”             

—Sally Field Quoted by Human Rights Campaign, HRC.org

When you’re “tuned in” to something, you tend to notice it more frequently. This week, notice the ethical messages around you. Look for the trail of breadcrumbs left by people who have struggled and learned and advanced their understanding of the human condition and ethics.

Each of us has a part to play in creating a better world. Once we begin to notice the trail of breadcrumbs, we can look for clues to see where that trail is leading us.

Questions For Reflection

  1. Where in the course of my day am I noticing messages about our human responsibilities to each other?
  2. What can I learn from the messengers?
  3. How can I help spread the word?

 

 

 

 

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5 Years of Top Posts: Leading in Context Blog

By Linda Fisher Thornton

This week I’m sharing selected Top Posts By Year from the Leading in Context Blog. It’s a time capsule of the issues you thought were most important over the last 5 years. For each year, I have selected a theme that reflects the topics and focus of the top posts.          

2017: Adapting To Increasing Stakeholder Expectations

Everyone is a Stakeholder at Some Level

Ethical Leadership is About Service, Not Privilege

Ethical Leadership: The “On” Switch For Adaptability

Talking About What Matters (Part 1)

2016: Understanding Leader Roles, Responsibilities & Relationships

10 Ways the Leadership Relationship is Changing (Part 1)

Great Leaders are Other-Focused

The Future of Learning Isn’t About “Knowing”

2015: Becoming Our Ethical Best

Imagining the Future of Leadership

Just Say No to 10 Behaviors That Kill Competence

40 Ways to Build an Ethical Culture (An Ethical To Do List)

2014: Changing Ethical Leadership Expectations

10 Forces Fueling the Values-Based Leadership Movement

Understanding (And Preventing) Ethical Leadership Failures

What is the Ultimate Goal of Leadership?

2013 Theme: Leading Through Complexity While Building Trust

Dealing With Complexity in Leadership

Should Trust Be Freely Offered or Conditionally Earned?

Modeling Ethical Leadership and Behavior

These top posts are ones that readers found most useful. There will be many more compelling articles about ethical thinking and leadership coming in 2018. New posts are published weekly at LeadinginContext.com/Blog. If there are topics you want to learn more about in 2018, please suggest them in the comments!

 

Special 5 Post Series Celebrating the Second Printing of 7 Lenses

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 1)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 2)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 3)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 4)

Why Ethical Thinking Matters (Part 5)

 

Top 100 Leadership Blog

© 2018 Leading in Context LLC

 

 

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