Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
Richard the Third, Act 1, Scene 1
The Wall Street protests have now gone viral to more than eighty locations globally. Different places, contrasting paradigms but same underlying issues. The protests are focused on corporate greed, on rocketing wealth and income inequality, against booming bank profits post Government bailouts, about average folks struggling to keep their heads above water in a tanking economy. Banners read: “We are not merchandise in bankers’ hands!” in Lisbon, “Why am I not economically represented?” in Dublin. A mix of anger, frustration and disconnect are palpably on display.
As I watch the flickering images on the news screen, my mind’s eye goes back to John Steinbeck’s “The Winter of Our Discontent”. It tells the story of Ethan Allen, a former aristocrat, now fallen on hard times. As he struggles to make two ends meet, he maintains high integrity and honesty. But family and peer pressure makes him resent his lowly position, forces him to give up his long cherished values and embark on a dangerous and corrupt path……
I ponder. Is the society at large similarly headed? Is this the twenty first century denouement of Capitalism? Or a clarion call for a deeper change inside each one of us?
To the detractors, Capitalism is a fundamentally flawed model with the sole focus on profiteering. Numbers take over from morality; we get obsessed with what is monetarily productive but socially destructive.
As Aristotle had said, “Man by nature is a social animal…………… and anyone who does not need to partake of society is either a beast or a God.” We have been genetically wired to share, care and give away but this runs counter to the capitalist theory of economic progress. We are thus getting re-wired to reward selfishness but punish altruism. So what are we morphing into- Aristotle’s Beast or his God?
Our sense of purpose and values get subsumed and even contradicted by those of our organisation. We get hijacked into believing that our life’s purpose is to be successful within the corporate world, achieve that beautiful house on the lakeside or aggrandize a stable of top end cars. Such externally imposed beliefs take centre stage and drown out our true values. Our thoughts and behaviour become hostage to these underlying beliefs and as we wallow in our self created materialistic cocoon, we can no longer “hear” our true inner self. We may have once held dear the value of “environmental sustainability” but may now have become reconciled with our organisation’s growth plans of iron ore mining requiring degradation of a virgin environment. In our youth, we may have believed in “equitability of society” but as CEOs, may be perfectly willing to maximize stakeholder returns by retrenching employees through automation and out-sourcing.
While a knee jerk reaction may suggest increasing taxes on Corporates and individuals, excessive taxation endangers initiatives and aspirations, the fountainheads of progress. Clearly a shift in our perspective is needed. Could we reward and support a culture of direct benefit flows to the immediate society and the environment? Can we create a great corporate culture with Purpose over Profit? Can we re-align corporate values more with our own individual ones? Can we light up the corporate sector with glorious values as under?
- Express love and care
- Service to others
- Pursuit of truth
- Quest for excellence and perfection
- Improve the World
In the October 2011 McKinsey Quarterly report on “The second economy”, author W. Brian Arthur speaks of how the emerging digital economy is causing large sections of human jobs to disappear, never to reappear. How the future economic challenge would be to shift from producing prosperity to distributing prosperity, how it would become increasingly difficult to apportion future wealth through jobs.
As stakeholders, could we shift our perspective to accept corporate valuation based on non-profit values as above apart from profits? Do we have the conviction to change winter of our discontent to the glorious summer, upholding our core values of universal inclusiveness and fairness? Or would we choose to go along the path taken by John Steinbeck’s Ethan Allen?
“There is a power in love that our world has not discovered yet. Jesus discovered it centuries ago. Mahatma Gandhi of India discovered it a few years ago, but most men and most women never discover it…………….
And this morning, I think of the fact that our world is in transition now. Our whole world is facing a revolution.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
In learning………… Shakti Ghosal