August 25, 2014

Is Business the Key to a Better World? ~ Iektje Stephens

Photo: dogulove/flickr

I was an NPR junkie.

About a year ago, I stopped watching and listening to the news; I noticed myself becoming increasingly agitated, frustrated, angry and depressed over the news I was hearing. Global climate disruption and environmental catastrophes, the absence of real political will to do anything about it, increasing income inequality, wars fought over oil and other commodities, bankers ripping people off and paying themselves huge bonuses, large corporations endangering the environment and people’s health… All of these problems can somehow be traced back to business and the desire to maximize profit.

One of the main reasons the news triggers such feelings of despair is that it makes us feel so utterly powerless to do anything to change the awful events unfolding in the world.

“We humans have come to a crossroads in our history: we can either destroy the world or create a good future,” writes Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche in his latest book The Shambhala Principle.

As a student of the Sakyong and a Shambhalian, the notion of creating an enlightened society is very dear to my heart and one of the main driving forces of my life.

“Enlightened society” does not refer to some Utopian la-la land, but to a society in which citizens are awake to their own, and each other’s, basically good nature. “Basic goodness” does not refer to good as opposed to evil in a moral sense, but to our unconditional worthiness and human dignity. Society is the network of personal connections between people, between human beings and their environment and with the other species with whom we share this planet.

This interconnection between all beings is itself basically good and sacred.

According to the Sakyong, creating enlightened society begins with first recognizing and developing confidence in our own basic goodness. This requires examining and questioning the assumptions we have about ourselves and about human nature in general. Since business appears to play such a big role in the major problems we face in the world today, could it be that the solution to these problems also lies within business? Maybe we need to examine and question our assumptions about business as well! The philosopher Charles Eisenstein describes the basic function of business in his book Sacred Economics as follows:

“Whether or not money is involved, the fundamental issues of the economy—what people make and do for each other—are these: (1) how to connect the provider of a gift with the person who needs that gift; (2) how to acknowledge and honor those who give generously of their gifts; and (3) how to coordinate the gifts of many people across space and time in order to create things transcending the needs or gifts of any individual.” ~ Charles Eisenstein (Sacred Economics, p. 319)

Business, in its most fundamental sense, is really about meeting the needs of others. In that sense, business is also basically good!

Business influences the very fabric of our lives in every sphere. We are dependent on it for our livelihood. It determines where we live and how we live, what we eat and how our food is produced and distributed to us. It influences how we raise our children, and how they are educated. It profoundly influences how our political leaders govern our countries. Business can be a major catalyst for social transformation because of its pervasive role within our society.

In order to create a good human society, business is an essential ingredient. Therefore, we will need a paradigm shift in business, away from the profit-centered model towards a model of business that places human relationships at its center and seeks to maximize benefit.

“So, what does a psychologist know about business?” you might ask.

Great question! Honestly, other than being a “small business owner,” not much. However, I have learned a lot about human behavior and interpersonal relationships, and that is what business is all about.

During the time I wasn’t watching or listening to the news this past year, I read about and listened to people who know a lot more about business than I do, and have some really interesting things to say about how their business is changing the world for the better. Hearing their ideas has replaced my despair with optimism and inspiration, and I would now like to share this with you.

I will introduce you to these people and their ideas throughout my series of articles here on elephant journal. They are examples of how this new business paradigm is possible and is already happening in the “real world.” I hope you will join me on this journey!

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Apprentice Editor: Alicia Wozniak/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Photo: dogulove/flickr

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Elly van Laar Sep 1, 2014 5:52pm

Thank you for writing this. Not only am I impressed with your clear writing style, mixing in personal experiences with thoughts and vision, I also feel inspired by your mission to support businesses that maximize benefits. I love your idea of recognizing our basic goodness within ourselves and in others, so we can collaborate to support as many needs as possible.
Two ideas come to mind. The first one is one of the lessons of Nonviolent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg) on the distinction between universal, human needs (which we all have throughout space and time) and time- and location specific strategies to support those needs. When someone says "I need money", that is actually a strategy, not a need. There are societies where they don't use money, kids usually don't want money, and Buddhist monks might not need it either. Their need probably is safety, or belonging, respect, acceptance. We all want safety, respect, belonging, acceptance, and we are all willing to support those needs. Strategies often bring us in conflict. Understanding the difference between needs and strategies help us to find solutions that work for everyone.
The second idea is that if we shift to veganism, we don't consume all the horror, fear, anxiety, anger, and violence stored in the animals/animal products we consume, and we can easier connect to our basic goodness.

Brian Griffith Aug 26, 2014 12:50pm

Well, this is something we all think and dream about, and I look forward to seeing where this hopeful and enthusiastic writer goes with this sort of practice.

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Iektje Stephens

Iektje Stephens is a psychologist in private practice. She lives with her husband and daughter in Austin, TX. Some words to describe her are Shambhalian, animal lover, Iron Maiden fan, LGBT ally and tree hugger. Above all she is passionate about all things having to do with creating enlightened society. Check out her website and Facebook page.