Between CAPITALISM AND SPIRITUALITY there is I, the ONE, the ESSENCE. By: Ajit Jhangiani
Between CAPITALISM and SPIRITUALITY there is I, the ONE, the ESSENCE. How ought I to act?
CAPITALISM (C). About 300 years ago, after the Scots gave us the Industrial Revolution, another Scot, Adam Smith, preached self-interest (I, Me, Mine) as the most powerful motivating force for economic advancement. C was born. America perfected it, became the richest and most advanced country in the world. We were at the top, and C was happy to take all the credit. This was backed up by other examples, Hong Kong (Capitalist) vs Venezuela (Socialist), North Korea (Communist) etc., countries suffering grave economic hardships.
Anti-capitalists however pointed out the not so happy parts of C. Why, if we are so rich, there exist serious fault lines such as inequality, pollution, inhumane health care, large numbers of homeless, bankruptcies due to health care bills, mental health issues such as loneliness and depression etc.?
If I might proffer a simple definition of Capitalism: it is my money (capital), I loan it to, or invest it with, you, fully expecting it to be returned along with a (risk adjusted) return. But what if you are landless, broke and hungry, uneducated? Not my problem, say capitalists.
However, C is based on Feudalism: owners (Shareholders) vs the laborers/serfs/workers/employees who are merely means of production and therefore expendable in any and every way. So, if you want my capital, then don’t I own you and can use you in any way I choose, keep a yoke on you? I created jobs for you did I not, and so my Capital can use any legal (or illegal) way possible to ensure its return, a maximum return. Legally, I can fight efforts at collective bargaining that seek a fair wage and working conditions, I can lobby and rent seek in Congress, swinging to my favor who gets elected, mandates, and even the laws. ROI reigns supreme. I am the owner, the Shareholder, the Zamindar (land owner vs you the peasant). And, if I choose illegal means of maximizing the return on my capital, then it gets worse, such as drug lords who put a gun and a large bag of cash in front of you and say ‘choose’. Corruption gets worse. Money/capital rules supreme.
SPIRITUALISM (S) is a bit older, possibly 5000 years old? It clearly states that there is only ONE (Spirit, Consciousness, Soul etc.), or at least as the Tao says NOT TWO. From this One come all forms, time, space, forms, everything a division from the One, but bearing the Essence of the One. You and I are such divisions/forms, and the mission/purpose/meaning in life is to find our way back from our differentiated forms to that One from whence we came.
IF TRULY ONLY ONE, then Capital and any other resources do not belong to me (myself, the Ego) but to that One, and I (the limited form that broke from that essence) am only a part-time steward of these assets that I temporary call mine. So, my one, and only one, job during my limited time here in this life, is to manage these assets, and my talents, with great care and love so as to leave the world a better place than when I arrived here for my temporary stay. If so, then ought I not to place and use my assets/talents where these are needed the most, where and how I can assist the disadvantaged rather than where I get the best ROI?
Am I my brother’s keeper? YES! What you do to these the least of my brethren, you do unto me (the One). So, ought I not to do the right thing, immaterial of benefit to me, and isn’t this the only aim/objective of all action? Transcend the small self/I, serve the other. Serve not the small I, but the collective, the One.
THE SPACE BETWEEN THESE OPPOSITES. Does either side, C and S, even care what the other side thinks? Can we develop a base for value-based decision making in between? As all academics know, any such theory has to first collect facts/evidence, be subjected to analyses and argument and peer review, and only then can it be allowed to exist. Well, there is indeed hope here. Professor Michael Porter’s article (HBR Sept 2011) on ‘Creating SHARED value’ hit a nerve and replaced shareholders with stakeholders which now included employees, vendors and community. Professor Raj Sisodia’s Conscious Capitalism movement has been equally successful. Both have proven that corporations that do good are indeed more profitable in the long run. Both have many high value followers including most CEOs of the top Fortune 500 companies. Well, was Milton Freedman wrong then, when he said that the only purpose of business is to make a profit? Seems so.
HAPPINESS (H). H, another word for S and for Consciousness, is what we all seek. Much work has been done here also. Pertinent to this essay is the work of HBS Professor Michael Norton ‘Money can buy Happiness, if you give it away’. Now Professor Arthur Brooks, at the same great institution, has also come in strongly in this vein and has superb publications such as ‘Love your enemy’.
CHANGE SEEMS INEVITABLE. But it is NOT EASY, and RISKY. So, is the 300 year old Capitalistic format ready to succumb to lessons from S, to change and start a moon walk back to essence and start incorporating established lessons taught by S? On Change, teacher and author Cass Sunstein says: ‘Sometimes it is more gradual, as “nudges” help produce new and different decisions—apps that count calories; texted reminders of deadlines; automatic enrollment in green energy or pension plans.’ However, ‘When norms lead people to silence themselves, even an unpopular status quo can persist.
Then one day, someone challenges the norm—a child who exclaims that the emperor has no clothes; a woman who says “me too.” Sometimes suppressed outrage is unleashed, and long- standing practices fall’.
Even though some seemingly ordinary events challenging societally established norms are very risky, there are indeed shining examples of heroes who did take such a risk. Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat kicked off the Civil Rights Movement, highly criticized at the time, Colin Kaepernick taking the knee during the national anthem stands vindicated now and has earned an apology by the powerful NFL, Rose McGowan accusing the powerful Harvey Weinstein of casting couch rape initiated a powerful, but rightful, MeToo movement, and here we are today with George Floyd, whose unfortunate death has caused a worldwide stir against police brutality which had sadly been embedded in custom and our organizational structure.
Much more needs to be done if we are to have a just society where each individual lives free to choose, with dignity, out of poverty, and fearlessly. Major issues, seemingly accepted socially, include human trafficking, child labor, corruption, contempt of another, hatred, anger, violence etc, all serious evils to which we sadly respond by saying ‘it happens, what can I do’. Which is why so many greats such as MLK say, ‘if you watch and do nothing, then you are a part of the problem’. Yes, indeed I am part of the problem.
So, is C, a representative of selfishness, dying in the face of small changes, or is it just pivoting and adjusting a bit, a bit of lipstick on a pig? Can we learn from successes of those who think and act more morally, or are we still stuck in the selfish mode? Do we nudge C in the right direction, or does it have to wait patiently for that those pivoting unhappy incidents, one after another, to chip away at it and break it down?
On change, Gandhi said ‘Be the Change you want to see’. So, let each of us examine within ourselves, within our essence and not within our image, how we can do good, one opportunity at a time. Gandhi said (my words here), ‘no matter how seemingly inconsequential and insignificant it might be, it is imperative that you do this right action.’ Mother Teresa, whose base value belief was ‘LOVE’ said, ‘first love yourself, then the person next to you, then the neighbor, then the community etc’. So, do I pick up the soiled starving and dying man from the street and take him home and clean him up and let him die a dignified death?
Therein lies my challenge. Can I at least be more conscious and aware of how I might, or might not, be viewing others? First with myself, then with a person next to me such as a waiter or janitor, then with my rude neighbor that I might disagree with, then with the disheveled and dirty homeless person on the street who has an addiction and a mental health issue, then the bully, then ISIS etc. If I can truly answer ‘yes’, and only then, ought I to have the right, the luxury, to bring my analytical MBA thinking into play and be allowed to strategize on how to advise others.
Now, might I take license, with the kind permission of you good people at DEI Consultants, and mention how I understand DEI? Diversity gets you a seat at the table, Equality gets your voice heard, and Inclusion gets you to be an undifferentiated and integral part of all processes including major decision making. And yes, with proper respect to C, evidence exists that it does positively affect earning in the long run.
And my purpose in life? To serve others who need what I have to offer. As Gandhi said, ‘the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’ And, when a Buddhist Monk was asked ‘Oh Holy One, how do I treat others?’ the Monk answered simply, ‘there are no others’. There is only ONE.
Might I take license, with the kind permission of you good people at DEI Consultants, and mention how I understand DEI? Diversity gets you a seat at the table, Equality gets your voice heard, and Inclusion gets you to be an undifferentiated part of all processes including major decision-making. So why the current situation of an alleged lack of serious DEI in the workplace?
When a Buddhist Monk was asked ‘Oh Holy One, how do I treat others?’ the Monk answered, ‘there are no others’. There is only ONE. And my purpose in life? To serve another, one who needs what I have to offer.