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Making Money and The Greater Good

September 27, 2009

emo-non-profit-vs-for-profitHere in New York City, we live in the epicenter of capitalism.  It’s truly a dog-eat-dog city, where we compete for power and money.  Does that make us bad or selfish?  Aren’t there many good, cultured and spiritual people in New York and other big American cities; people who give back and embrace socially conscious missions from global warming to global poverty?  How do we strike a balance between making money and doing social good.  Ahh, the age old question between self-interest and common good, which usually falls under the label of Capitalism vs. Socialism.

I really love this topic, probably because I frequently find myself with a lot of internal conflict around it.  Here I am, running a for-profit business in the ultra-competitive web marketing industry, faced with the practical realities of competing for cash conscious clients in the midst of a global economic meltdown.  When it comes to selecting vendors like Blueliner (my consulting company), business owners have their own livelihood on the line; ask them how much they care about “greater good” versus profits, and you will see that they typically don’t care how well-meaning we are.  They are hiring us strictly to make them money.

So generally, people don’t care about how good you are as a person; they want you to be good at what you do.  And being good increases your earning potential, no matter what your take on social good is.  You can be the greediest son-of-a-bitch around, or the most kind-hearted philanthropist – either way, if you’re on top of your game, you can earn a lot of money.  What you do with your wealth – well, that’s a different issue, and one that we want to deal with.

From a moral point of view, it is imperative to consider how we make money.  Karma comes into play here.  I question all of the “nice guys” and “brilliant scientists” that work in the military or pharmaceutical industry.  I’m talking about those who are at the top of their trade and are considered to be genuinely nice humanitarians.  Something just doesn’t feel right about that to me.  There must be some kind of internal discomfort for those folks, or at least the ones who are deeply ethical.  It’s very easy to put up a front, as most of the executives at the top of the corporate world have learned how to do.  Image, image, image…that’s what it’s about in our society.  Substance is unknown, under-investigated and apparently, unimportant.

Personally, when I look to hire someone at one of my companies – Blueliner and 401kid – I’m looking essentially for the following qualities, that relate to both character and competence:

  1. Resourcefully Smart. I want to hire problem-solvers, not mechanical thinkers who simply know how to execute.  Of course, the higher the management level, the more I expect them to be a masterful and fearless problem-solver.  Someone that knows how to deal with whatever the current situation is, get a plan together, motivate his or her team, and ultimately get things done.
  2. Integrity. Someone who is honest, most of all with themselves.  If they are honest with themselves, they will not be defensive or averse to good input when it comes, whether from peers, higher ups or direct reports.  This honesty, of course, should carry over to their interactions with clients, staff and shareholders.
  3. Spiritual. Yes, that’s right.  I want to have people in my company who believe in something greater or bigger than themselves.  I don’t care what their religion is or what form it takes; as long as there is an underlying sense about them of humility, higher order and the unity of all things.  I want someone who strives for win-win interactions and doesn’t see everything through a competitive, tug-of-war paradigm.  I never want someone who intimidates staff, motivating work through fear.  I prefer people who are truly considerate of and empathetic towards all others that they interact with, especially their co-workers.

Some might say “of course, everyone prefers good people” while others believe that this is too idealistic, choosing instead to focus on competence – “hire people who are good at what they do”.  What I see around me is that most people generally sells themselves on both fronts, trying to fake it wherever they fall short.  When given a choice, we focus on upgrading our skills more readily than improving our morality and compassion.  Generally, this is because we are so focused on “making it” in a very competitive society, that our ethics get compromised or overridden by “the need to succeed.”  I find it unfortunate that our icons in the business, entertainment and virtually every other realm of modern American society, are the wealthiest, most successful people, regardless of character.  Further, we have somehow come to believe that being good and doing good are somehow mutually exclusive.  I could not disagree more.  Of course it is tough, and takes great will power; but I truly believe that we can strive for internal, moral excellence while also pursuing an ambitious, material success track in life, regardless of our profession.  And I don’t see these as things that have to be balanced – we can go full force on both tracks without ever compromising the highest ethical standards, which ultimately align us with the greater good.  Al Gore shared a story in An Inconvenient Truth, about a U.S. government presentation on climate change once showed the Earth on a scale, balanced against gold bars, which represented the financial & business interests.

In sum, my message is that we’ve gotten lost and distracted by the glitter of gold bars; and the destruction that it has caused us morally is apparent.  We must re-establish the importance of spiritual values in every domain of life, including financial markets, Corporate America and the political sphere.  Pure competition and raw Capitalism is not only dead but in fact, has always been flawed and never worked, even in the era when supposedly “everyone” was making lots of money.  This isn’t about politics.  It’s about your soul and the collective conscience of mankind.  Starting with ourselves, and an honest look in the mirror, it is time to raise our Consciousness, grapple with what it means to be a global citizen and shift our perspective.  My friend David Houle, a futurist that counsels CEOs and business leaders, calls this The Shift Age. This is the Age in which making money is an equally valid aim for all global citizens as long as that pursuit is aligned with and in service of the Greater Good that has defined high moral character for ages.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 28, 2009 8:01 am


    Beautifully written, and I too would like to encourage the concepts of morality and integrity in all parts of life including business. Bob Hallock

  2. October 11, 2009 12:17 pm

    In your post, I am particularly struck by your comment: We “are so focused on “making it” in a very competitive society, that our ethics get compromised or overridden by “the need to succeed.”

    This sentence sum up your entire post. When I was reading the sentence, I expected it to end “the need to survive.” A focus to make enough money to survive could hardly be deemed blameworthy as long as it does not involve depriving another person of his or her own need to survive (e.g., killing to appropriate another’s property). Success beyond survival, however, I take to be a desire rather than a need because success is for all intents and purposes unlimited. Maintaining a competitive focus as justified by a desire (rather than a need) seems less legitimate to me, and I suspect you would agree with me. I think by “need to succeed” you mean “need to survive”…and I suspect you would add “in the marketplace.” I would not be surprised if many people in business project their desire for “still more” onto their survival needs (as if the latter justified their competitive focus at the expense of ethics and compassion (I’m thinking of Karen Armstrong’s thesis here)in going on from what is necessary for survival. That is, I suspect a slippery slope is being taken advantage of in business.

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