Over the last few months I have posted a couple of articles which refer to the necessity of leading a good life, both in order to be successful and also health. The first article, which I wrote, entitled “The importance of having a vision” outlined in detail the need to have a vision in life and to pursue this vision aggressively and how most people think they have goals yet they don’t push hard enough. I think it’s important because we live in a society which suggests the easy life and that success comes easy, when in fact success requires grit, courage and an ability to keep pushing forward no matter how much resistance you have to face along the way. If you haven’t already seen the famous movie “the secret” , take a look at it, but the basic premise is that you can have anything you want in your life so long as you want it enough. That according to the law of attraction these things will be magnetically drawn towards you. It’s a nice documentary which makes a lot of great points, because prior to do this positive thinking was been emphasized, which is not enough to achieve anything much. What ‘the secret’ brought out is that it’s not enough to be positive, but also you have to believe in what you want to achieve. This is great, but where ‘the secret’ movie fell down was in suggesting that work wasn’t required. I am sure that the contributors meant well, but the message that got out there was to just sit back and wish your way to wealth and happiness. Of course this is ridiculous, so that’s why I wrote this article on having a vision. Successful people in this world envision what they want and then they ruthlessly go after it!
In another article entitled “The importance of character development in physical-mental-emotional-spiritual wellbeing” I wrote about how we have to develop delayed gratification, in order to achieve the things which we want to achieve in life, which is the opposite of having fun. When we think about the lowest common denominator (LCM) in human activity, immediate gratification is the sign of the immature person, who seeks please and avoids pain and who does not want to be patient or hard working, they want it all now. So, while many people emphasize a heady narcissistic pursuit of success (as in the Gordon Gecko in the 1987 movie “Wall Street” when he gave his “greed is good” speech), in actual fact successful people usually have to make sacrifices which goes against seeking immediate gratification. I then went on to note that we need character development, in order to have the patience and perseverance necessary to achieve what we want in life.
In this article “Lead a successful life lead an ethical life” I want to push this discourse a little bit further and explain why it is that we need character development, in order to be really successful in the truest senses of the world.
First of all what is character development?
Character development refers to working on our personality and becoming a better version of ourselves. As human beings we have virtue and we have vice. The most dominant vices of course are greed, pride, vanity, avarice, lust, sloth and wrath. Pretty much every vice which you can think of fits into one of these categories.
Now how do we develop vices?
Easy, we simply follow the line of least resistance by seeking instant gratification. So if we want to develop virtues, then we have to go beyond instant gratification. Let’s take a look at the table below
So if we think about it, all it takes to go from being a terrible human being to a great human being is to flip these vices into virtues and since vices are created by seeking instant gratification, the way forward is to work on putting of gratification off for something more meaningful later. It sound easy but obviously it’s really hard, because it requires putting our instincts on hold and thinking about what we have to do and choosing to respond rather than react.
So what has this got to do with success?
Well most of us want to be successful and there is a general misconception that to be successful you have to be ruthless and walk over other people, but this does not have to be the case and indeed this can be counterproductive. Firstly looking at the chart above, we can see that even the most greedy money making type of individual, has to learn to delay gratification. So say you don’t give a damn about being a good person you just want success, well even if this is the case you have to at the very least work on developing diligence and patience in order to make a success of anything.
If we take this up a gear, what about the really successful person say a billionaire? What delineates a billionaire from a regular millionaire?
The difference is again in delayed gratification. Billionaires invest multi-generationally. They invest for their grandkids and not themselves. For example if a billionaire invests $50 million dollars into a cruise liner, how long do you think it is before the ship pays for it? Probably 25 years or more. If said billionaire is 60 years of age he is looking at a return in his investment maturing when he is in his 80’s, his kids are in their 50’s and his grand kids are in their 20’s and 30’s! So the billionaire has to have a fair degree of character development, in order to do this!
Looking back at everyday success, why should the everyday ambitious person want to be a person of good character?
Well purely from a point of view of early success some character development is needed as listed above. But also is wealth enough, what about other aspects oft success. Aspects such as being at peace with yourself; maintaining meaningful and fulfilling relationships; having self-appreciation and gratitude for life in general; finding meaning in life other than simple acquisition; being a “deep person” and so on!
To achieve these types of intrapersonal and interpersonal success does require character development. The wealthiest man in the world might indeed have great diligence and patience but is he satisfied? Does he feel connected to other members of the human race, as if every person on the planet was their brother or their sister? Are they comfortable in their skin? Are they at peace with their life and their impending death?
In my opinion unless he or she can tick each of these boxes, in some way their life is lacking and impoverished.
So this is where ethics really come into play. Yes some degree of character development is needed in order to make money but to be a fulfilled and fully rounded human being we have to be an ethical person, because each of these 7 virtues noted above are stepping stones towards becoming a mature and contented human being!
Humans are whole – They cannot be divided!
A hidden rule which has a big effect on our life’s is that we cannot be divided, that we are who we are and that if there are disenfranchised aspects of our personality, that these aspects will affect the whole being in a bad way. For example a person might be a really nice person, but they also might be an alcoholic and they might try their best to hide their addiction. But no matter how much they try to deny this, they are an addict and their addiction is pulling them the wrong direction. They have to lie to their family and friends, often they are under the influence and their work life suffers and their personality is often toned down or blown out of proportion, whichever way you look at it they might fool everyone that they are sober, but their alchoholism is effecting their life all the same.
Let’s take another example; says a person with very lewd seal side, they try to hide it but whenever they get a chance they are cheating on their wife or husband. Once again maybe they can hide it, but they cannot hide the effect. The lies, the covering up, possibly the hidden expenditure of money, which takes away from family, and of course the distance between themselves and their partners as the cheating creates a big emotional divide between them, which is difficult to climb over.
So when we think about vices, we all have vices and they are impulses which are there and are determined by many factors such as genetic factors, environmental and lifestyle factors, ultimately we cannot control our vices because of our lack of character development on some level. But our vices always hold us back in some ways. The two examples above are extreme examples but vices can also have a small yet persistent negative effect, even if they are not severe. For example sloth is often present where people find it difficult lot to get down to work and end up procrastinating and putting things of, instead of doing what needs to be done. Another example could be a temper which is out of control and which can cause a lot of problems in everyday life because we end up losing our temper and shouting at people over very little things. So whicverher way you look at it we cannot cut off our vices our vices, even if hidden in the background and efficiently covered over, with our coping skills, they still have a derisive effect in our lives. So if we want to become the best that we can be we have to try to balance each of these aspect. Ok becoming perfect is unlikely but we have to try, for our own benefit even if we don’t want to benefite anyone else!
The Need for Ethics in Business
One thing which has disturbed me over the years is meeting various business people and corporate executives who appeared to be very nice but then here them uttering those awful words:
“It’s only business!”
Whist is it that makes people believe that they can go to the temple or mosque on a Friday or the synagogue on a Saturday or a church on a Sunday only to go to work on a Monday morning and screw somebody over?
Every major religion in the world believes in the 7 vices and the 7 virtues!
Every major religion in the world tells you how to behave!
So what part of “love your neighbour as yourself” has a get out of jail card entitled “It’s only business!”
I remember watching the final scene in the movie “Taken” where Liam Neeson faces the bad guy, who kidnapped Neeson’s daughter in an effort to out her into the sex trade and he pleads with Liam Neeson…guess what…yes “Please understand. It was all business it wasn’t personal”, to which Lima Neesan aptly replies “It was all personal to me!”
I think we can all see that the evil guy in this movie was well evil and that kidnapping is really wrong, but what about lesser things like firing somebody for no good reason, or overlooking an employee and giving a position to a friend of ours instead. Ok I know it’s not kidnapping, but it’s still not good!
What about firing people without warning and for no good reason. Is that fair? What about their family? Can they pay the rent this month? Have they school fees to pay? Or hospital bills to pay?
I’m not saying that a boss or business man needs to be a great humanitarian, but a basic level of common decency is needed when you are firing people. Did you give them a fair warning? Did you try to give them a chance to redeem themselves? If they are out of the trial period at work, did you give them appropriate notice so that they would have a chance to look for another job? Did you give them a fair final payment?
These are the basics of common decency.
What about competing with a rival business, is it ok to attempt to blacken their name, in an attempt to gain market superiority? Did you rip of their product and repackage it as your own? Did you poach their best employees with an outrageous offer, just to get them on your side? Did you pressurise suppliers of this other company to stop providing services to them, at the fear of losing a contract with your company?
This is the sort of thing which happens all of the time. If you ask these executives and managers why they make these ruthless decisions, they will tend to say “it’s just business” or something similar sounding to this. But is it necessary? Is it good?
I am going to declare something pretty important here. If you screw someone over in the name of business, then you are not a man or woman of character. You can’t claim to be a good person and then screw someone over and pretend it’s a game. If I beat you in a game of chess or monopoly then it’s a game. But if I force you out of a job or destroy your business, this is not a game it’s immoral. It might not be illegal, but laws are man-made and not necessarily moral. Nike shoes ended up in a famous scandal about their shoes been made in Vietnamese sweatshops, where the workers were getting paid a pittance and where frequently underage. Apparently Nike has done a lot to improve this situation, but when the scandal broke back in 2001 Nike defended itself by stating that the factories are contracted to make Nike shoes, but Nike had no idea what was going on in those factories. And Nike are not the only company to come up with such a defence, as many shoe and clothes manufactures make their products in third world countries while paying their workers peanuts.
The interesting thing about the Nike defence, is that they tried to ignore their responsibility by saying that the contractor did the mischief, but obviously ignoring the fact that they would have had several bidders and that they gave the counteract to a bidder known full well as to how much the company must be paying the workers, but they just didn’t care about the workers. This is the sort of thing which we see in the “its only business” defence. Ignorance of any moral compass, while defending yourself by saying that you are not doing something illegal!
Business has to be more than money and while success requires drive and ambition, we should not become slaves to our ambitions. In my article on vision, I noted that successful people realised what had to be done and they did it, but that doesn’t mean you have to have no moral compass. Remembering what we noted in the last section you cannot divide yourself. There have been some famous gangster films such as Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” where Al Pacino played the lead gangster and we see either him or his father when he was young in the movie, played by Robert De Nero (in Godfather 2), doing some terrible act or commissioning some terrible act only to go home and have fun with his family or attend mass in the local catholic church!
When we do terrible things, we cannot lock them in a locker somewhere and forget them as they still pull on us. Like gravity, we don’t see the gravitational pull of the Sun yet the Sun is pulling us around in an orbit every year. Well when we lack self-control and we do wrong things our vicelike activates pull us down. In some way they depersonalise us and make us a less successful version of ourselves, in the broader interpretation of success, as noted earlier!
What about ruthlessness and doing business etc.?
By all means we can be ruthless. A boxer or a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, for example, cannot sop to thing about whether they are hurting their opponent or not, they have to be ruthless. A business person is entitled to use every legal and moral tool at their disposal in order to achieve a result. So beating the other guy, gritting our teeth and generally going for it are all permissible. But screwing other people over, treating them badly, distrustfully, leaving them in the lurch and generally treating people badly is not acceptable. I don’t think it is too hard for most of us to realise the difference between rights and wrong, it’s pretty straight forward.
Of course this brings up the why topic gain, why not rip people of and be a bad ass and then excuse yourself by saying “it’s business”. Well the reason is simple you can’t split yourself up into different parts… so if you debase yourself at work, you cannot suddenly re-humanise yourself once you go home. Also if you have any kind of character, how can you justify behaving in an inhumane way at work?
This also goes to explain to a large degree man’s inhumanity against man. Over thousands of years political leaders have excused themselves, religious leaders have excused themselves and business leaders have excused themselves of behaving in a moral manner under the pretext that they were doing whatever they had to do for the general good. Politian’s would justify their behaviour for the good of the country or the political party, religious leaders would justify their actions for the good of the church and business people would justify their actions for the good of the shareholders, but ultimately all of these people have been in the wrong.
I remember one time many years ago listening to a priest give a speech and at the end of the speech someone asked him a question about man’s inhumanity to man, and he answered that wherever he went he met individuals who were good, yet in a group humans appeared to be not so good. For many years I thought about that and then one fine day, while thinking about this subject, it struck me that this is the reason why. It’s duplicity. Human beings saying one thing and doing another and then justifying their actions with a lame excuse.
Humans are a divided species, we are at war with ourselves and basically we are disconnected from ourselves. We live a life of dreams and illusions and all too easy it is to lose one’s moral compass and set of in the wrong direction, with a bunch of lame justifications as our guiding principle.
If we want the world to be a better place, we have to begin by standing up and accounting for our individual actions and not letting lame excuses such as “it’s only business” justify our wrong behaviour. Success without ethics isn’t just bad for the individual, as it dehumanises the individual, but also its plain bad for society as society is held back by the majority of people claiming that they want what is good, yet they are doing all sorts of vice like behaviour, which is ultimately a result of an inability to stand up and take some flak for doing the right thing, when all about you are doing the wrong thing!
I know it is a challenge and also that you may lose some of your outward success or even your job if you suddenly decide to grow a conscience and challenge the “its only business” mentality, but that’s what it takes to re-humanise yourself and if enough people do it, society will also change for the better!
By all means be ruthless within reason and be competitive and God bless your efforts, but may your efforts be blessed by God and reap the rewards of an honest and wholesome success, where truly you have treated everyone as your brothers and sisters along the way!