Most people look at ‘business’ as something separate from everything else in life, and at best, a necessary evil. Something you have to do. Or a way to make money—in a practical, but never creative, artistic or (perish the thought) moral way.
In today’s political climate, business is the first thing under attack when things go wrong. And it’s no wonder. ‘Greed’ and the actions of corporations— whether or not they’re demanding government handouts—are blamed for everything that could ever go wrong. Yet even when things go well, business is accused of engaging in ‘irrational exuberance’ or otherwise being ‘too successful.’
Gigantic business successes, such as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, live out their careers apologizing for their successes, either by fawning over incompetent and corrupt politicians, or by making a show of giving lots of their money to charity.
And where does it get them? Nowhere. Business just can’t win. As a result, neither can business people.
Business is more than just a way to make money. Financial success is a byproduct. The fact you make a lot of money — honestly — is proof of your morality. Success is no reason to apologize.
Business is a way to practice the art of living. Business, at the core, is a trade. It’s a trade just as any other human association involves trade. When you’re friends with someone, or in love, you’re trading the variables of your individual characters: your personalities, your temperament, your interests. Business is no different, except that the trade is more explicit and generally has a clear beginning and end.
Everything that matters in personal relationships also matters in business. If a spouse, romantic partner or friend betrays you, you’re emotionally devastated. If someone providing you with a valuable product or service does the same, you’re devastated financially, and sometimes emotionally as well. If you don’t live up to the objective qualifications of being a good friend or a good business associate, people will not like or trust you, and you will not succeed.
The first rule of business, then, is to identify what your core values are, and resolve to live by them. This is true now more than ever, for we live in an era where business is assaulted, on moral grounds, more than ever before. Gigantic corporations have disgraced themselves and the word ‘business’ through pathetic begging for money from the very politicians whose reckless government policies brought them down in the first place.
For an even longer time, most businesses have been apologizing for the money they make and attempting to show—truthfully or not—how much of it they ‘give back.’ From whom did they ‘take’ the money—voluntarily given to them by satisfied customers? No answer is given, because the question is never asked.
Thinking businesspeople must take pride in what they do and make no apologies for it. They can, on moral grounds, honor their own right and the absolute right of everybody else to keep what they earn. Yes, every penny of it.
It’s up to the small or large business person to defend him- or herself morally. Until this happens, the political attacks will continue.
Imagine, for a moment, a politician or a presidential candidate confronted by the question, ‘What gives you the right to punish me, and other financially successful people like me, for the success I have earned? Why does someone’s right to keep what he or she earns end at a certain dollar figure? And will you please specify what the figure is—and exactly how you arrived at it?’ Imagine this question coming, without shame or appeasement, from someone who actually made the money. Imagine putting these incompetent, self-important politicians on the defensive—just once!
As a businessperson, you ought to do this in defense of your own survival. Yes, you’ll be in the minority, at least at first. But minorities with big ideas have always swayed history. They did in the first American Revolution, and they can in the next one. Businesspeople, standing up in their own moral self-defense, must be part of that next one. Sooner or later, there has to be a next one: A revolution, most of all, in the hearts and minds of people, prior to politics. We cannot go on like we are, and most are willing to admit that much.
If you think about it, the ideas of freedom and individual rights have always started as a minority idea. But look how they improved the world in the last several hundred years! Using the channels of mass communication now available to us, businesspeople have an extraordinary chance to spread those ideas as never before.
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