Pursuing Common Values: A Call to Recover our Moral and Spiritual Imagination, Transforming Society
- Kamran Mofid
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Awakened World 2012: Engaged Spirituality for the 21st Century
Rome- Florence, Italy
October 13-21, 2012
“Pursuing Common Values: A Call to Recover our Moral and Spiritual Imagination, Transforming Society”
For Reflection: Harvesting the Fruits of Contemplation
Prof. Kamran Mofid, Founder, Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative, UK*
(Core Group Invitee/Core Group Co-leader- Transforming Society Panel)
This paper is dedicated to the youth of the world, our children and grand children, who are the unfolding story of the next decades:
The rise of today’s youth, leading the world, with hope and wisdom for the common good, to change our troubled world for the better
(Please note: This paper is the edited version of my presentations and reflections during the Plenary and breakout sessions in Rome and Florence)
“Unless we can reclaim our commitment to one another, we’re not a society.”
This “thought sheet”, harvesting the fruits of contemplation, is offered as a contribution to the public conversation about values and the shaping of the social ethos in which we live: Our moral compass, if you will. My perspective comes from two broad sources: (1) from sixty years of living in a globalised, diversified, communities, in different countries and continents, in the midst of a diverse group of people, from various cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds; and (2) from thinkers- past and present- who were/are open, fresh and responsive to the human spirit, reflecting deeply on the individual and society. It is fair to say that, their impact on me has been profound. Their wisdom has nourished and nurtured my personal and professional development. For that I am for ever grateful.
My goal in this offering is to strengthen the experience of human solidarity in our troubled world today, by making available some of this combined wisdom and reflection that I have been so blessed to discover and witness, given my life journey and experience.
Building a new economics system, to transform our world and lives for the better, will demand challenging and novel ways of thinking, perspectives that encompass the broad swath of human experience and wisdom, from the natural sciences and all the social sciences, to the philosophical and spiritual values of the world’s major religions and of indigenous peoples as well. The task before us is a daunting one, and wisdom in how to proceed will come from a multiple of sources, and must embrace the panorama of cultural and disciplinary perspectives. Practical steps are of the essence and I therefore propose some for you to consider.
Part I- Beyond Pessimism: A Hopeful Journey
“He that seeks the good of the many seeks in consequence his own good.”- St. Thomas Aquinas
'UBUNTU': "I am because we are"*
“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion: if you want to be happy, practice compassion”- The Dalai Lama
“But the feeling of unity without conformity almost certainly will not emerge from politics or economics as we know them today. If we are truly to respect and honour one another as members of one human family, we must begin to draw up some new mental maps for a new century and beyond –maps that begin to sketch out the lost continent of the human spirit: the capacity for awe, wonder, mystery, art, music, love, compassion, and the search for higher meaning.”- Angeles Arrien
“The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits, whilst the businesses' sole purpose is to generate profit for shareholders”- Milton Friedman, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences
“Businesses do not have a natural propensity to do good. What is natural for them is to minimise costs and maximise profits”- Editorial, The Economist, 24 June 1995
"The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit" – James Murdoch, Chief, News Corp
Part II- Today our world is a world of paradoxes:
Here I wish to begin this paper by reciting a Celtic Blessing:
The Warmth of the sun to you
The Light of the moon to you
The Silver of the stars to you
The Breath of the wind to you
And the Peace of the Peace to you
We are privileged witnesses of the Great Paradox: On the one hand there is an unparalleled outburst of innovation, science, technologies, IT, transportation, telecommunication and the hype of social media and networks, the forceful emergence of the BRICS countries shaping a New Geopolitical World Order, but on the other hand there is an equally unprecedented & unparalleled multitude of simultaneous crises (ecological, financial, economic, social, institutional, pandemic disease, governance, democracy, capitalism, education, leadership, corruption, fraud, greed, spiritual and moral crises etc.)
What we are going through is nothing but the sheer Crisis of the Spirit and what we desperately are longing and craving for is: The Search for Meaning & Meaningfulness, Stability & Sustainability, Contentment & the Common Good; a time for Spiritual Awakening.
In this respect, the following words and sentiment by a young German executive rings so true: “Now it's all about Productivity, Pay, Performance and Profit- the four Ps- which is fuelled by the three Fs: Fear, Frustration and Failure. Just sometimes I wish that in the midst of these Ps (& Fs), there was some time left for another set of four Fs: Families, Friends, Festivals and Fun.”
Given the observation above, the following remark rings so true:
The Dalai Lama was once asked what surprised him most, he said "Man.” Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."
Therefore, a fundamental reappraisal of our place in Reality is urgently called for in order to break the iron grip of materialism, consumerism, selfishness, greed and individualism, thus freeing ourselves to lead a life with heart and soul; halting the ongoing process of dehumanisation in modern, consumerist society, enabling and empowering us to control the immense forces now held in frail human hands.
The current multitude of global crises provides a unique opportunity to chart an alternative to the complicit collusion of central states and free markets that characterise liberal political economy today. From this perspective, the proposed shift of focus from a self-interested pursuit of power or wealth (or both at once) to the quest for the common good should open the way for transforming modern economics, economy, business, society and community.
Part III- Change is Needed and Time is Now
Modern economics assumes that human beings are fundamentally self-interested, and have no regard on the impact of their decisions on others, as long as the “number one: me, me, I, I” is cared for. Here, it is my firm intention to challenge that assumption.
In this respect, the brain physiology research of leading evolutionary neuroscientists has important implications for human economic motivation. As it has been noted, humans have two dominant motivations: 1) ego or self-interest and 2) empathy or other-interest, which our brains attempt to balance. This view is clearly important and at odds with mainstream economics in which self-interest is the dominant motivation.
I wish to argue that economic and business decisions impact many aspects of our lives, whilst they also raise important moral and ethical concerns which call into question what it is to be a human being. I will argue that decision-makers (contrary to what is mostly practised today) need also to concern themselves with the world of heart, mind and spirit.
Moreover, I wish to present my thoughts in an easy-to-read and jargon-free style. I see my role as a story-teller, in a heart-to-heart dialogue and conversation with the reader, nothing less, nothing more. We are facing some major crises. For me, the answers lie in simplicity. No need to complicate matters more. It is all those impossible to understand theories and devices that have brought the neo-liberal house of capitalism down, and we need not to make the same mistake.
Therefore, it is time to be contemplative and take action for social justice, for which a sustainable education, economics and business for the common good are an essential part.
In all, since September 2008, the beginning of the financial and economic meltdown, many books and articles have already been written on why such scandals, frauds and crash took place, on what went wrong. They all agree on the role of one vital element: dishonesty fuelled by greed. We forget at our own peril that honesty and greed are essentially spiritual and moral issues, whilst, no part of human life can operate without these values, not least the sphere of business, finance, and commerce.
The greed-motivated neo-liberal world has spun out of control, and like a head-less chicken is spinning round and round with no where to go. So, what is to be done? What should we all do? What can we do? What are the answers and what steps should we take?
Perhaps it is time for us to redefine our values. Should we enact more laws and regulations? Will they be broken again? Will they be ignored again, as they have been in the past? Or is this the time for us to examine our cultural and spiritual norms and the fact that it is not the laws and regulations only that create great banks, businesses and economies, or great nations. But, People do.
Should we not begin to regain the basic values of what society is all about? Should there be a difference, as it is now, between the values of finance, business and economics, and those of families and communities? Should there be a competition between these values or a convergence? Is it time to discard the market-fundamentalism, the false belief that market knows best and instead begin to believe that “The market was made for human beings - not human beings to serve the market”? Should we equally not discard the false values of the modern economics and begin to understand that the only things that have value in themselves are love, beauty and the pursuit of knowledge?
In short, the neo-liberal, free market-based development paradigm- with its message of “Greed is good” – has taken a battering with the continuing and deepening financial market meltdown, whilst turning the world into a wasteland.
Like the imaginary cloths woven by the two weavers in Hans Christian Anderson’s story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, neo-liberalism, with its moral-free, spirit-less economic system that cloaks the world today has duped and fooled many into avoiding the truth about it, in order to continue plundering the people and the earth. A system that uses quasi scientific theory and language to reinforce and protect the wealth and power of the 1%, whilst exploiting and abusing the 99%, by privatising the profits for the few and socialising the costs for the masses.
The neo-liberalism, free market economy of capitalism with no values, but profit maximisation and cost minimisation, is at the heart of corporate and individual greed and a glaring lack of social justice and concern for the common good, encouraging not legitimate profit, but excessive greed, individualism, selfishness and disregard for the greater good.
Time is now to begin to work for a new paradigm, where collective outcomes come not from individuals pursuing their individual greed, but from communities whose individual members work collectively for the common good. This I will call: Our Promised Land, a land of hope, vision, and inspiration: enabling us all to move from despair to hope; darkness to light and competition to cooperation.
To conclude my observation on this topic, we should note that, as it is been remarked before, this is precisely what the “crisis of capitalism” is all about. “It is nothing less than the crisis of humanism as a religion being played out in economic life. If freedom is made an absolute, as it is for example in the writings of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, such that it is impossible on intellectual grounds to place limits on the exercise of freedom, the result is an economic system shorn of justice … both the injustice and inhumanity of capitalist societies result inevitably from the failure to assert certain absolutes and so place proper limits on the use of freedom.”
In summary, although I defend certain positive benefits of a well controlled, regulated, accountable and transparent market economy, I also maintain that there can be no civilised marketplace if the economy and business are not value-led. I will also argue that the solution to the current socio-economic global crises is not technical. It needs to be looked at again in a fresh way that will embrace human values of wisdom, morality, ethics, justice, sympathy, empathy, accountability, responsibility, trust, integrity, cooperation and the common good.
Here the wise words of R .H. Tawney ring so true:
“Modern society is sick through the absence of a moral ideal… The essence of all morality is this: to believe that every human being is of infinite importance, and therefore that no consideration of expediency can justify the oppression of one by another … It is only when we realise that each individual soul is related to a power above other men, that we are able to regard each as an end in itself”.
All in all, the more I observe, the more it becomes clear to me that people everywhere, all over the world, young and old, are hoping for a value-led, people- nature- centred economics, business and way of life. They want, once again, to be able to trust. They want to see integrity and respect. They want to see accountability and transparency at all levels. They want to see more equality and justice. They want a fair playing field. They want to see people with high moral compass to lead politics, economics, business, finance, and media, amongst others. They want a value-led education and healthcare system. They want to be in a situation when they are in control of their lives, where they can plan and dream about a better future. They want to be free of the fear of getting old, sick, jobless and homeless. They want to be free of the pressures of modern life, consumerism, materialism, selfishness and more. They want to see stronger family values of love, sympathy, empathy, compassion, altruism, cooperation, giving and sharing. They want more respect for the mother earth, environment and nature. They want to see no more wars of "convenience", destruction for the sake of future lucrative reconstruction contracts! And they want to see more dialogue of civilisations, religions and cultures, and more consideration for the common good.
Part IV- Seven Common Good Steps to the Promised Land*
*(Please note: as it has been observed “the Promised Land is not so much a geographic place as it is a hope and a vision of a just social order. Modern society has many wondrous features, but it certainly is not the Promised Land in its full glory)
1- Begin a journey of self-rediscovery
In order to heal ourselves, our Mother Earth, to propose solutions to global crises of business, economics, ecology, education and more, we must learn, once again, The Art of Living in a loving and caring World. We cannot begin this journey, without, first and foremost, finding inner-peace and contentment ourselves first. We should acknowledge that a truly genuine and sustainable world is grounded in what is most valuable in life: love, meaningful relationships, family, friendship, well-being, contentment, freedom, sufficiency, comradeship, volunteerism, altruism, cooperation, kindness, generosity, sympathy and empathy.
We must reorient economics, business and the world of education and work towards a truly meaningful and value-based development of human well-being, in balance with the well-being of nature, not simply the pursuit of unbridled economic growth, consumerism and materialism. The world of autistic economics and business must change and only then we can claim that we are genuinely pursuing a wealth creation model that is providing for the well-being and the good life for the good of all.
2- Admit that modern economics and neo-liberalism have failed us
“Put your trust in Socrates, not economists”
Editorial, The Observer, 16 August 2009
"THE WISDOM OF Socrates was famously summarised as his ability to know that he knew nothing. So in modern times he would probably be an economist. Few saw the credit crunch coming. Since it arrived, opinions as to the severity of its consequences, its effects on different nations and the prescriptions to remedy them have varied wildly"...
I wish to suggest that now is the time to acknowledge the failures of current economic models and theories, as well as the narrowness of market fundamentalism. The times demand a revolution in economic thought, as well as new ways of teaching economics, business and management, amongst others. In many respects this means a return to the soil in which economics was initially born, moral philosophy and ethics amid issues and questions of broad significance involving the fullness of human existence.
To begin this process, I suggest the following:
3- Begin a Journey to Wisdom
The Times, 8 March 2011
Sir, Around 1991 I offered the London School of Economics a grant of £1 million to set up a Chair in Business Ethics. John Ashworth, at that time the Director of the LSE, encouraged the idea but had to write to me to say, regretfully, that the faculty had rejected the offer as it saw no correlation between ethics and economics. Quite- Lord Kalms, House of Lords
We should acknowledge that economics and business should be all about human well-being in society and that this cannot be separated from moral, ethical and spiritual considerations, in a sharp contrast to the views of the so-called “great” modern economic minds at the so-called “great” places of teaching and learning, such as the LSE (see above).
The idea of an economics which is value-free is totally false. Nothing in life is morally neutral. In the end, economics cannot be separated from a vision of what it is to be a human being in society. In order to arrive at such understanding, my first recommendation is for us to begin a journey to wisdom, by embodying the core values of the Golden Rule (Ethic of Reciprocity): “Do unto others as you would have them to do to you”. This in turn will prompt us on a journey of discovery, giving life to what many consider to be the most consistent moral teaching throughout history. It should be noted that the Golden Rule can be found in many religions, ethical systems, spiritual traditions, indigenous cultures and secular philosophies.
Another necessary step in this journey to wisdom, which is complimentary to the Golden Rule, is to discover, promote and live for the Common Good.
Renewing our faith in the universal character of human values, whilst directing the decision-making path towards the Common Good must now be placed at the heart of all we do. Look all around you, after decades of pursuing the values of neo-liberalism such as individualism, selfishness, egotism, greed, consumerism, and materialism-to name but a few- and the subsequent and consequent outcomes-financial collapse, ecological degradation, lower morals, higher corruption and nepotism, etc, etc- can you see any alternative but pursuing the Common Good?
The theological and philosophical origins and sources of the common good are indeed very well documented. As it has been observed, the common good is an old idea with new-found vitality in the global public discourse. Its direct lineage includes philosophers, theologians, and statesmen from various ethical traditions. Debates about the common good allow participation by diverse schools of thought and provide a unique opportunity to build the broad political will necessary to meet today’s international moral obligations.
For our purpose and intentions we can define the Common Good as:
“Widely beneficial outcomes that are never preordained but instead arrived at through mindful leadership and active following”. These outcomes involve a “regime of mutual gain; a system of policies, programs, laws, rules, and norms that yield widespread benefits at reasonable costs and taps people’s deepest interest in their own well-being and that of others”.
In short, the principle of the common good reminds us that we are all really responsible for each other – we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers - and must work for social conditions which ensure that every person and every group in society is able to meet their needs and realize their potential. It follows that every group in society must take into account the rights and aspirations of other groups, and the well being of the whole human family.
4- Now is the Time for a Revolution in Economic Thought
“The market establishes a system of human relations in which order, prosperity, peace, and even happiness can be achieved by people who don't care at all about one another's well-being...Instead of depending on informal personal contact between intimate friends, lovers, and family members, the market depends upon impersonal, formal contract between vast numbers of interchangeable buyers and sellers. In all of these ways, the market system economizes on love, a human quality that is presumably in short supply." -Barry Schwartz, “The costs of living: how market freedom erodes the best things in life”
Here I am guided by the wisdom of Keynes who once remarked that the only things that have value in themselves are love, beauty and the pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, the focus of economics should be on the benefit and bounty that the economy produces, on how to let this bounty increase, and how to share the benefits justly among the people for the common good, removing the obstacles that hinder this process. Above all else the purpose of the economy is to provide basic human needs as well as the means of establishing, maintaining, and nurturing human relationships while dealing justly with future generations (Sustainability) and ethically with all life on earth (Ecological Balance).
Moreover, economic investigation should be accompanied by research into subjects such as anthropology, philosophy, theology, politics, ecology, environment, and ethics, to give insight into our own human mystery, as no economic theory or no economist can say who we are, where have we come from or where we are going to. All human beings and all species must be respected as part of the web of life and not relegated to narrow short term economic interests, commodification, or exploitation, as has been the case for the past many long decades.
5- We must become Bridge-builders and encourage a Dialogue of Civilisations
We must undertake the task of building a bridge between East and West. We must encourage a dialogue of civilisations, cultures and faiths. We must encourage a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving. Above all, our paths must be to unite love and intellect. This, in my view, can be a great path of dialogue between East and West, and between “the modern” and the indigenous or aboriginal. Pursuing such a dialogue will lead to a more relevant and true economic model, in harmony with the deepest human values.
In addition, the so called modern world (both East and West) has much to learn from the spiritual and cultural values of the worlds many indigenous peoples, both past and present. There exists much wisdom among the indigenous, containing lessons in sharing and equality and justice which can help draw ‘modern’ people into engagement with the deeper realities of their own dominant cultures. Also, people who live close to the earth, who possess an earth-based spirituality typically view themselves as part of nature, part of the earth, part of a community of species as well as being part of the human community.
Among the indigenous peoples not only do human beings derive tremendous benefits (physical, psychological, and spiritual) from nature, but all the elements of nature, (people, animals, plants, forest, rocks and streams) are regarded as living beings to be respected, reverenced, and to be in relationship with. These are the types of insights the world needs today in order to construct an environmental ethic which will allow us to enable an abundant flourishing of biodiversity on earth not only because we benefit from such diversity but also because it is right and moral.
In all, it is now clear that, capitalism for the 21st century needs a fundamentally renewed morality to underpin it, urgently requiring a new and more relevant definition of a value-based “Bottom Line”, to which I turn below.
6- Now is the Time for a new definition of the “Bottom Line”
We should acknowledge that the new bottom line must not be all about economic and monetary targets, profit maximisation and cost minimisation, but it should involve spiritual, social and environmental consideration. When practiced under these values, then, the business is real, viable, sustainable, efficient and profitable.
Therefore, the New Bottom Line that we should tell the students now could read as follow:
“"Corporations, government policies, our educational, legal and health care practices, every institution, law, social policy and even our private behaviour should be judged 'rational', 'efficient', or 'productive' not only to the extent that they maximize money and power (The Old Bottom Line) but ALSO to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological behaviour, and contribute to our capacity to respond with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe and all being."
7- Now is the Time for Globalisation for the Common Good (GCG)
We must recognise that our economic problems are closely linked to our spiritual problems and vice versa. Moreover, socio-economic justice, peace and harmony will come about only when the essential connection between the spiritual and practical aspects of life is valued. Necessary for this journey is to discover, promote and live for the common good. The principle of the common good reminds us that we are all really responsible for each other – we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers – and must work for social conditions which ensure that every person and every group in society is able to meet their needs and realize their potential. It follows that every group in society must take into account the rights and aspirations of other groups, and the well-being of the whole human family.
However, discovering common ties among varying belief systems is hardly the most arduous part of bridging religious, ethnic, and geographical divides. The greater challenge is to apply the ideas of the global common good to practical problems and forge common solutions. Translating the contentions of philosophers and religious scholars into agreement between policymakers and nations is the task of statesmen and citizens, a challenge to which Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI) has adhered itself to, the purpose is not simply talking about the common good, or simply to have a dialogue, but the purpose is to take actions, to make the common good and dialogue to work for all of us, benefiting us all.
Guided by the principles of hard work, commitment, volunteerism and service; with a great passion for dialogue of cultures, civilisations, religions, ideas and visions, at an international conference in Oxford in 2002 the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI) and the GCGI Annual International Conference Series were founded.
What the GCGI seeks to offer- through its scholarly and research programme, as well as its outreach and dialogue projects- is a vision that positions the quest for economic and social justice, peace and ecological sustainability within the framework of a spiritual consciousness and a practice of open-heartedness, generosity and caring for others. All are thus encouraged by this vision and consciousness to serve the common good.
The GCGI has from the very beginning invited us to move beyond the struggle and confusion of a preoccupied economic and materialistic life to a meaningful and purposeful life of hope and joy, gratitude, compassion, and service for the good of all.
Perhaps our greatest accomplishment has been our ability to bring Globalisation for the Common Good into the common vocabulary and awareness of a greater population along with initiating the necessary discussion as to its meaning and potential in our personal and collective lives.
In short, at Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative we are grateful to be contributing to that vision of a better world, given the goals and objectives that we have been championing since 2002. For that we are most grateful to all our friends and supporters that have made this possible.
And in conclusion I invite you to share a common belief in the potential of each one of us to become self-directed, empowered, and active in defining this time in the world as opportunity for positive change and healing and for the true formation of a culture of peace by giving thanks, spreading joy, sharing love, seeing miracles, discovering goodness, embracing kindness, practicing patience, teaching moderation, encouraging laughter, celebrating diversity, showing compassion, turning from hatred, practicing forgiveness, peacefully resolving conflicts, communicating non-violently, choosing happiness and enjoying life
*'UBUNTU' in the Xhosa culture means: "I am because we are"…
An anthropologist proposed a game to the kids in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the kids that who ever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run they all took each others hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that as one could have had all the fruits for himself they said: ''UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?''
For further reading and references please see:
Prof. Kamran Mofid is Founder of the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (founded at an international conference in Oxford in 2002) and Co- founder/Editor, Journal of Globalisation for the Common Good, hosted at Purdue University, USA, member of the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) of the World Public Forum, Dialogue of Civilisations, and Founding Member, World Dignity University, and Global Advisory Board, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies. Mofid received his BA and MA in economics from the University of Windsor, Canada in 1980 and 1982 respectively. In 1986 he was awarded his doctorate in economics from the University of Birmingham, UK. In 2001 he received a Certificate in Education in Pastoral Studies at Plater College, Oxford. From 1980 to 2000 he was Economic Teaching Assistant, Tutor, Lecturer and Senior Lecturer at Universities of Windsor (Canada), Birmingham, Bristol, Wolverhampton, and Coventry (UK). Mofid's work is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on Economics, Business, Politics, International Relations, Theology, Culture, Ecology, Ethics and Spirituality. Mofid's writings have appeared in leading scholarly journals, popular magazines and newspapers. His books include Development Planning in Iran: From Monarchy to Islamic Republic , The Economic Consequences of the Gulf war, Globalisation for the Common Good, Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility and Globalisation for the Common Good , Promoting the Common Good (with Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, 2005), and A non-Violent Path to Conflict Resolution and Peace Building (Co-authored, 2008).