The Human Condition
The Human Condition
The Human Condition
Over 400 articles
Traditions Series - Human Condition Section
Goodwill and Parroted Priorities
'Tis the season of goodwill and resolutions to do better. People sing about it on street corners, in front of homes, and in religious institutions. Thirty days of television programming are devoted to programs espousing goodwill and abundant holiday giving (spending). During the season, we all feel a little better, we throw a dime in the Salvation Army pot, maybe even man the kettle, and then like a passing season, the world gets back to the way it was. Practice run for breaking New Years resolutions? Why can't goodwill last?
The holiday season makes us take time to think about what is really important. But often the deeper meanings get glossed over by thinking that is simplistic, reflecting values that are more parroted rhetoric than real. Those with an axe to grind or a political or social belief, circulate powerful positioning statements.
While goodwill is an earthshaking value, we have some earth-shattering simplistic ideas associated with equally simplistic values: Win or lose. Make money. Socialism VS capitalism. As long as we cast our priorities in such simplistic contrasts, our thinking is shaped for us and freedom of thought, expression, and action are subverted.
Our thinking becomes reflected in our children, as witnessed in their sports games. Some parents instill in their children, and their coaches, a "win at any cost," mentality. Is winning the only value that is important? Such thinking translates into actions of hurting other players, taking performance enhancing drugs, over-straining muscles and mind, cheating, and making children's fragile self-esteem hostage to the events of a game. The typical child will mimic a parent, or a big-league ball player, right down to chewing tobacco and spitting. Values become ingrained in children, to be championed later by them in education, business, and all other pursuits in life.
One sad circumstance is that the people indoctrinated into this world of false wins, not only lose the objectivity of real values, but also take a major hit to self-esteem by the realization that other's adulation of them is only the result of false wins. They didn't actually deserve the win or other's admiration, so they must run the same course again and again in an endless chase of an empty reward. Such chases become lifetime habits that are nearly impossible to break.
"The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving." *1
What is the value of sports? There is first the fun of playing - enjoying life is no small reward in itself. There is the value of friendships. There is the individual achievement of skills and accomplishments - things that build confidence that is much more concrete than the vapor of esteem. There is people with different skills learning to work together to accomplish tasks that require diverse skills - learning to trust, to see skills in others, to work together.
There are many measures of achievement and growth of skills. Measures include statistics that show steady improvement in key skills, improved win/loss records, making it to the championships, and reducing sportsmanship fouls. They also include graduating into more competitive arenas and winning against a well-matched competitor. All are measures of an outcome: goals of individual and group achievement worth reaching. But when the priority becomes winning instead of improving, the value has been lost. We all win each time we compete, unless we make winning the only value.
Competition in sports is a good thing. It asks us to try harder to achieve as individuals, and to learn to work together, cooperating, recognizing, and using the skills in others. These are worthwhile values that fit well with goodwill.
For more information on youth and sports, listen to the WKMU Dec. 8, 2005 St. Louis On The Air program, "Ethics In Youth Sports."
In business, values get lost just like they do in sports, as companies compete for market share and revenue, often in a struggle just to survive. Business has many good values that benefit people. Business creates jobs that provide economic support. It creates career opportunity. It makes products to benefit people. It rewards investment.
When the business priority becomes only to make money, a bad thing happens. Salaries get cut, other companies are put out of business, and buyers get inferior products. Eventually competition strikes back and hurts the company, sending the market into a downward spiral.
Making money is essential, and competition in business is healthy, but making money the only priority is simply destructive - unrestrained competition is a goal without values.
Competition in business can be a good thing. It asks us to try harder to achieve more and better. This benefits the customer, the employees, the company and the stockholder. Money can be a measure of how well the business is doing, but the better measure is to show benefit to those who depend on the company: the employees, the customers, the stockholders. These values fit well with goodwill.
Business is the engine of capitalism. But we live in a world full of polarizing words used to kill ideas and constructive thought. Words branded in this way are hurled at people and ideas like poison spears. Their intent is to sway public opinion by substituting bias for constructive thought. A politician will say, "He's a liberal and that is a socialist idea." Many then go around mindlessly parroting, "That's socialism. We don't want that."
Reflected by contrast to that definition, capitalism seems to mean, "Everyone for himself, and never help anyone." To do anything less would be "socialistic."
Capitalism doesn't have a solid, comprehensive definition, and if the meaning in the previous paragraph was true, it would fly in the face of the US Constitution, which engages us in collective effort. Capitalism is a choice, and it is what we make of it.
If capitalism is a superior economic system, its strength should be reflected in superior good to society. However, there currently is more wrong, and going wrong, with the availability of jobs and medical services in the US, so that we have a growing impoverished third world country within our borders. There is a disconnect between the ideal and reality.
Capitalism can be a good thing, challenging us to use our efforts and resources to benefit ourselves and others through economic means. The challenge is not to stop helping others, but to benefit others more effectively through the resources of a capitalist economic system.
For more about business, see the series, "The Challenges For Capitalism" on this Web site.
Trapped in lockstep by misleading words, people march on like good soldiers, parroting the war slogans that politicians and ideologists parade before them, turning their backs on their fellow human beings to chase empty values.
Goodwill. At the end of this season will goodwill be displaced once again by shallow catchwords and buzzwords designed to steal people's thoughts and values from them? Capitalism doesn't mean not helping others; business doesn't mean ruthlessness; and competition doesn't mean abandoning values. The door is open to goodwill in the new year.
1. This quote is extracted from a statement by Einstein about success, as quoted in Albert Einstein: the man and his theories," by Hilaire Cuny. P 11, 12.
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