Written by Tanis Bestland, Senior Consultant at Purple Ivy AB
An old proverb has popped into my mind with increasing frequency lately. It goes something like this:
A rabbi is walking home from a neighboring village late one evening, and as darkness falls, he takes a wrong turn. He follows the road for some time until he hears a voice shout: “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
The rabbi looks up and sees the high wall of a fortification. Perched at the top is a Roman guard. The rabbi reflects for a moment before answering. “How much do they pay you to ask those questions?”
“Five denarii a day,” the guard replies.
The rabbi nods. “I’ll pay you twice that to come to my house and ask me those questions every morning.”
Who are we and what are we doing here?
These are troubling times – there’s no doubt about it. War, terrorism, the refugee crisis, climate change, the growing popularity of isolationism, authoritarianism and far-right populist movements across Europe, the United States and other parts of the world… The list goes on. Fake news. Hackers. Trolls on the internet. And all of it seems to be adding up to less tolerance in our societies, and steadily growing fear and hatred of the “other”, whoever they might be – immigrants, Muslims, feminists, LGBTQ people or even Trump supporters.
It’s not easy to know how to respond, on an individual level or as an organization. It can be tempting to turn a blind eye to it all, hoping someone else – someone more qualified – will step in and sort it all out. But we can’t afford to think that way anymore. It turns out that western liberal democracy is much more fragile than many of us realized, and if we want to ensure its survival we are going to have to stand up and take action to defend it. We all have a role to play in moving the needle in the right direction – toward greater tolerance, freedom and opportunity for all.
The breadth and depth of the challenges we face can be overwhelming and result in a feeling of paralysis. Where do we begin, if we’re just a single individual, or a small company, or even a large multinational? We certainly can’t tackle everything at once. We have limited resources and we need to use them wisely.
I think the first step to figuring out an action plan is to have a clear understanding of who we are and what we’re doing here. But this can be harder than it sounds. By the time we reach midlife, many of us are living lives that aren’t really in line with our core values. Whoever you are, taking the time to stop and consider what your values are, and making sure that your daily life is aligned with those values is a crucial first step to living a happier life and actively contributing to the creation of a better society.
This is particularly important if you’re a leader. Every good leader I know has a strong sense of their values, and consciously uses them to guide their work. These leaders also tend to surround themselves with people who share their values, which makes it much easier to build a cohesive corporate culture that effectively guides and motivates employees in their day-to-day work.
More than words
Pretty much every company nowadays has defined a set of corporate values, but all too often they are just words in a PowerPoint presentation that have no actual meaning in the organization. The truth is that our values – individual or corporate – can only have real meaning if they are connected with our daily actions. So if your company values aren’t fueling your company’s management team and guiding your decision-making and ultimately your employees’ activities, you’ve either misidentified your values or there’s a serious risk that you’re making a lot of questionable decisions.
It’s undeniable that the refugee crisis, Brexit and the recent US presidential election, among other things, have exposed significant weaknesses in the public sector’s ability to save us from ourselves. Solving problems like social integration, poverty and climate change will require a much higher level of private sector engagement and activism than we’ve ever seen before. I feel strongly that the time has come for the private sector to stand up for the values that underpin the western capitalist economic model – liberal democratic values such as the rule of law, equal rights for all, freedom of speech and assembly, and freedom of the press – and take action to defend them.
What do YOU stand for?
I encourage you to take some time to reflect on what your values are. What does it mean to you to live in a free and democratic society? How do liberal democratic values relate to how you want to live your life, to your work and to your company’s role in society? What concrete actions could you and your company take to help move the needle in the direction of greater tolerance, freedom and opportunity for all?
Who am I and what am I doing here? The more I think about it, the more I believe that we’d all be better off if we asked ourselves that question every morning before we started our day. What do you think?