By Lyla June Johnston
There is this latent, pervasive notion that it is completely acceptable to abandon our otherwise treasured allegiance to brotherhood and kindness as we step into corporate and business realms because “that’s just the way business is” thereby replacing that allegiance with an exhalation of cutthroat competition and institutionalized greed.
We have reached a point, however, where “the business” permeates every aspect of our lives and therefore humanity is calling into question the sanity of appointing greed and competition as architects of the built environment. What we wear, what we eat, how we communicate, how we move, how we make art, how we are entertained, even down to the insurance that our heart will beat tomorrow–all of this has become absorbed in and regulated by the mechanics of the American business. And it shows. The outward symptoms of depression and dissatisfaction in both the very wealthy and the very poor cohorts of the human race is a reflection of our imbalanced innards. We are beginning to yearn for a world that is not motivated and shaped by the insatiable fear and hunger of profit maximization.
Is this to say that the whole of American and global business is wrong and useless? I think not. How could I when it has driven into existence so many exquisite innovations, fed the families of so many communities and solved so many seemingly insurmountable social problems. While a globalized economy has brought the world together in undeniably problematic ways, it has also brought us together in incredibly beautiful ways! Business has given the incredible potential of the human spirit wings to fully express our unending creativity and ability, lending purpose and fulfillment to many a lifetime.
Indeed it has done great things for great amounts of people. What I am saying is that it is time to address the fly in the ointment: that our wondrous invention of free trade and enterprise does indeed hold within a darker component that has nudged humanity closer and closer to the precipice of complete spiritual, ecological and economic dysfunction. While it is important to acknowledge the beauty of business it is also important to recognize the ways in which it can and must be improved for the sake of all beings. It is also important to acknowledge the ways in which it has caused many a man and woman to compromise their deepest and most fundamental desire to care for others in exchange for a chance at the fortune they describe in mainstream lore.
We simply cannot continue to promote good will toward men by night to our children in our homes while simultaneously promoting dog-eat-dog mentalities and behavior in our business schools and behind our store fronts by day. For the business world no longer comprises a small fraction of our time and life like a weekend getaway in Las Vegas where we can temporarily suspend our morality. No, in fact the corporate endeavor has successfully woven itself into every molecule of our being, literally, and become the stuff with which we clothe our children and house our lives. Therefore, it deserves a deeper dedication to morality than ever before, lest the house we live in become a creation built by bolts of avarice and planks of ruthless ambition. For how can the very veins of a society be driven by a model based on the fear of a mythological scarcity and the worship of selfishness and dominance?
We have been in the midst of a 240 year experiment with Adam Smith’s well-intended, widely-accepted and gravely misguided proposition that selfishness is a necessary component of a thriving economy. This experimentation, which feels more like denial than anything else, has brought our global life support system to the brink of complete collapse and the human race to a state of abject spiritual, emotional and material impoverishment. We can no longer justify, try as we might, the current economic model we operate by, nor can we justify the business norms engendered by short-sighted boom and bust economies of our forefathers. This much is clear.
What is less clear, however, is with what models and principles we shall replace this Jurassic economic modus operandi and how. If this denatured understanding of the earth and of ourselves no longer works, then what does work? And how will we dare to proceed in the name of not only human generations to come, but the progeny of all life forms on this great, wide face of the Earth?
I know that buried deep in our hearts, or perhaps lying just beneath the surface of our stifled voices, we know the exact answer to this question. Indeed, the answer is woven into our DNA strands. If we can just follow this double helix pathway back in time, back to the days when our communities lived by the principle of “I am you” and the children born each day were ushered into a culture of compassion, synergy and generosity, we will arrive at a greater world to be passed down to our own children.
Find the day! Find the day when our cultural proverbs, such as InLak’ech, Mitakue Oyas’in, Namaste, Love Thy Neighbor, Ashe, and Inshallah were replaced with phrases such as Nice Guys Finish Last, Survival of the Fittest, Life Isn’t Fair and Time is Money. This is the turning point! Where the spirit of darkness pulled a hood over the eyes of humanity and led us down the poisonous slope of otherhood, fear and an illusion of scarcity.
My friends, we need only look to the earthy worlds of our ancestors to find the key to thriving economic thought and true fulfillment of the human heart. Encrypted in the cultural rituals of not only North American indigenous peoples, but European and Asian indigenous peoples as well are the answers we seek to give rise to true wealth and existential meaning. Look to find the truth embedded in the roots of your family tree, however far back it may be. And once you have found it, hold it tight and hold it high for all to see until the weight of truth bends and breaks the walls we have built with our own two hands between us and our Mother. Bring these ceremonies, these ancestral principles, these truths, these bottomless philosophies of interconnectedness, compassion and joy into the hallways of your school, into the cubicles of your office building, into the language of our novels and legislation, into our theaters and headphones. Bring them like a blazing torch into the blackened nights of hopelessness and despair. Bring these offerings like a contagious flame that ignites the lives and eyes of others who in turn bring it to others.
It only took three generations of absolute terror to transform our communities from harmonious collectives to warring and disparaged nations. It will only take three generations of absolute love and a kindness to transform them back again.
And what better place to bring this attitude than into the private sector, where so much creativity and potential remains untapped? What would happen if the game changed from who can make the most profit to who can make the most positive change? And how much more alive and fulfilled would we feel each day as we clock out and make our way home amid the roseate hue of dusk? And what would happen?!?! If all the momentum and energy now placed towards the accumulation of digital and material capital (which we will all ultimately leave behind as our soul journeys home) was redirected towards the rehabilitation and regeneration of our war torn emotional and physical worlds?
It is already happening. For every Lifestraw sold, an African scholar receives free drinking water for a year. For every tray of Project 7 gum sold, ten fruit trees are planted. For every Benevolent Bone sold in a convenience store, an Iraq War veteran is linked with a new pet dog to assist with his PTSD and TBI. And, most famously in the American consciousness, for every pair of Tom’s shoes bought, another human being in need receives a pair of Tom’s shoes.
This is what I call “Honey Bee Business.” The Honey Bee takes pollen and gives life all in the same moment. For as it receives what it needs for survival, it also gives the fields of flowers the cross-pollination they need for their survival. In turn, honey bees give rise to many of the foods to which we owe our existence.
Similarly, within the next decade, I forecast, consumers are not only going to want their product to provide their survival, they will also want and expect their purchase to generate positive change in an area of need somewhere in the world. We are entering a new age of economics whereby the very system that has ravaged and exploited the willing abundance of Nature will be the same infrastructure that works to heal and feed the whole of humanity, both physically and spiritually.
If we can learn to harness this dragon with a deep commitment to generosity and altruism, we can create as much healing as it has historically created destruction. For a ship propelled by fear and selfishness will guide that vessel to the land of pain and dissatisfaction, but that very same ship, propelled by the winds of loving kindness will bring its passengers to the golden shores of true and fulfilling humanhood and the community that the Creator intended for us all.
Are there pitfalls and things to watch out for with this plan? Certainly there are… For we have all seen the deleterious effects of green-washing and half-hearted corporate responsibility… It comes in the form of cheapened marketing ploys such as “Up to 30% Plant Bottle!” or “100% recyclable!”
What I am saying is that we must engage in a new kind of business. A kind of business that sincerely and painstakingly measures and works to increase the PLANETARY return on investment, instead of the individualistic return on investment. Imagine a group of businessmen and women meticulously calculating and devising ways to increase the number of veterans that get a pet dog, per unit of Benevolent Bones sold. Imagine a group of economists working to develop a business strategy whereby the inception, production, distribution and sale of a product nourishes everything it touches (100% Regenerative Business Strategy). What kind of creatures would we become? Perhaps we would begin to resemble more and more the visage of our ancestors who largely spent their time attempting to catch a glimpse into the endless Heart of God by practicing and enjoying a life of kindness, generosity and celebration.
About Lyla June Johnston, Writing for Peace Young Adviser
Lyla Johnston is a 24 year-old poet, musician, anthropologist and human being, from Taos, New Mexico. Her passion for peace unfolds both outside of herself through community organizing and within herself through continual prayers to forgive and love a wounded world.
After studying Human Ecology at Stanford University, Lyla founded Regeneration Festival, an annual celebration and honoring of children and young adults worldwide. She plans on attending Harvard Business School to obtain the platform she needs to disarm the private sector and repurpose the capitalist infrastructure for healing and social change. Her ancestors are Diné and Cheyenne and it is from this ancestral worldview that she derives her visions for helping to create a culture of peace and generosity.
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