March 20, 2006
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Read: Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, nn. 336-345
I am blessed to have several friends who are or who have been small businesspeople. All of these people are very service-oriented. They don't work 9 to 5 and they will always go the extra mile to ensure things are taken care of.
What motivates these friends of mine is not getting rich, but making their dreams come true. It is almost as though they were possessed of a spiritual force that drives them upwards against the forces of entropy and laziness.
They become jacks or jills of all trades because they have to be. They can't afford to hire repairmen every time something goes wrong, so they learn to fix things. But they also become multi-talented because they are responsible. They see an obstacle and they see it as their duty to overcome it.
Even though they work long hours day after day, when you need someone for a volunteer project, they are often the first to help out. They automatically take responsibility for tasks that are not in their job description. Their can-do attitude spills over into community service.
People display uncommon initiative and creativity in ways other than running small businesses. You can see it in artists, scientific researchers, people in the volunteer sector and, in fact, nearly every walk of life. In virtually all cases, the drive and initiative people show in their work life spills over into other aspects of their lives. They take responsibility for the world around them.
Imagine what a society would be like if it deliberately stifled business and other forms of initiative. Such a society would be impoverished – not just economically, but also morally.
The best way to stifle initiative is to encourage people to believe that their problems are caused by somebody else or by social situations beyond their control.
SHIFT THE BLAME
Get them to believe that a problem, any problem, is not their problem. Someone else caused it and it is up to that someone else or society as a whole to make things better.
Encourage that attitude and you will have a society full of complainers and not too many doers.
– Design Pics photo
A thriving society encourages individualsd to adopt a seize-the-day attitude in all aspects of their lives.
Moreover, if a society stifles initiative in one area, it will likely curtail it in other areas too. If the leaders of a society are frightened by economic initiative, they will also be inclined to take a dim view of artists and do nothing to encourage scientific research.
In Canadian society, we strive to strike a balance. We try to provide a safety net for people who really are too sick or too damaged to contribute fully. We also strive to leave plenty of space for people to exercise initiative and creativity. Many of our political debates concern the question of where the right balance falls.
The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church seeks that balance too and, in this section, it underlines the importance of economic initiative. "The creative dimension is an essential component of human activity even in the area of business," it says (n. 337).
The Compendium sees the moral value of making a profit in business, calling it "the first indicator that a business is functioning well" (n. 340). But that indicator is not absolute: One can make a profit while exploiting one's workers or the public.
So the Church also emphasizes the "social function" of a business. The workplace can enable one to form friendships and cooperate with others in performing tasks. It is also a place where people's talents get developed.
The Compendium calls on business owners and managers to respect the dignity of the people who work for the company. They should be seen as "the firm's most valuable asset" – not only an economic asset, but primarily a human one.
The firm should be concerned not only with its employees, but also with the public. It should respond to human needs "in a creative and cooperative fashion."
People in any form of leadership are always on the hot seat. They are also people with clear, identifiable weaknesses as well as strengths. And while initiative in one area of one's life tends to spill over into other areas, it rarely spills over into every area. The failings of those in leadership are usually all too apparent and open to criticism.
Despite that, the small business owner remains a model for the initiative and creativity that creates a dynamic society. It is a model that should inspire more imitators – in every walk of life.
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