Serving and Promoting Higher Purpose
Government and business both, in their own ways, too often pander to what people want, though neither considers it pandering and both consider it serving.
Of course, in part, due to the wisdom of those who, early in our country’s history, saw the potential for tyranny of the majority, government is supposed to serve the will of the majority only when that will conforms to justice and fairness. Unfortunately the perception of that occurrence is sometimes myopic.
In its more noble moments, which are seldom, government even tries, sometimes eventually successfully, to promote what is just, fair, and noble when that is not necessarily popular. Business sometimes also promotes what is best for people, either when a company is run by wise people with fair, kind, and generous spirits, or when it is believed that will bring in the highest return on investment. And, of course, when a business provides an actually beneficial product or service at a reasonable price and fair profit, it serves the public good.
But for the most part business and democratic government pander to people’s lowest non-criminal desires without trying much to elevate them. And that is sad because the starvation of the more noble elements of our spirit and the withering of the higher, more important aspects of our aspirations, are hidden behind the satisfactions of material benefits that are ultimately insufficient, disappointing, or even harmful, and behind the temporary political victories which are permanently divisive and which solve nothing other than to bestow fleeting power without worthwhile purpose.
The problem is that for the ultimate needs of life we pursue many solutions that are only shadows and substitutes for the real solutions, much as we seek junk food when we need nutrition. We confuse meeting artificial standards with progress and achievement. We confuse material well-being and increased longevity, which are important, with quality of life, which is more important. We confuse jobs with prosperity, and accumulating money and material goods with prospering. We confuse work with accomplishment, and activity with service. We confuse recreation or idleness on vacation with leisure; we confuse mindless entertainment with relaxation. We confuse schooling with education, credentials with ability, and specialized knowledge with general wisdom. We confuse financial success with social contribution. We confuse pleasure with joy, lust with love, sex with intimacy, and proximity with companionship. We confuse institutional religion with spirituality, and ethics with religion. We confuse agreement with accuracy, and prestige with merit; and we confuse solidarity or friendship within particular groups, whether secular or ecclesiastical, with unconditional love for humanity and recognition of the family of man.
And neither political party in America points the way out of this confusion. Nor do schools of business nor even universities or churches.
Democrats and Republicans today are both wrong in the ultimate ends they pursue, and they are both better at recognizing each others’ failings than their own imperfections. As long as each party insists on correcting the others’ errors with its own mistakes, we are doomed to be the beleaguered tennis balls in an interminable match between the lowest seeds in a meaningless tournament. The Democratic Party too often wants to distribute benefits without distributing work, and in some cases wants to distribute work without fostering the ability to do it. And the Republican Party just as mistakenly believes that private enterprise is the ablest and fairest solution to the needs of everyone, though the private enterprise system has not shown it can fairly and justly distribute even material wealth, let along the intangible goods of life that are sometimes even more important. Social liberals want to provide benefits without merit and social conservatives want to punish those without realistic opportunities or who made remedial and understandable mistakes. Both parties are more concerned with providing jobs than with providing opportunities for self-actualization and social contribution.
In colleges and universities, the humanities – which in great part are about the human condition– are taken by few, and revered by even fewer as they are unfortunately generally taught with little of the significance they (could) have for humanity, by those interested primarily in the giving of grades, the esoterica of scholarship, and the professional recognition from colleagues in their fields.
Religions unite their members at the expense of dividing them from other religions and denominations. In many cases they confuse blind obedience with duty, blind faith with piety, unwarranted tolerance with forgiveness, zealotry with righteousness, and charity with love.
And business, with its emphasis on financial profit, cannot address solutions to those needs of people that cannot be turned into profit, as though serving others should always be met with pecuniary reward. Business and economic theory have a difficult time fairly dividing profits among those who collaborate, even within a company, let alone a culture, and it has almost no method for fairly dividing leisure as work becomes more efficient and in some cases less necessary.
As life in industrial societies becomes longer and more materially
comfortable, we nevertheless
still have higher emotional and intellectual needs that affluence and
financial success does not
solve and that education does not address or generally even notice. The
mere postponement of
death, even without the added years being spent in loneliness,
disability, debilitation, or dementia,
does not necessarily give us more abundant life. Many people are
deprived of the opportunity to
make the most significant contribution and a difference to their
communities even when they have
the opportunity to make a living. And many people are deprived of even
the opportunity to make
the most significant contribution they could through the jobs that earn
them their living. People
with significant (potential) talents are underemployed and
underutilized. And we seem bent on
creating more prisons than opportunities for people to develop their
abilities to make a satisfying contribution to others and ennoble their
own lives. All this while teens and children need mentors and older
physical assistance, and yet few efforts are made to put the two
together so they could mutually
benefit each other,and enrich their own lives with purpose and service.
What we need are not more ideologues with inadequate ideas and
narrow concerns who ignore or
cause more, or more important, problems than they solve. What we need
are not more salesmen
who put private gain before the public interest, or who mistakenly
think they are the same thing. What we need are not more of those who
can best promote the ideals of the Democratic or
Republican Parties in America, or the particular interests of liberal
or conservative groups
elsewhere in the world. Not more of those who can merely promote the
interests of Judaism or Islam or the Roman Catholic Church or
Protestant evangelism. Not those
who can extol the virtues of business or capitalism or socialism
without caring about the problems
of any of them. Not those whose concerns are the narrow interests of
taxation rates or business
profits. Not those who can create and promote more artificial tangible
goods that can merely
increase the gross domestic product.
What we need are people and groups who understand and articulate the real problems that all of us face as human beings, and people who can devise ways that allow everyone to fulfill their better talents and reach their finer potentials in order to achieve worthwhile and deserving personal fulfillment and make the fullest contribution they can to the lives of others, and in doing so earn a fair and just compensation for the contribution they make. What we need are people who can help increase the real benefits of life or decrease its burdens; and people who can help us all better and more fairly share both the benefits and the burdens life brings to every generation.
It is time to move on from simply devising ways to promote longevity and material good, to devising ways of meeting all the needs people have, especially their higher needs and the needs they have to make the most noble contributions they can to their own lives, their families and friends and neighbors, and, insofar as possible, to all other deserving human beings.