Entering the Marketplace with Helping
by Fred Kofman
"The one who has finally awoken to
the truth of being appears as a jolly rustic that wanders from village to village,
from mundane situation to mundane situation. His body is over-flowing with life-energy.
His being is full of compassionate love. His open hands express perfect emptiness."
Hixon, in Coming Home
The tenth ox-herding picture shows the herder who has
finally awakened "entering the marketplace with helping hands." But
we don't have to be enlightened to enter the marketplace this way. In fact, it
is the only way to enter it.
The voluntary exchange of goods and services rewards
those who are ready to serve their fellow women and men. Contrary to some pseudo-spiritual,
socialist and fascist arguments, the marketplace is a space of freedom where human
beings can cooperate in a spirit of mutuality.
Adam Smith, the founding father
of modern economics, argued that there are two forces guiding human actions: benevolence
towards others and self-interest. Smith claimed that with the development of the
market economy and with the separation of individuals from their communities of
origin, self-interest becomes the primary factor-but it can never fully replace
benevolence as a necessary condition for attaining "universal opulence."
Smith said, "The most apt to prevail [in the marketplace] are those who can
draw others' self-interest in their favor.
'Give me what I want, and you
will have what you want' is the meaning of every offer." So every act of
commerce is an act of mutual service. Even though it can be motivated by self-interest,
the market system channels selfish energy towards helping others.
not, however, the way business is portrayed in our culture. We are constantly
told that the business world is essentially evil. Though there are indeed many
examples of human and environmental disasters caused by business, these examples
contradict rather than reflect the spirit of a free market. This spirit is essentially
virtuous and oriented towards the attainment of the highest human values.
marketplace is a realm of voluntary transactions. Unlike a battlefield or a prison,
in a free market nobody is forced to do something he or she doesn't want to do-as
long as every person respects the right of every other participant to do only
what they want to do, that is, to choose their behavior without coercion. The
market is an alchemical process that transforms self-interest into service, pettiness
into greatness, greed into the desire to satisfy others' interests.
for, and commitment to, others' well-being is the essence of compassionate love.
In twelve years of teaching and consulting, I have found this love in most of
the business leaders I've met. Perhaps I've been blessed. Perhaps, just by coincidence,
I've only worked with enlightened organizations. I don't think so. Most people
would not consider General Motors, Chrysler, Electronic Data Systems, Microsoft,
Royal Dutch Shell, Citibank and American Express to be particularly "spiritual"
organizations. However, the business executives I've worked with in these organizations
seek meaning in their life as passionately as my fellow students of Ken Wilber's
Integral Philosophy. The executives I work with all feel a calling to make this
world a better place. Every person who has tasted the bittersweet emptiness of
fulfilling petty desires knows there is a deeper thirst that transcends them,
a happiness that cannot be achieved through any object. That is true happiness,
of which ordinary pleasure is but a pale reflection.
Business is a field of
possibilities. The market is a stage on which every human being manifests his
or her consciousness. When this manifestation is guided by transcendent values,
business becomes a work of art. When this manifestation is guided by vice and
unconsciousness, work turns into hell, a swamp of suffering and bondage.
we look deeply into our experience, we find two basic attitudes or frames of mind:
love and fear. The first is based on a sense of fullness, an overflowing inner
richness that wants to express itself. The second is based on a sense of emptiness,
a feeling of lack that wants to be filled by external objects, whether material,
psychological or even spiritual.
Any activity can be performed out of love
or out of fear. Love and fear are features of the performer, not of the activity.
It is possible, for example, to play a game a tennis out of fear, trying to prove
that one is better than the other, resorting to distracting or hurting the other
player to get an advantage. It is also possible to play the game out of love,
seeking to express one's precious worth, which would still involve putting your
heart and soul into the game, playing to win.
Business activities can also
stem from either fear or love. Fear-based competition is the game of hungry ghosts.
In desperation, people turn the natural hierarchy of means and ends upside down,
sacrificing the higher to the lower. There are no limits to the strategies people
motivated by fear may use to make money.
Love-based players keep their priorities
straight, taking the lower as a path to the higher. Those who transcend their
fears, through accomplishment or realization, find that love is the most powerful
engine for playing and working in the world.
A striking illustration of this
type of play can be found in the Bhagavad Gita. Prince Arjuna is besieged by doubts
as he faces members of his own family in a battlefield. Torn between the desire
to do his duty (fight) and to not harm his relatives (leave), he turns to his
charioteer, none other than Lord Krishna, for advice. In one of the most beautiful
pieces of mystical poetry ever written, Krishna tells Arjuna, in no uncertain
terms, to go to battle and fight with all his might, focusing on the process and
releasing the outcome. In blazing words, Krishna explains that virtuous behavior
is more important than life and death itself. If Arjuna were about to play a tennis
match with his brother or develop a marketing campaign for Windows XP instead
of fighting a civil war, I suspect Krishna's advice would be no different.
a tennis player and businessperson has faced Arjuna's dilemma. The regard for
the other can get in the way of playing as best one can. In order for me to win,
the other must lose (at least in the small zero-sum game), and that offends a
certain sense of fairness or a wish that everybody could win together. The problem
with that wish is that it co-opts any competitive game and therefore forecloses
a set of opportunities for the expression of our human possibilities. It also
subtly patronizes the opponent, assuming that "he couldn't take it";
that is, that he couldn't metabolize the loss as nourishment for his physical,
mental, emotional and spiritual development. In the larger game, the logic is
not zero-sum: everybody can win. A full-out game ennobles all players equally:
there is no difference between the winner and the loser.
This illustrates a
common deep misunderstanding of the developmental process. Psychologists have
found that the best environment to foster growth is one that combines support
and challenge in the right proportions. A world in which nobody ever loses or
suffers a reversal of fortune might be extremely comfortable, but could leave
the inhabitants stuck. To grow, the baby needs to exit the womb and face the drama
of life on Earth.
There is a Japanese saying that "a defect is a treasure."
Those who adopt the Total Quality Management philosophy assert that a problem
in the product is always a symptom of a deeper problem in the process. By addressing
the root cause, they aim to improve the whole system at a fundamental level. They
want to solve not only this specific defect, but many others that could potentially
be produced by an out-of-control process. We could say that suffering is a life
defect. When we experience suffering, we need to perform a root-cause analysis.
We need to investigate the assumption that it stems from unfulfilled desires,
and that we need to fulfill those desires by attaining more and more things. Perhaps
we might find out that our suffering stems from ignorance and attachment and strive
to transcend these causes.
At the lower levels, a competitive activity affords
the opportunity to prove one's worth by beating the opponent. Less mature people
play to assuage their fears of worthlessness, to show that they are somebody.
Their belief is that by establishing their worth, they will be able to experience
the higher pleasures of life-even though this very search for worth subtly reinforces
their belief that they are inherently unworthy.
At the highest levels, business
affords the opportunity for one's humanity to show up in the particular role of
a businessperson. Like a diamond with infinite facets, human nature manifests
in infinite ways. Business is one way in which self-aware radiance can shine forth.
Business is a stage on which the unfathomable mystery that underlies it all expresses
itself. Business is a space in which emptiness coalesces and does business with,
against, through and for the sake of itself. This is the highest purpose of business:
to be a field in which the absolute recognizes and manifests itself within the
relative. The ultimate point of business is to fully develop the wisdom and compassion
of the human being who engages in it.
Most of us spend most of our time in
work-related activities. Work occupies more time than all other wakeful activities
combined. If work-time is wasted time, dead time or unconscious time, the great
majority of our life ends up wasted, dead or unconscious. If we conduct our professional
activities in a space of pusillanimity (from the Latin, meaning "small soul"),
life becomes petty. That is why it is crucial to go beyond business-as-usual and
recognize that business is an essential component of conscious life, a gesture
of human magnanimity (great soul).
The larger purpose of business-or sport,
or anything for that matter-is not to win or make money, but to serve as an arena
for enlightenment. Of course, to preserve the arena the players must still attempt
to score points and win. But now the desire of winning in business is subordinated
to the desire of winning in life. That is, of attaining enlightening liberation
for oneself and all sentient beings. Trying to win stops being the end. It becomes
a strategy, a conditional means to pursue an unconditional goal.
is a consultant in organizational learning for a number of large companies and
is the founder of Leading Learning Communities, based in Boulder, Colorado.