Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, an eminent Russian novelist, historian and tireless critic of Communist Totalitarianism, Nobel Prize in Literature (1970), when delivering a Harvard Commencement Address in June 1978, referred to the calamity of a de-spiritualised and irreligious humanistic consciousness and noted:
“To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth — imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days, we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.
If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot just be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot just be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfilment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President’s performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.”
Not much seems to have changed since Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Address — if anything, people, governments, and many corporations have accelerated their hunger for power and fiscal greed. In the corporate world, shareholders annually clamour for better returns on their investments, often placing the CEO and organisation, as a whole, in a state of panic and stress. The quest for positional power seems to be a life-long mission for some executives, the same often destroying others in their respective paths to the top. The corporate conscience has become diluted, often affecting staff and clients negatively. It has become difficult to trust organisational leaders — their rhetoric may be profound and echo humanitarian concerns, but the words are often shallow and real care is not offered simultaneously.
The corporate boardroom should not only be a venue for analysis of financial results and the development of further strategy to optimise investment, but should also be a place of conscience — the responsibilities that go with doing business in terms of people, location and impact on society as a whole. A business needs heart for:
- Employee well-being — caring for those that work for the company, developing them and training them for growth. This has an impact on family life and sustainability
- Client satisfaction — exceeding expectations with clients and ensuring quality and value
- Environmental responsibility — ensuring that business is conducted with an eye to minimise waste and pollution and to care for their immediate physical context
- Integrity — the ability to conduct affairs in a principled fashion and according to legal requirements — a corporate “walk the talk”!
- Community — spending some effort and offering resources for the “upliftment” of “neighbours” — people that live and work in the area in which the company is located
Organisations need hearts! These hearts can be likened to a “spiritual conscience” that guides the organisational behaviour appropriately. This same conscience should restrain obscene excesses and selfish passions and correct irresponsibility. Corporations have a responsibility to care — they should be playing an integral part in developing a nation.