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Do we really count?

3 Comments

It takes me a while to get around to seeing new films, so it was only last night I watched the Age of Stupid. Apart from the very interesting way this film was funded (by more than 620 ordinary people investing getting on for £1 millon), I was most struck by a comment made by the lead character, Pete Postlethwaite, a few moments before we are fully introduced to the idea of our own ignorance and stupidity being the cause of our downfall (and, in the film, ultimate destruction).

He remarks that maybe we humans don’t think we are worth saving.

I find that a really powerful thought. If true, it would explain a huge amount of our behaviour, and not just that related to climate change. It would explain why we allow ourselves to get fat; why we work our socks off to earn stuff that rarely makes us happy; why we poison ourselves with excesses of alcohol and other drugs; why we kill each others’ children in endless wars.

I’d like to see more businesses funding themselves through broader share ownership (Ben and Jerry’s reputedly did a great job of that in the state of Vermont).

And I’d also like to see more business owners reflecting on what their businesses would be like if their purpose was genuinely to enhance people’s sense of self-worth – their own, and that of their staff, their customers and the public at large.

For example, I think I could quite easily make a list of products and services produced by commercial companies that are, in self-worth terms, destructive, neutral, or positive.

The most positive on the list, for me, would include services that encourage people to really get better at what they do; to introduce some kind of professional reflection into their working lives; and to engage more honestly and authentically with other people. And services that encourage creativity, imagination, and the appreciation of beauty and quality.

All of these things, when done well and in a sustained manner, should lead to a better sense of real self-worth and self-esteem.

I’d be interested to hear your lists too.

By the way the same people responsible for the film are producing a (sillier?) daily 20 minute live web TV show, The Stupid Show, from the Copenhagen Climate Summit. Minimum sponsorship only £300 in case you are interested in getting into the TV business.

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Author: Pete Burden

Strategy, Leadership and Organisational Coach I am an experienced strategy, leadership and organisational coach. I work with the MDs of purpose-led businesses - people using the freedom, flexibility, and practicality of business to disrupt the world in positive ways.

3 thoughts on “Do we really count?

  1. Great post Pete. I think that if we humans cleared out our mind clutter every now and again; if we stopped being distracted by our brain chatter (making us chase whims and frippery). If we removed the props of false ambition and material desire. If we did all these things even just once in a while, then I think we humans would realise we were worth saving.

  2. Big subject, Pete. I think, when it comes to feelings of self-worth, more harm is done by politicians and the media (including marketing) than by business. Self-esteem comes from striving to achieve things. The targets change over the course of our lives, from getting good enough A levels to get into a decent university, to trying to establish yourself in your first job/project/whatever, then trying to become a better manager/husband/mother/friend/provider/citizen, and, alongl the way, trying to appreciate the beauty of nature and art, and to gain self-knowledge and become whatever you were meant to be. Simple! Achievement is great, of course, but striving – and what it tells you about yourself – is, I believe, far more valuable in itself than the actual outcome (which is often utterly beyond your control).
    Politicians could help by celebrating effort and achievement and rewarding people who take responsibility for their own lives and who provide a decent example to others. But they don’t. Politicians have destroyed genuine competition in schools because hard work and talent are an affront to the lazy and talentless. They’ve taken away the pride of millions by creating a benefits system that makes going out to work pointless. They then compound these errors by punishing parents who’ve made huge sacrifices to get their children the best education they can afford by encouraging universities to discriminate against pupils from fee-paying schools.
    So, the government is positively discouraging most of us from behaving in a way that would encourage self-esteem.
    At the same time – bizarrely – they’ve helped create a cult of eltitism and greed that would have had Gordon Gekko reaching for the smelling salts. Many bankers, footballers, modern “artists” and TV “personalities” have discovered that wicked, stupid, selfish, ugly behaviour will be condoned and rewarded by the government and the lickspittle quangocracy it has created to set the tone for the nation. So when criminals are set free because there aren’t enough prison places, and illegal immigrants are allowed to stay because the system can’t cope, and teenage girls can jump to the head of the housing queue by getting themselves up the duff, and MPs can “flip” homes and not be punished and keep their seats – it’s just part of a pattern set by politicians and the creatures who do their bidding: behave badly and prosper.
    Teaching our children that testing yourself is a good thing – whether you’re found wanting or not – and demonstrating by example that behaving decently towards others is the cornerstone of a fulfilling life would, I believe, genuinely help us all to feel that humanity is worth saving.
    I’m not saying you’re wrong – anything that encourages businesses to treat employees, each other and the rest of us better can hardly be a bad thing! But I’m not sure, given some obvious exceptions, that business is really the problem here.

  3. Thanks Scott

    I agree business *may* not be the most important contributor to this problem.

    I suppose for one thing it depends what we include in the category “business”. Most of the media are, I think, businesses; with one or two relatively small but noble exceptions like the BBC.

    For me, I don’t favour blaming politicians or the government because it seems to be that, like our children growing up, “they” pretty much reflect our own tastes and choices.

    We (I mean the people of the country) elect them and then we also condone their behaviour – however rubbish it is. If it was really important to me to change them I guess I’d work on that project – but I see them as more of an irrelevance than perhaps I should.

    It may be childish but I still hold fairly slavishly to the idea that “whoever gets in, it will always be the government”.

    Business, however, is something that interests me deeply.

    And I also agree with the likes of Paul Hawken that business is the only institution powerful enough, creative enough, and flexible enough to deal with the large scale, global problems that humanity now faces.

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