In Defense of Business People
(Click here for the audio version of this article.)
Recently I heard a speaker talking about the rights of homeless people. I was so impressed by his message and his example.
It was a powerful speech including many good points. He said it was wrong to criticize homeless people in a degrading way, and that it was wrong to make generalizations and assumptions about why people are homeless. He had been homeless himself at 15 years old, and he left home to get away from an abusive father. He said it was important that if we have clothes we no longer wear to give them to people less fortunate than ourselves. He said he had gotten a good job in construction, but decided to leave the construction world to go to work for a not-for-profit organization where he could focus on building a community of homeless people that could help them improve their lives. He fought for homeless people to have the option to sleep in their own sleeping bag and to be able to have a blanket with them even in a public park. Apparently laws had been enacted saying that it was illegal to sleep under a blanket in a public park in that particular area. All in all, it was a very meaningful speech.
However, during his speech about five times he said that he felt business people were in a rat race, they were obsessed with making money, and they always looked to step on people on their road to making money. He said that a business career was crap because it was only focused on making money.
During the Q&A session, I started asking questions and making comments.
I asked if he thought that most people in business who were making a lot of money felt they were in a rat race, were obsessed with money, and didn’t care about other people. He said you can’t have two masters. Either you love money or you love people.
I said, “I’ve been in business for 20 years. I’ve met hundreds and maybe thousands of business people. The vast, vast majority of the people I’ve met are not like what you describe. The vast majority are trying their best to help people. They’re trying to help their communities, their families, their employees, their customers, and their suppliers.”
Then I said, “You said it’s wrong to talk badly about homeless people. That everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. If that’s the case, why isn’t it equally as wrong to talk badly about business people who make a lot of money? Aren’t they human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect as well.”
We Don’t Need to Denigrate One Group While Trying to Compliment Another Group
When I was in high school I received really good grades. I wasn’t a very good athlete. So I would say to myself, “Well, that kid might be a great athlete, but he’s a lousy student.” I didn’t know the other kid’s grades. I just assumed he must be a lousy student in order to try to feel better about myself. In college, the situation was reversed. I received lousy grades. So I would say to myself, “Well, that kid might have great grades, but he has a lousy personality.” I didn’t know the kid’s personality. I just assumed it was lousy.
I was trying to make myself feel better by putting down another person. It was incredibly immature on my part. It didn’t help my self-esteem. It hurt my self-esteem.
Oftentimes in our society today adults are obsessed with complimenting one group while denigrating other people. A person will praise a conservative, and then feel it’s necessary to denigrate a liberal. Or the person will praise a liberal while slamming a conservative. People will praise The Greatest Generation, and then feel they have to humiliate Millennials in the same sentence. Or people will make fun of older people while trying to compliment a younger group. Even journalists today who are supposed to craft an unbiased story have shifted to bashing one group while telling a story about another group.
Why? Why do we keep doing this over and over and over even as we move into adulthood? We need to mature as adults if we are going to be the type of leaders who can make a significant impact in society. Otherwise as adults we sound like we never grew up.
We need you as a leader to be able to say positive things about one group without feeling it’s necessary to tear down another group. Otherwise, we just keep going around and around. We’re not making progress. Doing noble things can become undone by harshly criticizing someone else for being different than you. The right action doesn’t make the wrong action okay.