Bernardo M. Villegas
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Rebalancing Strategy
published: Mar 31, 2017



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The Role of Business in Civic Education

        Civic education is the inculcation in individual citizens of the virtue of solidarity, which is the habit of deliberately contributing to the common good in one's daily behaviour, whether in work, family and social life.  The common good, in turn, is a social order in which each person can fully cultivate herself or himself economically, politically, socially, culturally and spiritually.  It is not the greatest good for the greatest number.  Every person must be allowed to develop.  The concept of the common good is also directly related to what is called integral human development in the social encyclicals:  the development of each person and the whole person.

        The test of civic-mindedness is the ability of an individual to work for the good of others who are neither relatives nor friends.  This is very much related to the third type of love, that of benevolence.  For example, when one does an excellent job in his occupation or profession primarily because he is amply rewarded with a high salary and other fringe benefits, he is moved by the love of attraction (to what money can buy).  His excellent work will obviously contribute to the good of society or the common good, but his act does not proceed from the virtue of solidarity. He may work well and with precision because a job well done may give him what are known as intrinsic motivations:  search for excellence, self-fulfillment, pleasing his loved ones.  Again, these legitimate reasons still fall short of the virtue of solidarity.  Only when he can transcend both exterior and interior motivating forces, when he can act for the pure love of other people he does not even know personally but belong to the society he lives in can we say that he is motivated by the love of benevolence and is acting for the common good.

        Let me give some very pedestrian examples.  Some years back, I saw a Singapurean couple with two children enjoying the sights of Luneta Park and Intramuros.  The children had just eaten some sweets and were looking for a waste can into which to throw the wrappers.  When they could not find one close by, they put the wrappers into their pockets--instinctively demonstrating what is inculcated in the very culture of the Singaporeans about always keeping the environment clean for all and sundry (people they do not know and may never meet in their lives).  You can imagine what most Filipino children would do with their garbage.  Another example, probably too pedestrian, is suggested by the sign one finds in every wash room of an airplane:  please use the paper towel to clean the basin for the good of the next user.  Those thinking of the common good will always keep the toilet clean after use even if he or she does not know from Adam who the next user will be.  That is the virtue of solidarity:  taking pains to promote the good of another even if he is not your relative or your friend.

        In our imperfect democracy, Filipino citizens have much to improve in civic-mindedness or the virtue of solidarity.  Our still profoundly feudal society is still characterized by personal loyalty to the family, whether nuclear or extended, and to one's patrons or feudal lords.  In politics, there are no meaningful parties because the loyalty is still to the person, not to the party.  The business world is no different.  The Anglo-American form of capitalism, in which the profit for the shareholders and the high salaries and bonuses for the top executives are paramount, has been super-imposed on our feudal society.  There have been attempts to develop a culture of corporate social responsibility but oftentimes the programs do not address all the stakeholders of the firms and are tangential to the welfare of most of them. In not a few times, a corporation may be involved in planting trees in denuded mountains but may be underpaying its workers or selling contaminated food to its consumers.  A firm may have a laudable CSR project in social housing but may be cooking its books to the detriment both of its shareholders and the Government.

       A business enterprise is not only a profit-making machine.  It is a community of persons bound together to achieve a common mission of providing society with some good or service.  Only when all the persons in that community called a business are attaining their full development can the business be promoting the common good.  It is incumbent upon the leaders, i.e. the executives and the managers of the enterprise, to set the right example to all the others stakeholders on how to live the virtue of solidarity.  With the appropriate example from the leaders, the stakeholders will be motivated to also work for the good of the other persons in the community and transcend their self interests.  A business can be an effective setting to educate ordinary citizens to be civic-minded.  A sincere interest in the welfare of every company stakeholder on the part of the executives is an indispensable condition for cultivating civic education especially among its rank-and-file workers.

        A true story I will never tire repeating is that of the Swiss corporation Victorinox.  Before September 11, 2001, more than 30 percent of its revenue came from the sale of the famous Swiss knives available in leading international airports of the world.  After the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, selling the knives in the airport was strictly prohibited and in one instant Victorinox lost 30 percent of its revenue.  Instead of laying off its workers, as many profit-oriented companies would have done, the management of Victorinox appealed to other non-affected corporations to hire its best workers temporarily until it could diversify into other products.  After a few years of restructuring, Victorinox was able to get into new products and markets in the airport setting.  From knives, they were able to shift to luggage, travel accessories, perfumes, etc.  In no time at all, it started to rehire the workers temporarily placed in other companies during its darkest moments.  One can imagine the loyalty of the workers to Victorinox and the great example of solidarity it gave to the whole business community.

        The contrasting example was the way Lehman Brothers treated its executives and workers immediately after it went bankrupt on September 15, 2008.  I was a personal witness to the inhuman way Lehman Brothers treated its employees.  I happened to be attending an international conference on that very same day which was a very black day for the world's economy. The collapse of one of the world's biggest bank precipitated the Great Recession.  On that fateful day, I saw executives and employees of Lehman brothers streaming out their London headquarters, carrying their personal belongings in carton boxes and not a few crying visibly.  They were told to vacate their offices without delay.  One can be excused for referring to the Lehman Brothers' culture as indicative of the inhuman side of Anglo-American capitalism while the corporate culture of Victorinox reflects the more humane social market economy of many European economies.  It is within a social market economy that we can expect ordinary citizens develop a keener awareness for the common good.  For comments, my email address is bvillegas@uap.edu.ph.