Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Beam in Your Eyes (part 1)

           It is easy for business people to be scandalized with the words and deeds of some politicians running for high positions in the next elections.  There are adulterers, alleged mass killers, plunderers, liars, etc. who are shamelessly asking the public to vote for them.  There is reason to be dismayed by the lack of morality that is being displayed even as a sign of toughness or “machismo.”  It may be useful, however, for the private sector to pause a while and ask ourselves if we are “seeing the mote in the eyes of our neighbor and ignoring the beam in our own,” as the biblical passage goes.  A very good guide for an examination of conscience for business leaders is a document issued by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace last November 2014.  Entitled “Vocation of the Business Leader,” it contains certain reflections which offer business leaders, members of their institutions, and various stakeholders a set of practical principles that can guide them in their service of the common good.

          First, we must state the positive:  business, like politics, can be a very noble profession.  As stated in the Executive Summary of the above mentioned document, when businesses and market economies function properly and focus on serving the common good, they contribute greatly to the material and even spiritual well-being of society.  When certain principles of the social doctrine of the Church are followed, business people can meet the needs of the world with goods that are truly good and truly serve without forgetting, in a spirit of solidarity, the needs of the poor and the vulnerable; they can organize work within enterprises in ways that respect human dignity; they can foster a spirit of initiative and increases the competence of the employees who are thereby considered “co-entrepreneurs”; and  they can promote the sustainable creation of wealth and its just distribution among the various stakeholders.  It is thus very important that business leaders become very familiar with the Social Doctrine of the Church which is contained in one compact Compendium readily available in any bookstore (among them, Totus Bookstore on Connecticut Avenue in the Greenhills area).

          There are, however, some well-known obstacles to serving the common good.  Among them are corruption, absence of rule of law, tendencies towards greed, poor stewardship of resources.  The most significant, however, for a business leader on a personal level is leading a divided life.  The antidote to this is what is known as “servant leadership” which provides business leaders with a larger perspective and helps them to balance the demands of the business world with those of ethical social principles, illuminated for Christians by the Gospel.  This is explored through three stages:  seeing, judging and acting, even though all three are deeply interconnected.

          As regards seeing, there are four major “signs of the times” that must be accurately perceived and analyzed by the business leader.  The first is globalization, which has brought efficiency and boundless new opportunities to businesses.  A most recent development is the formal launching of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) which will promote free flow of goods, services, capital, investment and people among the ten countries comprising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.  The objective is to attain one common market and one production base for a population of some 650 million consumers.  Already, we are witnessing large food and beverage companies, financial institutions, airlines, infrastructure firms and retailing outlets crossing borders within the ASEAN and benefiting consumers and generating employment.  As has happened in other parts of the world that have earlier experienced this process of globalization, there are fears of greater inequality, economic dislocation (especially in the Philippine agricultural sector in which some industries will not be able to compete with their counterparts in such countries as Thailand and Vietnam), cultural or ideological colonization (to use a phrase of Pope Francis) and the inability of governments to properly regulate capital flows (as happened during the East Asian financial crisis of 1997).

          The second sign to be assessed is communications technology which has enabled connectivity, new solutions and products and lower costs, but its amazing velocity also brings information overload and rushed decision-making.  On the positive side, Internet-based collaboration is developing new products and solutions to age-old problems.  Such products and solutions have reduced the costs for people to connect globally.  Just consider how the more than ten million Overseas Filipino Workers can be in constant touch with their respective families at the lowest cost or no cost at all.  Just think of how more than one million highly educated Filipino workers are generating $22 billion (in 2015) of income in the Business Process Outsourcing/Knowledge Process Outsourcing industry without leaving their country, thanks to communications technology.  On the negative side, there are the problems of instant gratification and an overabundance of information.   As is pointed out in the document “The Vocation of a Business Leader,” “the urgent can drive out the important.”  Every message becomes a priority when instant communication insists on our attention.  We seem to have no time for well-studied and thoughtful decisions on complex matters.  Decisions—even important ones—are increasingly made without adequate consideration and with too little shared information.  A most destructive example of this lack of prudence in decision making was the proliferation of the so-called financial derivatives that were a primary cause of the banking collapses that precipitated the Great Recession in 2008 to 2010.  (To be continued.)