For a few weeks a year.
It is wonderful to have this kind of prompt, much like it’s wonderful to have the prompt of Thanksgiving to remind us to focus on gratitude. But, of course, there is a risk associated with it: the risk that now is the time to focus on generosity, and connection, and strengthening and renewing -- as opposed to all those other times, which are not.
This risk is mirrored in the use of the term, “social enterprises,” one of the most insidious constructs we’ve ever formulated. Much like the season of giving, or the day of gratitude, the idea is benevolent: Let’s use the tools of business to generate a positive social impact. The implication, however, is equally poisonous: Social enterprises are the do-gooders in the corner, while real enterprises are on the main stage getting the job done.
The insane thing is that we allow companies to exist that are not social enterprises. After all -- taking the concept of corporations as having legal personhood -- you and I as human persons don’t just have financial and legal obligations to one another; we have moral, social, and civic obligations to each other.
Which ones are more important? If we were to abandon our legal obligations to each other but maintain our moral, social and civic obligations, the world would be just fine. But if we were to maintain our legal and financial obligations but abandon our moral, social and civic obligations, the world would quickly descend into chaos.
In a book review titled "Greed is dead,” the TLS affirmed this: “[W]e now know that Economic Man is a travesty. 'Blueprint: The evolutionary origins of a good society' by Nicholas Christakis is the latest study to affirm this. It shows why, through the forces of evolution, Homo sapiens emerged as a uniquely social species. Far from being evolutionarily inevitable, Economic Man was culled almost to extinction, surviving only as the highly deviant behaviour we call psychopathic.
“In hunter-gatherer societies, hunters do not ‘eat what they kill’: such behaviour would bring social ostracism, so the hunters share their catch. The theorems derived from Economic Man explain the conditions under which a society of psychopaths would be able to function. In most contexts, those conditions turn out to be fanciful: the efficient paradise depicted in economics textbooks has never existed, and never will. Instead, in well-functioning societies, humans construct and abide by a vast web of kindness and mutual obligations of which Economic Man would be incapable.”
At this time of year, we are given societal permission to focus on the vast web of kindness and mutual obligations necessary for a well-functioning society. But these obligations exist year-round, and we should not be elevating them just to warm our hearts on a cold winter’s night. We should be elevating our moral, social and civic successes to the same degree we elevate our economic successes, if not higher.
The most wonderful time of the year… should be all year. Happy holidays.