Life reduced to its simplest equation is about relationships. Implicit in these relationships is contract. Most of the time the contracts are implied and at other times in they are complex legal agreements governing business transactions. Implicit in these transactions is an element of fear. Rarely discussed and even more rarely placated it is there nonetheless. We live at a time and in a culture that is desperately looking for a response to life that is grounded in principles that respect both the buyer and the seller. Principles that invite not only common property but value for what we can call the common good? Some might argue that such ideas are too idealistic and that nowhere is there any evidence that anyone has successfully applied such an approach.
There exists within the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition the principles of ethical business and community building. Eight hundred years ago Francis of Assisi offered the world a paradigmatic alternative to unbridled avarice. And his prescription included removing money and greed which are central to the elimination of discord from relationships. Add to that he and his followers lived this paradigm in a manner that fostered fraternity. Although nearly eight hundred years separate St. Francis from today’s world. The principles embodied in the Franciscan Rule of Life and its intellectual tradition offer a way out of the madness. Like the early Franciscans we live in a time of devalued currency, unprincipled trading practices, emerging markets and global forces that have turned our world upside down.
Pope Benedict XVI provides direction in “Caritas in Veritate” for such a model from Catholic Social Teaching.
In recent decades a broad intermediate area has emerged between the two types of enterprise. It is made up of traditional companies which nonetheless subscribe to social aid agreements in support of underdeveloped countries, charitable foundations associated with individual companies, groups of companies oriented towards social welfare, and the diversified world of the so-called “civil economy” and the “economy of communion”. (Caritas in Veritate, p. 46)
These groups of companies oriented toward social welfare are precisely the kinds of businesses which can provide a vision of a way forward for all. The following quote from B Corporation’s website provides an alternative to more traditional business models.
“People like you have the power to spread awareness, create good, and ignite worldwide change. We want you to join our global neighborhood. A movement is simply a community in action. Go ahead and throw a pebble in the pond, create a ripple, start a conversation — you never know where it may lead.” — BCorporation
Can business exist for the common good and still meet a bottom line? This post was taken in part from a paper I wrote this summer as a student at the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University.