Less Violent Business

Evolution of the human and business

Lalith GunaratneOur human race is evolving for sure. I was listening to Steven Pinker, author of the book The Better Angels of Our Nature, in Ottawa a few days ago, and he told us that our ancestors were far more violent than we are and that today we are living in one of the most peaceful eras of our time on Earth. One might be surprised by this when listening to the news channels but Pinker got his message across with panache and with good use of numbers.

Steven Pinker, Harvard Professor

Pinker postulated about why this is happening. One proposal was the rise of centralised states in the 16th century with public policies for deterrence through laws and punishment. Here governments became the legitimate authority that could mete out violence, and thus fear led people to be less violent.

Apart from the rule of law, in a technologically connected society where cooperation is important, we tend to protect each other, as we need each other for survival. Finally, there must be some biological function in the human being for empathy and compassion. But how do we bring that out?

In looking around us we see that Pinker’s theory is indeed borne out. As people become more reflective and contemplative, they take more responsibility for their actions and are more open and welcoming as their circle of influence widens.

Less violent business

This “less violent” trend can also be seen to be transforming the world of business. Businesses are becoming more responsible for society and the environment in their business practices.

As with the evolution of change in society at large, business also needs legislation to modify its behaviour in order to become more responsible; and, over time, these new behaviours will eventually become the norm. We are seeing transformations beginning in the mining and oil industries, industrial agriculture and other industries that have historically caused great damage to our planet.

I believe the journey has begun. And I am optimistic that businesses will realise, before it’s too late, that the very consumer they are relying on will be destroyed by their business. At least there is, for now, a selfish interest towards being more responsible.

On the other hand, as consumers become educated about issues that threaten our planet, they will also vote with their purses and reject products with negative impacts.

However, a time of empathy and compassion within business is yet to come. The very nature of a company that has limited liabilities is to compete for profit, and this leaves little room to marry business with compassion.

And yet I am hopeful that the way in which business runs will eventually evolve as, after all, it is these same people who have evolved to be more peaceful who run our businesses too. The new generation that comes in with a better knowledge of the world; with a wider circle of influence and connectedness; who understands the cause and effect of this interconnectedness by being more reflective and contemplative; who creates a better balance between the external and internal worlds – it is these people who will see the power of that balance.

Ultimately, if the 7 billion people in the world today live in dignity and peace, then responsible business will follow. If we make this difference for the future, our planet is going to be sustainable. I am confident that we humans are smart enough to realise that. And Steven Pinker’s story gives me great hope.

An article by Lalith Gunaratne

Lalith has formed the company Sage Ontario for Mindful Business and has written a chapter on Sri Lanka for The World Guide to CSR: A Country-by-Country Analysis of Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility, published by Greenleaf Publishing.

The World Guide to CSR (hardback/paperback/PDF eBook) is one of the many titles available at 40% discount as part of Greenleaf Publishing’s December sale. See the Greenleaf Publishing website for more details.


One thought on “Less Violent Business

  1. I do not so far see any reference to the SCOTTBADER INTERNATIONAL COMMONWEALTH LTD which I…and others .. have struggled with for over 60 years now !
    WE are WHAT PROF R H TOWNEY WANTED TO SEE DEVELOP business based on economic justice ! .. now attempting to do so INTERNATIONALLY ….the only Quaker founded co. left alive … according to Anglia TV news … after Rowntrees , Cadbury etc have been lost to capitalism !

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