AS one who is not as active in the business scene as before, it is easy to take on the role of a pundit, postulating theories on why things are going right or going to pieces. One of the problems that seems to plague even big business, especially the multinational firms that are everyday bywords, is the neverending series of revelations about capsizing bottom lines that have decimated corporate capital and wreaked havoc on the capital and financial markets. A friend and I were casually chatting about the recent debacle that had hit a particularly revered US financial giant. As a former top executive of the local unit and a CEO of another multinational, he ventured that top executives seem driven by the need to show positive results in their respective balance sheets and income statements, oftentimes to the point of manipulating figures or undertaking very risky investments just to jack up short-term profits. Unfortunately, in this age of greed, such practices often become the norm rather than the exception. First, it was the underwriting of or investment in very risky derivatives that had nothing to do with many companies' business models. Now, the collapse of the subprime market has once again unmasked corporate greed and inanity, showing the extend to which financial giants will go to book high-yielding instruments without considering the underlying risks that each of these bring to the security of the company. Unfortunately, the basic driver in most of these cases is the desire of CEOs and their ilk to write lucrative profit sharing checks for themselves even if the companies they head will go to the doghouse in the medium or long term. There seems to be no sense of right or wrong anymore to guide top businessmen like these. They pay lip service to transparency while pledging allegiance to corporate governance even as they plan their next moves to enrich themselves at the expense of their corporate wards. Knowing good from evil A wise man from the West once asked a relatively unschooled native what he knew about good and evil. The native said, "When I do something bad, I have a wheel with sharp edges grinding away inside me. It hurts and tells me I did something wrong." The wise man persisted and posed another question, "What happens when you continue to do wrong things?" The native pondered and then said, "Well, if I continue to do bad things, the wheel keeps grinding but its edges get blunted and no longer hurt me inside!" This simple word-picture tells us what is basically wrong with the world today: We have become accustomed to a culture that reveres material things above the spiritual; that rewards results without questioning the lack of ethics that made such results possible; that fails to consider that there is a need to answer to a basic set of rules or virtues grounded on the greater good. Natural law There are many philosophers who argue that there is such a thing as natural law, which is nothing more than the law built into the nature of each created thing. Thus, the nature (law) of a rock is such that it will sink when thrown into a body of water. Neither will it sprout wings and fly. Natural Law is the story of how things work. It is relatively easy to understand when we deal with physical objects or anything in observable nature. Things get a bit more complicated when we venture into the realm of intelligent man and the moral sphere. It is said that each man's soul gets to see its Creator for the briefest of moments at the point of its creation, before it is joined to the body it is to animate during the lifetime of man on earth. During that very minute instant in time, the notion of a God to be adored is intrinsically joined into the soul's consciousness. Thus, all over the world, one finds an instinctive longing for the worship of God, albeit in various forms and permutations. Corollary to this is the infusion of a fundamental knowledge of good and evil that permeates almost all cultures; except for those that have probably been so corrupted and drawn along the downward path marked by an acceptance of evil as a governing norm. As a result, one can say that Morality in general, is governed by a law built into the nature of man, and knowable by reason. In other words, man can and should know through the use of his reason what is in accord with his nature, and, therefore, good. Every law, however, has to have a lawgiver. And this is where it really gets tricky, because it does not make sense having a natural law without a Supreme Being (God) who is its author. A foremost legal positivist thinker of the past century, Hans Kelsen, has this to say, "…there is no natural-law doctrine of any importance which has not an essentially religious character." Taken in another context that businessmen can probably understand, natural law is nothing more than a set of manufacturer's instructions built into our natures so that we can know by reason how to act. Over the millennia, the universal lawgiver has manifested his instructions to his creation in various forms, among them the Law of the Jewish people, including the 10 commandments; the further extension of the Law by Jesus in the Gospels and in specific instructions like the Beatitudes; the Holy Quran of our Islamic brothers, the many books or wisdom of the Chinese, the Way and teaching of Lord Buddha, the wise books of many past and present Hindu writers, ad infinitum. Common streams, common threads In all of these streams of faith, one finds many common threads that suggest the existence of a basic knowledge of what is good and what constitutes evil. Gandhi, for example, reasons that "Man's destined purpose is to conquer old habits, to overcome the evil in him, and to restore good to its rightful place." The Lord Buddha, on the other hand, points out that "Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue." Sayyeda Fatima al-Yashrutiyya, comments on the variety of the faiths: "The different religions are like a tree. There is one root and many branches. On each branch, there is a light, and the lights are of differing colors. But they all draw their light from the one root." The Quran (Sura 4:124) also has this succinct admonition: "If any do deeds of righteousness -- be they male or female -- and have faith, they will enter paradise." One of the more famous Chinese proverbs, attributed to Lao Tzu, has this wonderful progression: "If there be righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character. If there be beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world." Ultimately, and inevitably, one is then led to think about the life one has led and the fate waiting for him or her in the great beyond. This little tale from the Talmud sums up what all the other faiths mean to say: A certain man had three friends, two of whom he loved clearly, but the other he lightly esteemed. One day the king commanded his presence in the court. He was greatly alarmed and desired to procure an advocate. He went to the two friends whom he loved: one flatly refused to accompany him; the other offered to go with him up to the king's gate, but no further. In his extremity, he called upon his third friend, the one he least esteemed, who not only went with him willingly, but also ably defended him before the king and got him acquitted. In like manner, every man has three friends when Death summons him to appear before his Creator. His first friend, whom he loves the most -- namely, his money -- cannot go with him a single step. The second, friends and relations, can only accompany him to the grave. The third friend, his good works and deeds, go with him before the King and obtain his acquittal. Unshackling the bad, embracing the good If we were, in addition, to throw in the whole gamut of Western wisdom, and especially delve into some of the original thoughts from the great Greek philosophers that ultimately found their way into natural law as defined by the great St. Aquinas, we would have a veritable road map for individual and corporate behavior that should immediately preclude doing things that would work to the detriment of the corporation, its various publics, and to society itself. But to be able to do this, one would have to unshackle himself from the usual personal and corporate idols characterized by greed and a token lip service to social responsibility and service. One of the problems inherent in a business school that is modeled along purely secular lines is the tendency to waffle when it comes to describing what constitutes good corporate and individual behavior. Thus, one’s avatar becomes to be like those who made it, those who managed to claw their way up the corporate and concrete jungles to the pinnacles of financial and personal success. But we fail to look closely at the social cost of the trail littered with bodies, wrecked economies or corporations, destroyed environments, etc., that were seen as nothing but necessary collateral damage in the achievement of said success. Surely, there must be a better, more humane, more innately satisfying -- even if less profitable -- way to do business in this dog-eat-dog world of ours?
May 2008 Archives
THE RAINS brought about by that freak typhoon wending its way along a path parallel to but not traversing the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan have become a welcome boon to the country and especially its flora. The browning landscape is slowly becoming green once again. How long will this relief from the ravages of what was becoming a hot, hot summer last? Well, the rainy season is just around the corner and, as I mentioned in my last blog entry, it is time to take stock and plan what trees to plant to make up for the abuse we have heaped on our environment. The interesting thing about modern communications today is that they provide one with instant knowledge that can be put to good use. For example, there are any number of organizations (NGOs) in the world that help those unable to do so to plant trees that neutralize a particular person's carbon footprint. I saw several websites with carbon footprint calculators which would help one figure out just how much he or she contributes to global warming in a year. Then, a given number of trees would be planted that would -- in a few years -- effectively make up for said individual carbon footprint. For a fee, of course. A few months ago, Sister Pilar Verzosa, RVM, a good friend of the current environment secretary, came up with a tree planting project that would credit certain trees planted to generous individuals (read: those who made donations). I am sure that she would appreciate any effort to help her various projects through such efforts that also contribute to mitigating global warming. Instead of planting solitary trees along busy thoroughfares or village streets, I would like to suggest that like-minded groups seek out patches of bare land that one finds all over the metropolis. These can then be converted into urban mini-forests that would go a long way toward restoring the balance of nature. Better yet, after a few years, these mini-forests will develop into little ecosystems with all kinds of flora and fauna. Among the latter will be an assortment of birds. If properly developed with its own water source, one could possibly find a return of the more delicate species that have long disappeared from our midst, and which one can only find these days in those rare patches of pristine land in the rural areas. Planting a variety of trees, bushes, and flowering plants will help attract butterflies, bees, birds, and other animals and insects that will make for a more pleasant and beneficial urban setting. Maybe the first step is to take the power to cut down trees away from mere individuals and subject this singular act to the scrutiny of a whole cabal of tree-huggers. Perhaps the next tree to be cut down can also be used to construct an old fashioned gallows from which the ones responsible for the dastardly act can be hung till sunset.
BY NOW, the normal just about anyone who either reads or watches TV is learning more about this phenomenon called global warming. What was an indistinct cry accredited previously to scientific kooks or others like them is hitting more and more closely to home. Especially when one considers that life will never be quite the same. For one, that oceanfront condo or seaside resort once so beckoning may not be such a welcome investment after all, especially with the threat of inundation so real and so near. What can one do to help -- even in a little way -- alleviate global warming? I will not go into the whys and wherefores of why one should plant trees, but simply exhort everyone to get off his or her butt and get ready to plant a tree or trees after what promises to be a long hot summer. First of all, it is a big mistake to plant any trees or do serious gardening work at this time of the year. The heat and need for water will militate against your effort. Let nature take its course and wait for the rainy season to begin come June. But wait… to plant trees, one will need seedlings. And not just any seedlings, mind you. One must first consider where one is going to plant his tree(s), and whether the area can support the type of tree one has in mind. For example, one should not plant forest type dipterocarps in areas like sidewalks that have those pesky Meralco or PLDT posts with lines and wires on them. Nor should one plant big trees where both plumbing and other sanitary facilities are located, like one’s village water system. So, read a bit and look around at what trees are already in place, and consider which ones will suit you best. Do you want trees with large leafy canopies, or large flowering shrubs that almost mimic small trees? Or do you want trees that will attract birds and bats, and help in the furtherance of the ecosystem? My friend Ed (Chief) de Vera and I have this terrible habit of picking up seeds or uprooting small seedlings in anticipation of the planting season from June to about September. This time of year, in fact, is when most trees come up with their seeds or seed pods. Some seeds germinate pretty much on their own, while others need help. Again, consulting with some experts from places like the Manila Seedling Bank foundation or those ubiquitous flower and tree farms in Los Baños will help a lot. Of course, one can take the easy route and purchase seedlings ready to plant from those same places. But get instructions from the vendors, such as where to plant those seedlings, the width of the grownup trees’ canopies, whether they prefer morning or afternoon sun, etc. Find out also how best to prepare the hole which one will insert the tree in, the mixture of garden soil and compost to be placed in the planting medium, etc. Find out also which varieties of trees produce relatively hard wood, which ones are basically softwoods, or which ones have branches that break under the least bit of wind and rain because they are brittle. This little bit of research will stop you from getting a lot of grief come rainy season and typhoon time. If you want birds to populate your vicinity, plant a good old balete (fig), of which there are hundreds -- even thousands -- of varieties. But these fig trees, otherwise known as parasite trees, should be planted in the clear and not near a place that can be destroyed by their powerful root networks. Some trees also have hardened seed pods that will dent your cars or heads when these pop and fall to the ground. They are best planted away from places where people gather or valuable items are kept. Just like common sense tells one not to plant coconut trees where the nuts can fall on an unsuspecting guest or friend. In the end, however, planting trees will provide one with a sense of satisfaction and joy, especially when one is able to enjoy the cool breezes that seem to be where trees also are. One will also enjoy the drop in the ambient temperatures in the shaded areas by as much as 10 to 15 degrees. Best of all, trees attract birds and other natural forms of wildlife, and the sounds one will hear especially from 5 to 6 a.m. and p.m. are indescribable.