For quite a while weve been living with reverse
rhetoric. The "good boys" still win occasionally in
fairy tales, sentimental movies and police sitcoms. But the
prevailing myth is the opposite: success is for the shrewd,
the ruthless, the selfish, the "lean and mean" or
the crooks. Being "good" is often understood as
being stupid (or hypocritical). Caring for other people is
the mark of the loser (pretending to care can be part of
a winners tactics, as long as it isnt done too
seriously and it doesnt distract him from minding his own business.)
Of course the myth of "goodness" always winning
was misleading. But so it its opposite. The "bad
guys" in the money and power game often get tangled in
their own lies and fall into fairly obvious traps that their
arrogance overlooks. The ruthless and the greedy can be hurt
just as badly as the hapless that get trampled in the
Mean people are often stupid. In his classic definition
of stupidity, Carlo Cipolla explains that
"intelligent" people are those who do good for
themselves and for others, "bandits" are those who
do good for themselves but harm others, "stupid"
are those who harm themselves and others. Many of the
ruthless and selfish are bandits that stumble easily into
stupidity; but they are too egotistic, hurried and
megalomaniac to understand what they are doing.
We are taught to be selfish. To care for ourselves, our
family, our immediate environment and money über
alles. To pay lip-service to issues of common good, fairness
and civility, occasionally support some charity... but
concentrate on greed and serve the rich and powerful so we
can share in their fortune (or so we hope).
Power is sexy, money is elegant; the rest is a shabby,
colorless mass that sometimes can be exploited and otherwise
is better ignored. Its useful, of course, to bring to the
limelight the few that win a lottery or are displayed here
and there in the media circus, and become famous for a while;
just to keep up the illusion that there is "opportunity
for all". But thats just cosmetics, to keep the shabby
crowds quiet while they watch the glamorous fashion shows
crammed with extreme luxurious unclothing that not even the
rich and beautiful will ever really wear.
Let the masses join the gambling in the stock exchange.
Let a few win, for a while. It makes the show popular, the
big money-mongers admired. Who cares if some not-so-rich
people ruin themselves? In the merry-go-round there will be
enough winners to sustain the delusion of "easy money
I know lots of young people who want to get rich very
quickly. They expect to "make their first million
dollars" before they are 30, or even sooner; to join the
club of the very rich or to be able to retire in luxury while
they are young. A few will succeed. Many will not. They are
bright, well-educated people. Whatever happens they will have
a good career, a well-paid job. But they will have to work
for a living, and that will make them terribly disappointed
maybe unhappy for the rest of their lives. In the meantime
they will have made a number of unpleasant (and unsuccessful)
compromises that they will live to regret.
Not all the pretty girls who line up for the casting
couches become stars or wealthy divorcees. Not all the
people, young or old, who are prepared to compromise their
ethics and human standards for a "quick kill" are
successful. Quite to the contrary, most of them fail and
get thrown back into an ordinary world that they no longer
like or understand.
Is this a clever, efficient, intelligent system? Is this
the only standard available in todays economy and culture?
It this our only choice other than dreaming of fairy tales
and lost paradises? Thats nonsense. Reality can be quite
crude and we are not living in a world in which
"goodness" and caring are always rewarded. But the
opposite isnt true, either.
Its no coincidence that in discussions about the
internet we hear so much about community, sharing, customer
care and customer power. The net is not a universal
equalizer. There is no level playing field.
There will always be differences in wealth,
ability, leadership and success. But it is a place where
effective communication is more immediately related to
understanding other people and business success is more
closely related to customer care and service.
This isnt paradise. But theres lots of room for
"intelligent" people and organizations, that know
how to gain by caring sharing knowledge and
serving the interests of others. It may take a little longer
for them to be successful; but they are more likely to win
over time. Quick-and-dirty "banditism" is beginning
to show its weakness (there are many more flops and failures
than the few reported in mainstream media). We can make the
world a bit better (and business more reliable) by investing
our efforts, and our money, in the "intelligent"
enterprises that really care for their customers and for the