Calculated Kindness Part 2

05.11.20 10:01 AM

Can a business act compassionately and kindly, to the benefit of itself? Part 2

Within the confines of all definitions laid out in part 1, regarding selfishness, sympathy, pity, and compassion, it would be regress to say that, independent of the traditionally negative connotations associated with selfishness, that selfishness itself cannot be employed for negative or ill purpose. It is a definition that warrants an extra moment of consideration, as it is not a particularly normal way of thinking. Take, then, for a moment, an example of a lock pick. The tool itself is neither good, nor evil, it is inanimate and virtue-less. When handled, though, by a locksmith who seeks to assist a citizen barred from their home, or handled by a thief who seeks to ransack that very same citizen's home, the lock pick can be viewed as positive or negative. A firearm wielded by officers of the law or by a chaotic anarchist might be subject to the same association of connotation. But, the tools - whether the lock pick or the firearm - are merely that: tools. They have no such power to act for good or for evil, for benefit or misfortune, of their own accord, they are subject only to the intentions of the user. So, too, must the concept of selfishness be viewed.


With the premise that selfishness is a tool that can be used for both good and evil, the fundamental question that demands an answer appears: can a business act compassionately and kindly, to the benefit of itself? Or, to rephrase, can a business be selfish in a positive way? And, assuming the answer to the aforementioned is 'yes', the necessary follow-up inquiry into 'how' must be explored too. A distinct balance must be struck, however, between the pursuit of self-interest, and how it is presented to the general public.

A charlatan, be it a deceitful beggar on the street, a crooked vendor of snake oils, or any other ill-intentioned user of selfishness, utilizes pity and compassion to bolster and further their own goals. Their selfishness, sought to be satisfied with a deceptive use of pity and compassion, lay on the far end of the spectrum that a selfish business may be on. The scales of benefit, to the charlatan and to the victim, are not in balance, though they are craftily presented as such. A business that seeks its own selfish motives similarly, perhaps by misrepresenting the quality of their goods or performing shoddy work on their services, will meet an untimely demise should their falsehoods be discovered. Deception in a business' selfish desires, then, must not be the way in which selfishness can be utilized for a positive outcome.


The converse of the deceitful selfishness, perhaps aptly titled for our purposes, overly-honest selfishness, can be a pitfall too. Adam Smith observed, accurately, that there is an undeniable human tendency to sympathize readily with the fortunate, the bravado of the 'honest' charismatic spokesperson. A cult leader, the tops of pyramid schemes, deluded politicians, all of whom can honestly present their selfish desires and wholeheartedly believe in them, tend to prey on the available pity or compassion. And while their presentations - at least for the hypothetical situation here - can be trusted to be honest and selfish, the scales of benefit are tipped too far the other way, which should raise concern. How can, in their selfish pursuit, such a charismatic icon offer so much more to their audience than they outwardly seek? There must be a hidden agenda, then, that rebalances the scales, and has unforeseen consequences to the audience. Remember, as Adam Smith wrote, "the great never look upon their inferiors as fellow creatures" (The Theory of Morale Sentiments); these overly-honest selfish actions must be taking advantage of an audience seen as weak, vulnerable, manipulatable, or exploitable. A business that acts in such a manner, too, then, will have suspicion cast upon it if it acts in a way that is deemed too honest.

A commonplace tactic that falls in line with this overly-honest selfishness can be best seen as an example in the virtue-signaling during Pride week. To say nothing of the event itself, businesses and large corporations change banners, logos, slogans, and marketing plans to try to align themselves with the virtues extolled that week. It is obvious, given most places' approach (or lack of approach) outside of this time period, that this is an overly-honest selfish approach; the scales presented by any entity, that they only truly seek the benefit of the audience and those the week celebrates, are far too in favor of the audience, and so draw suspicion. Where does the entity make back its selfish gains? Perhaps, even, virtue-signaling risks having outsiders question the tactic until it draws full circle, from overly-honest to deceitful. Attempting to garner and selfishly delight in the positive sympathies of others by boasting of one's own selflessness is a beautiful irony that, if seen through, elicits a powerfully negative emotion in those who partook in the false sympathy - a deception that has lasting impressions.


That is, of course, to say nothing to those who would take disdain from the presentation of honest selfishness. There is, despite our temporary disconnection for this article's purposes, a negative light in society that is attached to selfishness. The presentation of such selfishness, no matter how well-intentioned, risks being brandished as selfishness all the same, and written off as an immoral pursuit. How to navigate the landscape then, as a business, distinguishing the fine line between an indifferent corporation with nothing but the thoughts of profit in mind, and a overly virtuous one, likened to a charity or a saintly pursuit?

We again turn to Adam Smith for an answer. And how fortunate that the answer is simple and straightforward: Do what is right, and fair. Nothing more, and nothing less. Hold fast to the values that define what is right and fair and do not allow the pressure of those less virtuous, or those claiming to be more virtuous, waver those definitions and force you to play on an unknown and hostile ground. To do more than what is fair is to draw suspicion to one's hidden intentions, and to do less is to deceitfully present the scales to the other party, for no party will take part in a transaction that is not in their interest at least neutrally, if not positively.


Simple and straightforward is not to be conflated with easy, however. How can what is right, or fair, be defined, when each can claim their definition is the correct version, though each definition seems inconspicuously to benefit the definer foremost and society second. The notion of a selfishness, which was explored in part 1, once again makes an appearance, though not, as the saying goes, to rear its ugly head. The business that offers reasonable scales of benefit is the business that will succeed ultimately. And, as we have explored, it is human tendency to enter into a sympathy with others. Therefore, a strong business can enter into its customers' sympathy and see what they feel, desire, trust and distrust, and merit in a transaction to balance with the business' internal selfish desires. Striking a balance between the two, selfishness and sympathy, generates a powerful ability to offer what is fair to the customer and to the business.


Can a business act compassionately and kindly, to the benefit of itself? Yes, by juxtaposing its selfish desires - the benefit to itself - with fair and right offers of goods and services - an honest and kind compassion to the customer in a market full of falsehood and deceit. Doing what is right, and fair, will garner a reputation that will further both the business and its clients desires, in a beautifully dichotomic compassionate selfishness.

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