In the 1987 film, Wall Street, a corporate raider named Gordon Gekko tells an audience, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works.”
Gekko’s audience applauded. But we’ve all seen where that profit-above-all else philosophy led us. It’s an approach to business that damages customers, co-workers and the country as a whole. Witness the 2008 economic collapse. Clearly, greed doesn’t work.
I recently took part in a “Doing the Right Thing” panel discussion in Minneapolis, in which participants talked about business ethics, and examined the broader business picture.
We noted that greed as a business philosophy was taught approvingly in business schools in the 1980s. It legitimizes the profit motive and self-interest above all else. Many people glorified this approach until the results came crashing down around us. The darlings of Wall Street are now on everybody’s hit list.
Christians ought to have a different approach to business. As believers, we should view work as both service and a form of worship. Our work, our vocation, is a high and noble calling, and a means of expressing ourselves.
We also have the concept of shalom—that is, human flourishing within a community. This means Christian businessmen should be thinking about more than just profits. Their business philosophy should reflect a commitment to shalom.
As one of our panelists noted, businesses are rarely confronted with a choice between pure evil and pure good. Instead, they are often faced with awkward choices. Morality gives us the truth about what reality is about. Ethics asks how we make decisions when we we’re faced with imperfect choices.
For example, one of our panelists, Steve Tourek of Marvin Windows, talked about decisions the company had to make when the economy went south. His company’s leaders considered what would happen if they laid off a lot of employees. They’d have difficulty paying their mortgages. Mass layoffs in towns where their plants were located would also affect schools, stores, and other businesses. The well-being of the entire community would be harmed.
So the company decided not to lay off any employees. Instead, executives took reductions in salaries and benefits. Shareholders also took less, and so did the workers. As a result, they kept the company, they kept their customers, and they kept their communities whole.
Ten years ago, people would have criticized this decision for being bad business. Not anymore.
Good ethics can make a profound difference in public affairs in terms of how we live as a society. This is why the Colson Center and the Templeton Foundation have produced a DVD series called “Doing the Right Thing.” America simply has to recapture its belief in right and wrong—in ethical behavior. Our prosperity, our freedoms, and our future as a nation depend on it.
I hope you will get a copy of “Doing the Right Thing” at ColsonCenter.org. It’s an impassioned plea—and a roadmap—for restoring a culture of responsibility.
And if you’re in business, it will help you not to think like the reptilian Gordon Gekko—and instead to ask yourself, “Am I doing what I could do for other people who, like me, are made in the image and likeness of God?”
This article published on June 8, 2011. Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.