As those who read my newsletter know, we are on vacation in Europe at the time of the publication of this blog post. And while I usually shy away from any political topics in this business blog, I think it is appropriate to pause and think about patriotism on this day. I believe that is especially appropriate when I am abroad. What then, is a patriot?
A generally accepted definition of patriot is, “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it
against enemies or detractors.” I think this is an adequate, but perhaps incomplete definition. I would add that a “true” patriot also wants her/his country to be the best it can be in terms of living up to its full potential and stated values.
I also believe that most of the people in the U.S.A., regardless of political party affiliation (or lack thereof) really do want the best for our country. I think the rub is a person’s beliefs on how to achieve what is best for our country.
"My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."
I think it is obvious that sometimes, people may be in a situation that requires them to be a bit more concerned about their own survival and less concerned about what’s best for the country in which they find themselves. If we aren’t in that same situation, or have the same background, it is easy for us to be judgmental about the intentions of that person. We may unfairly question their patriotism. The same may be true of our views about particular organizations or businesses.
Let me state the obvious. Businesses comprise people. And in the USA, those people come from increasingly diverse backgrounds. Companies often have four our five generations working at the same time. Our employees come from different ethnic and cultural origins. So we are bound to have differing views within the workplace. And therefore differing views on corporate responsibility.
In addition, many businesses are inwardly focused on the survival of the corporation, and as organizations, are not usually focused on what’s good for the country in which they are incorporated.
"In 1970, Milton Friedman famously argued that the only social responsibility of business was to maximize profits."
This can, of course, lead to some frightening results. We all know the horror stories about lobbyists, government corruption, and regulators who are funded by the very firms they regulate. What gets measured gets done. If we blindly state that the business of business is to maximize profit, then that is exactly what we will get. Needless to say, I do not agree with Friedman. He is wrong, period.
Some states are changing the game by allowing for “B-Corporations.” The emphasis is moving to maximizing stakeholder value rather than shareholder returns. Personally, I believe we will all be better off with an emphasis on stakeholders, because that includes the community.
I believe that a true patriot has the country’s best interest at heart. I further believe that our political differences are more in how we achieve what’s best rather than one side or the other having nefarious motives.
My wish for this 4th of July holiday is that we all step back from our baked-in world views and assume that each of us is coming from the common ground of wanting the absolute best for our country. As we say in the business world, “we must be loyal to the team we’re on, not the team we lead.” As citizens, we are all on team USA not one of the many political party teams — even if we affiliate with or lead one of them.
We can, and should, debate methods, but we should not automatically question the motives of the “other side.” Instead, we might try making the assumption that we all want the best for our country — until and unless that assumption is proven wrong. And of course, we must be loyal to the USA. That doesn’t mean blind loyalty. And it doesn’t mean going along to get along. It means exactly what Carl Schurz suggested: If right, to be kept right. If wrong, to be set right.