Would you be willing to do good work without a sense of self-interest—enlightened or otherwise?
By Ron Schultz
In championing the ideas put forth in Creating Good Work, I have spoken to hundreds of entrepreneurs about simply doing the work.
Take the step and do it.
Today, I received news—long after the fact—that David Green, one of my closest friends throughout middle school, high school and today, ran for the U.S. Congress this past spring in Urbana/Champaign, Ill. He lost in the primary but that is almost secondary to his actually running for office and the message he was bringing forward.
David has always surprised me. His courage and willingness to step up for what he wants or believes often belies his gentle and sometimes awkward persona. That external manifestation doesn’t seem to stop him.
And, I must say, I love it.
There are those of us who can talk about doing and then there are those of us who do. How many of us, for instance, would decide that running for office and serving the public in a very public manner, would be a choice? David was never the kind to run for school office or become the front man for a cause.
Obviously, something changed.
As a policy analyst working within a university, he was close to the action but there was something that propelled him from being “close to” to become a “part of.” I’m sure there were ideological motivations for taking this step but deciding to serve others is more than simply ideology. And in this climate of abject political rancor, taking a conscious and public stand for what you believe in and putting yourself on the line with those beliefs, is a civics lesson we could all learn from.
I suppose it comes down to the idea of citizenship.
David billed himself as an insurgent progressive and the banner on his website was an extraordinary reminder from another insurgent progressive, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
As David explained to me:
“I've paid my intellectual dues for too long not to assert my views in terms that people can understand. The truth needs to be heard, at long last, and I'm tired of modesty born of self-deprecation as opposed to humbly but assertively responding to my personal calling and taking my lifelong interests and talents seriously.”
That is a call to action!
And those of us who try to launch entrepreneurial efforts that have real social benefit might think about applying a similar perspective to what's in front of us. Because that drive to serve is not reserved to one ideology. In fact, to some extent, what has come to be called social entrepreneurship, has been striving to find a way beyond ideology to serve. It has been an attempt to serve others while supporting those efforts so we can continue to serve.
Public Service in the Name of Enlightened Self Interest
There are some who might call this enlightened self-interest but I think it is exactly that definition that has limited our ability to be of real service: service that actually transforms the problem.
For too long we have excused enlightened self-interest as a reasonable means for benefiting others. But is self-interest really serving others better or simply a rationale for serving me better? I am not suggesting that entrepreneurial efforts somehow shift from providing effective support for those doing the work. Far from it. Doing good work requires that due compensation is integral to the process. But what would well-compensated good work look like without self-interest?
Dennis Washburn, another friend who has been spent a majority of his life in public service, has been confronted by this dilemma throughout his career. Dennis was the founding mayor of the city of Calabasas, on the outer edge of Los Angeles, Calif. He served on the city council for 20 years and was mayor five times during that period. He has also served and led the Santa Monica Mountains Resource Conservation District.
Dennis’ work in both these public arenas has not been about personal self-aggrandizement, but humble service that takes his talents seriously. That is not to say that Dennis operates without ego but his drive to serve is propelled by something other than himself. Has he been compensated for his efforts? Yes, but he still had a daily job he had to go to that supported his service.
If we are to truly recognize our talents and apply them as a means to benefit others, should that service simply be recompense enough? No.
The fact that people like David and Dennis are willing to put their beliefs to work for the public good should not be predicated on their desire to rake in millions. But enlightened self-interest pre-supposes that it does.
Self Interest: A Powerful Force?
Doing good work that serves the greater community requires us to rethink our priorities about how the community supports those efforts better. Perhaps electing more public officials like David and Dennis is a means toward that end. But methinks self-interest is a constant and powerful force working against the changes we need to bring about real justice in our society.
Would you be willing to do good work without a sense of self-interest, enlightened or otherwise?
Nike reminds us to “Just do it.” Do you think they would?