January 2, 2022

Is Altruism Good for Business?

Humanist manufacturing leaders who integrate altruism into their business practices have the potential to improve the happiness of their workforce, improve their mental health, and increase their social value.
A Focus on Altruism

The blog posts in recent weeks have focused on what I am calling Humanist Manufacturing.  The framework is based on ten humanist commitments that manufacturing leaders can use to provide each citizen of the world a chance to meet at a minimum their needs for just and healthy lives, with a full opportunity to achieve their highest potential.  This week, we will look at the humanist commitment of altruism, first shared in an earlier blog post.  The definition in that blog post was, - “Imagine the world if each person had a selfless concern for others while working to improve their wellbeing without expecting something in return.  One where the welfare of others was a driving force to reinforce healthy connections to create better internal plant operations that supported thriving communities and collectively a better world.”

A Need for a Shift in Societal Thinking

The American Dream seems to be fading away, evidenced by a Google search of “the death of the American dream,” which returned 463 million results.  An opinion piece in the New York Times by Lizania Cruz on the Obituaries for the American Dream asked people to write how it died for them.  The overarching sentiment for Cruz was “when I realized just how many of my fellow Americans valued selfishness over the community, power over justice, prejudice over fairness, greed over generosity, demagogy over science.”  The overall results reveal a need to use business as a greater force for good.  In a world where unhappiness seems to be the norm, it appears that we should reevaluate what we are doing collectively as a society.

"Yet true happiness comes from a sense of inner peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, love and compassion and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed." - The Dalai Lama

What is Altruism?

If the Dalai Lama is correct that happiness results from altruism cultivation, we should explore what that means.  An additional definition of altruism is “the unselfish concern for other people – doing things simply out of a desire to help, not because you feel obligated to out of duty, loyalty, or religious reasons.  It involves acting out of concern for the well-being of other people.”   The author shares four variations of altruism:

• Genetic altruism – Acts of sacrifice for others that benefit their biological family members.

• Reciprocal altruism – Based on mutually benefitting one another by putting the needs ahead of others at one point, knowing they will do the same for us later.

• Group-selected altruism – Doing good acts for those in our immediate social group or supporting those with similar social beliefs.

• Pure altruism – Helping others, based on internalized morals and values, even when putting oneself at risk.

These forms of altruism that psychologists have defined are wide-ranging types of behaviors.

Image Credit: cottonbro from Pexels
The Health Benefits of Altruism

There are several health benefits to adopting altruism that include:

• It feels good – Our acts of altruism can promote physiological changes in the area associated with happiness in our brain.  Doing beneficial actions for others helps improve the social networks that lead to us wanting to do more good.  The result is enhanced self-esteem.

• Increased belonging and reduced loneliness – Our efforts to help others can connect us with similar mindsets and create a sense of connectedness.

• Creates proper perspective – Helping others seemingly less fortunate than ourselves can create a sense of greater appreciation for our circumstances.  

• Enhanced happiness and optimism – Each act of doing good for others can be contagious, leading to a better collective circumstance for all.  Small actions by many create a more desirable future state for the masses through increased positivity.

Ultimately, the more we do for others, the opportunity exists for doing more for ourselves.  If being altruistic can benefit us individually to be happier and more optimistic, can it also help a business?

“Idealistic as it may sound, altruism should be the driving force in business, not just competition and a desire for wealth.” – The Dalai Lama

Good for Business

A presented position is that while capitalism has been beneficial from a positive financial perspective, it has outweighed resultant environmental and social concerns.  The dominant historical corporate attitude has primarily focused on making money and leaving it to philanthropy to resolve social problems.  The authors argue that attempts by businesses to pursue social value through B-corporations, bottom-of-the-pyramid, conscious capitalism, corporate social responsibility approaches are still constrained by the pursuit of profit.  They present the “altruism first” business approaches of Eisai, a Japanese pharmaceutical company; LSDH, a leading French milk and juice packer; and FruitGuys, a fruit-delivery company, as evidence of what the Dalai Lama recommends regarding altruism in business.  The result of these and other companies they have studied have the following similarities:

• The companies did not limit altruism to occasional action.  It is fully embedded into their DNA.

• Through the unconditional pursuit of social value, these companies outperformed their traditional competitors, solely focusing on financial results.

The results are fame, happiness, and wealth as positive outcomes for altruistic companies.  The Dalai Lama may be on to something.

Key Takeaway  

The death of the American Dream is a reality for many in the manufacturing sector.  Many companies shut down operations in the U.S., leaving once-thriving communities in their wake in pursuit of lower-cost labor worldwide.  The result has been many negative production externalities of environmental and social harm.  Other issues have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic as supply chains have been disrupted.  The financial wealth gap continues to deepen as only the wealthiest segment of the population grows richer.  However, are they happier?  Humanist manufacturing leaders who integrate altruism into their business practices have the potential to improve the happiness of their workforce, improve their mental health, and increase their social value.  While becoming more financially successful, all that seems like something we need to explore deeper.

First Step

An article by the Dalai Lama presents The Medicine of Altruism as the “most effective way to pursue the best interest of others as well as our own.”  He shares a need for all to understand the interdependent nature necessary for a thriving human society—an essential first step in developing a humanist manufacturing framework.

My Gratitude

I appreciated an approach shared by the Dalai Lama where he first works to deepen an understanding of his audience.  By knowing whom he is speaking to, he can shape his message in the best manner to make a significant impact.  The advice we have all heard in even an introductory communication course, but he appears to take it to a higher level.

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will integrate humanist principles into leaders’ roles and continue with further understanding of the humanist commitment of altruism.

To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit emmanuelstrategicsustainability.com.

Cover Image Credit: cottonbro from Pexels

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