The Serpent and the Wolf
- Claire Prentice writing for BBC news tells the story of Camp Millionaire where children learn the elements of financial management and wealth accumulation. I am sure to many this sounds bizarre but I have no problem with this practice. In fact, I teach my class that having money and, in particular, keeping money are arts that have to be learned. Students from upper middle class backgrounds have an enormous advantage over their lower class counterparts in the pursuit of economic success because of their head start in financial knowledge. I have discussed this with people from the upper crust (as much as we get in Northwest Arkansas) and they assume that lower class people are stupid because they don’t know these simple things. These things are not simple and if your parents did them daily, weekly and monthly, it’s easy to pick up this knowledge, much easier to understand these things than a student who comes from a family that has trouble putting three meals a day on the table.
Sometimes, I think we fail our college students in business schools across the country because we fail to teach them the habits of the upper classes. These may well be more important to business success than any actual talent, witness the disastrous behavior of Wall Street firms if you don’t believe in the success of style over substance. We probably ought to combine the serious elements of subjects like accounting with less technical but often more critical skills like upper-class mannerisms and expectations.
I want you to understand clearly that I hold the practice of judging people by whether or not they have the “look” of the right social class to be utterly contemptible. As a matter of ethics and intelligence at its most mundane level we should hire based on competence. This has mutated into something now called emotional intelligence. I kid you not. In this country, there is a philosophy that says getting along is more important than competence, than knowing how to do your job. Imagine American history without difficult people, John Adams, Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman (27% approval rating), and Lyndon Johnson. Every one of them was difficult to get along with as a person, but they had contributions to make just as employees do.
Well, these current philosophies have results and in my judgment we’re due for another set. Business philosophies come and go like the fabled length of skirts and with less reason and intelligence. These fashions would be less important if more thinking were done.
But as I was saying, business fashions, trends and much other nonsense has a lot to do with success or failure, hired or unemployed. It is a nasty world full of stupid and incompetent people. I don’t want to have to teach students that talent, intelligence, courage and hard work are often irrelevant to business success but I cannot deny objective reality.
We should teach students to dress, eat, socialize and converse in the manner of the “successful” people. We should teach them what elements of the truth are acceptable in business practice. We should teach that to do good and act honorably and justly according to the tenets of your religion are often elements of ridicule in the world of business. Now, immediately someone will throw the example of some bible toting business manager who proclaims that all of his business is conducted according to God’s law. Right. His reading of it. What’s more, one of these types is just that: a type, not the kind of businessman we expect.
If you tell someone in business of your respect for honor, justice and truth; you will be immediately considered naive and there will be chuckles as you walk by. This is because sold out despicable lamebrains without morality or soul have to sleep at night. Their belief that they deal with the “real” world gives them a juicy rationalization for their lack of moral judgment and comfort with wrong doing.
Matthew reports that Christ said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16
I think this is a good saying for the honorable both Christian and non-Christian.
I (of much less status) send forth my students the same way. I want them to uphold high moral values and to try to do the right thing but I also want them to survive and succeed in the business world. The two goals are not incompatible but they are difficult.