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Wisdom, Arrogance and a New Ancient Opportunity

Wisdom is defined as, “An element of personal character that enables one to distinguish the wise from the unwise.” The wisdom of elders is particularly discerning about core civil values: Laws of Nature, Dharma, Fundamentals for Life, Rules for Living.

Elder wisdom is about navigating life: strategies for leading and advancing civilization. Tribal elders seated at the communal campfire traditionally guided with stories about being human.

Sadly, history teaches us that when elder wisdom is ignored and forgotten, the unwise grows and the demise of civilization ensues.

Laws of nature dictate that the space of wisdom is never empty, and those who “own” the space authorize the “wisdom.” If more useful plants are not cultivated, aggressive common weeds will prevail. For better or worse, wisdom or weeds, the space is filled by those who take authority.

Haven’t we become complacent toward weeds? Today, consulting elders is out of favor. Is it too contemplative? Too controversial? Too personally challenging? Or, too inconvenient? In the era of fast food thinking, our appetite for wisdom inversely tracks with the erosion of fitness and the girth of obesity. As Dr. King warned, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Too often today, the “elder” is a C-Suite occupant bloated with personal greed and selfish ambition.

Following Nature’s law, authority fills space, destructively at times. Today, we are socialized to believe that profits are the purpose of business, and that shareholders are more important than customers and employees. Conscious stupidity, indeed—propelled by executive-sized arrogance. Weedy “wisdom” abounds!

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Fortunately, we can cite exceptions, including elders who’s stories nurture wisdom. One is Zappos.com Inc.‘s ceo, Tony Hsieh, who is so convinced leadership should increase the potential in each moment of human interaction, that he wrote a best-seller about it, Delivering Happiness. Try to imagine a world in which similar leadership infected the C- Suites of Wall Street investment banking firms and their essential strategy changed to grow the world’s investment in core civil values, like universal kindness, reciprocity, and mutual respect!

Another exception is TOMS founder, Blake Mycoskie, who so believes that people in corporate executive roles have a responsibility to nurture civilization that he donates a pair of shoes to someone in the developing world for every pair of shoes his company sells. At TOMS, a new product line doesn’t mean merely growth and a fattening of the profit margin. The core values that made the brand famous are baked into every move the company makes. Core values are evergreen. They don’t come and go. They don’t change with the political winds or as markets rise and fall. Core values are immutable. Now, TOMS’ One for One™ ethic is being replicated as the company begins selling TOMS sunglasses. Imagine what the world would be like if the major oil companies adopted a similar civil leadership strategy, lubricating the global imagination!

And “B Corps” are emerging. That’s Benefit Corporation, a new class of corporation that requires third party certification of their compliance with environmental and social standards. In the United States, legislation creating the B Corporation classification took effect in Vermont and Virginia this month. Hawaii, Maryland and New Jersey have passed B-Corp laws, too, and six other states have pending legislation. Benefit Corporations are required to “create a material positive impact on society and the environment.” They face higher standards of accountability and transparency. Most importantly, the B-Corp redefines fiduciary duty to require officers to consider non-financial interests when making decisions.

Unfortunately, these examples are exceptions and not the norm. While Tony Hsieh, Blake Mycoskie, and executives of B-Corps insist that their leadership simply reflects good sense, most C-Suites are blinded by good cents.

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To grow the wisdom and halt the weeds, your help is needed. Constructively question authority. Good sense can prevail when individuals—customers and employees—speak out and pay up.

Pay up by patronizing companies that do the right thing as unselfish and responsible citizens. Feed leadership that nurtures your world – leaders who clearly possess a social conscience. Recognize, inform and support such leaders, acting courageously to popularize the point. Boycott companies that fail to measure up.

Speak out on Facebook and LinkedIn, initiating Tweets and discerning conversation daily. Constructively conspire to shape corporate perspectives, speaking out on the attractiveness of companies that consciously fight the greeds and nurture civilization. Collaborate with C-Suites that clearly and consistently practice core civil values, lifting the world beyond conventional corporate financial boundaries.

You have a new ancient opportunity to support effective leadership. Do not be seduced by the unwise. Wisdom renovates poorly authorized perspective. Nothing is more generative to human enterprise than sincere insight and conscientious wisdom.

These are truly exciting times for doing the right thing. By your persistent and accountable leadership, core civil values can be practiced and promoted as priorities. With your discerning acts, elder wisdom can prevail as essential corporate strategy.

[This article originally appeared in Charlatan Magazine.]