Global corporations get a bad rep. They are easily derided as sinister, sometimes even called psychopathic. It follows that those that work for them share similar characteristics. But is it possible to imagine an alternative? Below is an excerpt from a speech I gave to newly hired graduates in a global corporation which tries to do just that:
“There is only one quality you need to develop to be incredibly successful in your careers and indeed your life in general. But before I tell you what it is, I need to explain two concepts: interdependence and dependence.
Your company employs around 100,000 employees worldwide. The staff ranges from executives to cleaners. It may be tempting to think that some staff are dependent on others, but that’s not true. If the tech staff do not do their job well, then I cannot function in my role – we both depend on each other – there’s an interdependence. If the air-con doesn’t work, then how I could work in the office. We can expand it even further – if trains are not maintained how could we get to work. If the sewage works stop working, how could drink clean water. As corporation based in the UK, it benefits from the structural strength of the economy and institutions, so I benefit from that. I could go on. The bottom line is that all people are interdependent on each other.
What about dependence? Though we all appear to get rewarded for the output of our brains both in academia and at work, the brain is housed by our bodies. It is easy to forget this. Our bodies are biological forms that need water, air and energy to survive. We get those from the quirk of fate that saw the Earth have water on it, a star being the perfect distance to provide enough warmth and light to sustain life and the existence of plants that photosynthesise sunlight into energy. Without this configuration of the universe we would be dead. The dependency only goes one way, we depend on the universe, and not the other way around.
So there you have it: dependence and interdependence. We are totally dependent on the universe, and we are interdependent on all other people. The recognition of this is the quality of humility. The opposite of this is pride or arrogance, where we believe we can become independent of everyone and everything. We judge, undermine and belittle others to assert our dominance over them, or we strive for ever more wealth to somehow become free from everyone. In doing so, we’re trying to become independent of others. But that drive, pride/arrogance is the road to unhappiness – it’s not based in reality. If the sewage workers stopped doing their job, we’d die within a few days of water poisoning. Once you strive for humility defined in this way, you’ll be incredibly successful in your careers and in life.
Let me end with the words of a literary giant from another country, Germany: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In his West-Eastern Diwan, which was inspired by the Persian poet Hafiz, Goethe wrote:
“Und wo sich die volker trennen,
Gegenseitig im Verachten
Keins von beyden wird bekennen
Dass sie nach demselben trachten”
“When peoples keep themselves apart
In mutual disdain
A truth is hidden from the heart
[That] their goals are much the same”
Thank you, Bilal.