The Value of Friendship, Tolerance and Respect within Education of Economics and Business

Saskia Troy

Within the past years Ban Ki Moon (Secretary-General of the United Nations) has been stressing many times the role of education as the most powerful weapon in building peace across nations. According to the principles of the Earth Charter Initiative and the UN’s Human Rights Declaration in order to integrate into formal education and life-long learning the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Education shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Even though the situation might have slightly changed within the past decennia with the introduction of peace education, sustainable economics, holistic learning and dynamic system modeling within education of economics and business, nevertheless, the concept of the self-made individual man or woman who benefits society by doing what’s good for him or her is still being emphasized. Instead of teaching students to be sustainable leaders for the 21st century in many business schools and economic institutes still is thought how to serve the interest of the individual without taking care of the common good.

Let’s take a close look of what these kind of economics education has brought us within the culture of financial markets. In order to illustrate the foregoing statement with an example there’s been taken a look at the financial markets in the City in London and New York Wall Street. First, it has brought a culture in which fraud, injustices, waste and abuse are practices of daily business. Second, the amount of burned-outs, stress-related diseases has been increased within the past years while ruining the health and the life’s of people not able to offer resistance to the high work pressure. Third, the impact of the financial crisis has been responsible for poverty and inequality within Europe and the United States.

Within the words of Jordan Belfort (better known as the Wolf of Wall Street), who now earns 100,000 dollars a day for giving a lecture, he wasn’t the one that ruined up the reputation of Wall Street but it was Wall Street itself that did this. “The whole of Wall Street was screwing his customers. They aren’t objective and independent investment analysts. They are just sales people trying to sell as much as they can at the stock exchange and options market using any possible means” although Jordan while explaining the mistakes he made within his previous life while working as a broker in New York’s Manhattan.

This is also the case with the so-called quants which are well-trained PhD’s in mathematics or physics hired to sell so-called objective, academic models to companies that use them to illustrate what they already think they should do. Most of the time this has got to do with earning as much as money as they can. Though meanwhile their theories have presented as academic, intellectual and highly intelligent. In fact it’s just about consultants earning millions while smoking others with their exceedingly corrupted models.

Assumed is the egoistic, selfish behavior was initiated from the top management by a culture of earning bonuses they were more and more restricted. Even though these markets might have been lacking behind with regulation due to their fast growth and complexity more regulation is not the answer to the problem. The main answer to the problem is in educating people in economics and business in a way that differs from what has been done before.

Made clear by Smith’s second book Moral Sentiments the idea of the rational actor pursuing its own self- interest and thereby doing what’s good for society as a whole is one of the most widespread misunderstandings of theories on modern capitalism.

Nevertheless, it all starts with the inherent, dominant culture of egoism within economics teaching. The idea of teaching ethical values and principles in higher education within education of economics and business is still not convention as the goal is to deliver short term oriented financial professionals for the labor markets. However, this might not be the real value of higher education in economics and business.

The value of education in economics and business is in delivering sustainable leaders for the 21st century that are able to take responsibility, think independently and provide direction to others whereby being able to resist the many temptations of life that will lead to destruction of the economic system within the long term. Some business schools are already taking the lead within this challenge but others are leaking far behind still teaching paradigms that educate people in reductionist, narrow-minded ways.

For example, Rotterdam School of Management that according to Newsweek is leading within the Sustainability Index in Europe trains young people to think about how to deal with diversity management issues and respect nature. Also the idea of building on international networks of friendships that provide meaning for life is not unknown within the curriculum. The whole idea of the business education is to educate leaders for the future and not just professionals exercising their job.

Mental stress has become a large problem for employers in the City. Since October 2013 a group of companies has founded the City Mental Health Alliance that aims to strengthen the health of employers as well as provide more transparency about this topic. At the moment the City Mental Health Alliance has got twenty-five partners whereby amongst others Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, PWC and others. One of the main goals is to reduce the rising costs of illness for the employers.

During the past years some incidents have happened such as that with Morits Erhardt who is a trainee that almost past away after having worked for nights after each other, Lloyds banking Group CEO Antonio Horta Osoro who has taken a leave because of being burned-out, this as well as the stressed out supervisor of Barclays Hector Sans. Therefore in order to keep their employers for a longer time and earn their return on investment for educating them those banks and consultants invest in relaxing programs with mindfulness, meditation and music.

Also there are initiatives like the City Mothers that combine working in the financial sector with being a parent. Nevertheless, when the core business of what banks, consultants and lawyers are doing remains as Jordan Wall Street says it a bit harsh is “screwing your customers” this might be conflicting with the values they have raised with themselves or they want their children to grow up with. Psychological research has shown that having to deal within conflicting values during career and private life causes stress and illness. In order to stay healthy employers need a broad, moral framework of thinking from which they can make decisions.

The more people are educated in a broad, social-engaged manner the less problems the ones will have that stand up and ask for the contribution of their actions towards the common good with suffering from peer pressure. Like in the sports industry that has been cleaned from dope and other scandals new more honest winners will arise. The ones claiming victories based on criminal, egoistic and reckless behavior will soon leave the stage.

Within time is has become clearer within social science that compassion can be enhanced through teaching and practice within the education of economics and business. For example the ReSource Project of the Max Planck Institute in Germany is such a project in which participants practice a wide range of mental exercises to enhance attentional control, body and self-awareness, healthy emotional regulation, self-care, compassion empathy and caretaking and reduce stress. It improves mental awareness, increases life satisfaction and leads to a better understanding of others views, values and objectives.

Spending time in nature is part of these exercises. At the moment we lose ourselves in nature we feel connected with ourselves, others and the world. The techniques of meditation can lead us to inner calmness and more awareness of the current moment. In this way we can develop compassion towards others which could be an ethical guideline for future behavior of actors such as consultants, lawyers and bankers in financial markets while contributing to long term economic growth and prosperity.

“Care flows naturally if the “self” is widened and deepened
So that protection of free Nature is felt and conceived as protection
Of ourselves ... Just as we need no morals to make us breath ...
If your “self” in the widest sense embraces another being,
You need no moral exhortation to show care......
Aerne Nass (1990)

Buddhist Economics

Title: Buddhist Economics
Photographer: Saskia Troy

University teacher Luit Kloosterman contemplating on the conventional, orthodox view on economics during conference on Economics and Buddhism at Erasmus School of Economics (ESE)

Erasmus University, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 20th June 2012

The picture has been one of the Winners UNESCO/Earth Charter Photo Contest for UN Human Rights Day UN Mandated University of Peace Costa Rica, had the third prices in the UN International Youth Day Competition Mental Health Care Matters from Synergy Youth in Dubai. Next to that the picture has been exhibited at the mosaic of The Whole 9 Arts for Peace Project which has been organized for UN Peace Day 2014.

Saskia Troy (MSc.) is a business economist specialized in Global Business and Stakeholder Management and amongst others Regional Coordinator Europe and Chapter Leader Netherlands Children of the Earth (NGO of the United Nations) and she is a member of the Working Group Sustainable Finance (Changing Finance, Financing Change) of the UNEP/World Resources Institute in Washington.

Source: NRC Outlook, Mental City, 12 July, 2014

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