Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Is Bill Gates More Moral Than Mother Teresa?

In a very long piece (7823 words) in the New York Times Magazine this week,Steven Pinker makes the case that Bill Gates might be more moral than Mother Teresa––because he’s using his fortune to deal with problems like malaria in developing countries.

Well, I’m not sure I’m ready to agree. But it certainly is nice to see moral issues getting lead-story placement in the Times Magazine.

It’s also fascinating to see how the author, a Harvard professor, manages to explore moral questions in some depth, and yet manages at the same time to keep his own viewpoints remarkably hidden. We don’t know if he’s liberal or conservative, and we don’t even know if he thinks Gates or Teresa would win the morality contest.

Another of his examples is how the difference between Islamic Sudan and the secular West had near-disastrous consequences for a well-meaning schoolteacher.

And because we don’t know his position, it’s easier to accept his premise that morality can create a common ground between Left and Right, or between people of widely disparate cultures.

An example of the former:

But in any conflict in which a meeting of the minds is not completely hopeless, a recognition that the other guy is acting from moral rather than venal reasons can be a first patch of common ground. One side can acknowledge the other’s concern for community or stability or fairness or dignity, even while arguing that some other value should trump it in that instance. With affirmative action, for example, the opponents can be seen as arguing from a sense of fairness, not racism, and the defenders can be seen as acting from a concern with community, not bureaucratic power. Liberals can ratify conservatives’ concern with families while noting that gay marriage is perfectly consistent with that concern.

This insight, about 90% through the article, is simply brilliant. I’ve seen it in action many times, but never so clearly expressed, except perhaps by legendary community organizer Saul Alinsky. It’s a principle that every agent of social change should internalize.


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