We have ignored a basic insight about humanity so fundamental that it would probably baffle the ancient Romans to see us now. But then, every generation seems to forget what sages from time past found self-evident. In the stampede to individualism that has marked our age – where, “I do it my way,” and aspire to be a self-defined self with entreaties of “to thine own self be true” echoing all around, we have become focused on these attributes. This understanding of self is captured by the Latin word ipse, conveying an identity that is self-defined, self-declared and an isolated – the self apart from others.
The Romans would point out that if we stop there, we have only a half-baked understanding of self. They had another word for self – idem – that was just as essential. Idem refers to the self that is like others, in relationships with others, even accountable to others, circumscribed by relationship to and even for others. The balance of the two concepts – the uniqueness of ipse and the communal nature of idem was what constituted a proper understanding of self.
Not surprisingly, our businesses have become impeccable models of individualism, for we construct them in our own image. Our businesses have excelled at individualism with stunning proficiency, in part because we have armed them with the irrefutable logic of economic rationalism – if it makes money, it makes sense – and they are unhindered by any real social obligations other than to themselves.
However, in both society and business, idem is coming back from the brink as businesses find they need a social license to operate not just a legal license. In For Goodness’ Sake: Satisfy the hunger for meaningful business you’ll see how a wide array of forces are reshaping the role that business plays in the culture and see how we each can help harness the remarkably strong and resilient forces of commerce for social good...