What poetry can teach us about business ethics?

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay. 

These verses are from R. Frost’s poem “Nothing gold can stay”.  At first Business-Ethicssight it might has nothing to do with the world of business – hence, even when I first read it, it made me think in what kind of business world we live in. Most people see the connection between business and poetry in the realm of advertising, and are very skeptical to notions that there might be something deeper. In my opinion, if we just let ourselves go beyond superficial view of poetry – it can actually motivate us to find the meaning in ambiguity.

Poet is not trying to explain or justify anything. He offers you to see the world with his eyes, but the experience and the understanding is only yours. He takes you on the journey of self-exploration. Just as with the poem written above. Reading the poem, reminded me of the transitory quality of life: sometimes we are so allured to run after wrong values; all our activities mainly oriented towards making more profit that we literally forget that the gold is not everything that shines: quite the opposite “nature’s first green is gold”. And nature’s real green is very hard to recognize as due to pollution, smog, too much concrete in our immediate environment, busy lives we don’t have time to see and enjoy real treasures in life.

Or “The moment” by Margaret Atwood:

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

She is not here dealing with any facts. She doesn’t tell you how many acres of rainforests have been devastated. She doesn’t argue about the amount of plastic bags found in the oceans that are killing our marine wild life. But focusing only on business and material gain, pretending that we are the governors of the nature around us and that we need to subjugate other beings are not the values we should emphasize.  We are integral part of nature. And nature should be integral part of our business endeavors: not by killing and polluting but rather working in accordance with natural laws, fostering any life – no matter how minuscule. The awareness we have is our advantage and we could use it in a way that we can contribute beyond ourselves, beyond profit, beyond corporate expansion. After all, we are just visitors and we can choose what is going to be our legacy that we leave behind.

Reading poetry stimulates specific way of thinking which is vitally important to addressing world’s economic, political and social issues. It can broaden our views, help us recognize wider societal needs and gaps where our qualities can be fully utilized. Especially in entrepreneurship, when difficult and unpleasant decisions needs to be made – is it going to be mainly about the profit or entrepreneurial contribution is going beyond that?


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