Like many of you, I have followed the recent headlines related to Pope Benedict XVI's call for a "return to ethics in the global economy." I've been seeing this thinking in many arenas, and I was meaningfully struck by his desire to see business reconnect with values in these troubled times.
Pope Benedict's words are powerful:
The Church's social doctrine holds that authentically human social relationships of friendship, solidarity and reciprocity can also be conducted within economic activity, and not only outside it or "after" it. The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.
The pontiff went on to stress the important of ethics in business, writing: "Every economic decision has a moral consequence." I recently wrote that the financial crisis we're now experiencing is the result of numerous misguided attempts to disconnect in our now-connected world from the fundamental values and principles that propel and guide human endeavor. So long as these principles guide our daily behavior, we are compelled by a deeper purpose and propelled by values we hold fundamental. And living these values pays dividends in the business world by building trust.
Organizations that trust one another set off an upward spiral of cooperative, value-creating behaviors. During the crisis, people regularly tried to outsmart the system instead of outbehaving their competitors; they aggressively pursued profits over values and ethical behaviors that lead to more sustainable enterprises.
Pope Benedict echoed this ideal in his letter when he expressed a desire for a new understanding of business that encourages a focus on ethics and social responsibility over financial returns:
Space also needs to be created within the market for economic activity carried out by subjects who freely choose to act according to principles other than those of pure profit, without sacrificing the production of economic value in the process.