Can Profit And Love Coexist?
--Parag Shah
6 minute read
Dec 9, 2015

[We held an incredible retreat with Surat.  By the end of 1.5 days, most of us were in tears, feeling a surge of inner transformation that will inevitably ripple to our community.  Below is a beautiful recap that Mihir shared from his breakout.]

Was fortunate to participate in and explore the topic of ‘Business + Inner Transformation’ in one of the break-out sessions at the recent MBL retreat here in Surat. As we went deeper into this topic, awareness dawned upon us about the edges to this aspect of life. Sharing the reflections here…

Merriam-Webster says the meaning of ‘business’ is ‘purposeful activity’. It also says that this is its ‘archaic’ meaning. Conditioned as we are, we were not looking at ‘business’ like that, rather in the context of a means to earn a livelihood, and knowingly or unknowingly, to fulfil many other motives of the mind such as the craving for significance, power, fame, etc. We looked at ‘Inner Transformation’ as a shift from transaction to trust…from ‘me’ to ‘we’…from mind to heart…from ego to love.

The discussion began with the senior most participant in our break-out group, a prominent businessman from the city, sharing his dilemma: he felt that he is unable to motivate his employees beyond a point, and he said that if that could happen, the efficiency and output of his business would be more and they would do much better. He said the management has tried many ways to go about it, ranging from monetary incentives to taking care of the social well-being of their employees, and just in general taking good care of their employees. But still, in his opinion, they have not been able to motivate the employees. Also, he asked, I want to be the best in my business, make the most profit and grow exponentially...and at the same time, I also want to practice love with my employees and want them to also love me. How can I do this?

To go deeper into this dilemma, we asked the question: If I truly love, can there be any expectation of getting anything in return – even love? If I love conditionally with the expectation that if I love my employees and my clients, it will benefit my business – then are we not using the so-called ‘love’ as another strategy to achieve our own agendas – albeit in a way which looks noble on the face of it?

When it comes to doing business, one has to take things like efficiency, competition, scale etc. into consideration – and in that context, one has to occasionally even lay off employees who are not performing up to the expectations of the management. This means that one has to discard what one perceives as ‘weak’ members of the work force and replace them with ‘strong’ ones who would be able to contribute more towards achieving what the owner of the business has envisaged. Would one do the same with one’s family members?

But then if businesses do not focus on parameters like profitability and scalability, what would they look like? Would they be able to even function sustainably in the realm of capitalism? The business may be manufacturing a really useful product or delivering a much-needed service, but would they be able to reach a larger audience if they do not focus on scalability? If they do not focus on scalability, isn’t it a loss to mankind that this product or service is not available to them because that business chose not to focus on scalability? If the business does not focus on profitability, would they be able to get investors or banks to fund them? If they do not get funded, would they be able to conduct R&D to make even better products or services, scale up and reach a larger audience? Would I have had the laptop I am typing this blog on, the internet because of which it is reaching all you folks out there, the satellites which is transmitting all this data, the espresso I am drinking while I type this, etc etc had it not been for capitalism? How about cutting edge cancer research? In other words, can a business function outside of the realm of capitalism? In yet other words, can the world as we know it, function without the flow of capital from one hand to another?

Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and most recently Mark Zuckerberg are some of the more well-known philanthropists out there. They have pledged to donate billions of dollars of their personal wealth towards the betterment of the under-privileged. We can debate all we want on how they got the money in the first place and all its angles, but isn’t it safe to assume that this money that they have donated will make a positive difference in many people’s lives? Would they have been able to contribute in this manner had they not focused on profitability and scalability of their businesses?

At the same time, we all can see that this same capitalism has spawned a whole host of conflicts on many levels. It has played its part in distancing human beings from each other, in fueling unbridled greed, in perpetuating wars, in creating hierarchies in society, to name a few. But wait; is it capitalism itself which has done all this? Or is it the mind which conceived the whole idea of capitalism in the first place and then went on participating in it and indulging in its own gratification…while also feeling trapped in this cage which it itself has built?

When it comes to making a profit in one’s business, isn’t the whole process inherently dualistic? When I choose to charge my customer something more than what it has cost me to produce, am I not exploiting him? Would I charge my family member for the same product or service in the same way that I charge my customer? If not, then where does that leave this whole concept of loving your customers, customer care, etc? As reflected earlier, does it not then become just another strategy to achieve my own selfish motive, while apparently making it look good on the face of it? Yet if all businesses in this world were run on a model of not making profits, would they exist at all? What about the employees whose families depend on the salaries they make from the organizations they work for? What about the tax revenues of governments? Would countries be able to function without this flow of capital?

Then the question becomes, can one live without participating in the capitalistic background? One can see that one of the by-products of indulging in capitalism is an accumulative mindset - a mind engaged in accumulating either materialistic things or psychological achievements, all the while strengthening itself/the ego in the process. But can love come into being so long as one is accumulating? Can ‘I’ love? or does love blossom naturally when ‘I’ no longer exist? How can one reconcile these two seemingly conflicting aspects – the accumulative mindset of capitalism and the nothingness of love?

As we went about asking and holding and inquiring into these questions, yet another question presented itself – can profit and love co-exist? It is with this question that we concluded our short break-out session. Feeling grateful for the opportunity of being available as these questions presented themselves…

Posted by Parag Shah on Dec 9, 2015