In Search of the Good Life? Then, everything is sacred
A Journey of Hope, Trust, Imagination and Healing for the Common Good
Prof. Kamran Mofid
This article is dedicated to the youth of the world, our children and grandchildren, who are the unfolding story of the decades ahead. May they rise to the challenge of leading our troubled world, with hope and wisdom in the interest of the common good to a better future.
Lest We Forget
‘We recognise that our socio-economic problems are a reflection of our attitude to life and to one another. Justice, peace and harmony will come about only when the connection between the spiritual and practical in life is valued by each one of us and in society at large. This is beautifully expressed in a Chinese proverb:
“If there be righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.
If there be beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.
If there be harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation.
When there is order in each nation, there will be peace in the world.’-Kamran Mofid
Given the spirit in which this article is written, as well as its intended outcome that I hope it will have, I wish to give all readers a gift from my heart, in the form of a great Celtic blessing, followed by a beautiful Navajo prayer:
The Warmth of the sun to you
The Light of the moon to you
The Silver of the stars to you
The Breath of the wind to you
And the Peace of the Peace to you.
And now the Navajo Prayer:
I walk with beauty before me;
I walk with beauty behind me;
I walk with beauty above me;
I walk with beauty below me;
I walk with beauty all around me;
Your world is so beautiful, O God.
Today I am delighted for the opportunity of writing this piece, which is nothing more than a series of short stories, the wisdom of many others that I have been lucky to discover in my life’s journey. A journey of nearly half a century, of travelling the world, engaging the different peoples, cultures, civilisations, learning from each, becoming aware of the beauty, wisdom and necessity of dialogue and friendship in the interest of the common good.
Stories, to my mind, are very important as a true form of communication, reflection, meditation and engagement. In my case, they are also significant in what I am going to share with you today. They have formed and guided what I am, who I am and why I am.
Now, let me set the scene by reading you a few inspiring quotes to focus our minds on life’s bigger picture:
“He that seeks the good of the many seeks in consequence his own good.” St. Thomas Aquinas
“A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.” Buddha
“Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value” Albert Einstein
“There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.” Woodrow Wilson
What is the essence of a good life? Aristotle tells us that it is “to serve others and to do good.”
“Let the beauty we love be what we do” Rumi
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see” Mark Twain
“The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion” Thomas Paine
And finally, ‘UBUNTU’: “I am because we are.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, defines this beautiful African proverb aptly. Let me share it with you:
“Africans believe in something that is difficult to render in English. We call it ubuntu. It means the essence of being human. You know when it is there and when it is absent. It speaks about humaneness, gentleness, hospitality, putting yourself out on behalf of others, being vulnerable. It embraces compassion and toughness. It recognizes that my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
Let me tell you, this definition will also do very nicely for me, to define what I mean by the Common Good.
To my mind, a commitment to the common good, ubuntu, if you will, means pursuing policies and community actions that benefit all individuals and balance self-interest with the needs of the entire society.
The Dalai Lama was once asked what surprised him most. He replied: “Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future. He lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
Now let me share with you the words and sentiments of a young executive, a CEO, earning a lot of money, with bonuses, power, and more: “Now it’s all about Productivity, Pay, Performance and Profit – the four Ps – which are fuelled by the three Fs: Fear, Frustration and Failure. Just sometimes I wish that in the midst of these Ps (& Fs), there was some time left for another set of four Fs: Families, Friends, Festivals and Fun.”
This, tells me that, we need values, we need love, friendship, kindness, generosity, sympathy, empathy, compassion, and wisdom to be the guiding principles of all we do. Otherwise, no amount of money, capital, technology, IT, theories and policies, can save us from our own mistakes, the crises of our own making.
Our lives must be a quest for meaning, as, meaning is a key part of what makes us human.
What might be a path to wisdom, virtue, hope, happiness, harmony, peace with justice for the common good, to enable and empower us to build the better world we are all imagining? This, in short, is the story of this article.
In my quest at personal and professional levels, to find a path to make a better life for myself, or to offer a possibility of building and co-creating a better world together, I have discovered that first and foremost, I must remain hopeful and positive and I must begin to imagine the better life and the world that I am yearning for.
So let me share my hope, dreams and imagination with you. But before that allow me to say a few words on how I came to believing in this spiritual path:
T.S. Eliot, has done it for me already, by asking these three fundamental and timely questions:
“Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
Then, a teacher, a very wise teacher, greatly inspired and influenced my teaching style and values. He showed me where and how I had gone wrong, whilst showing me the path to a truly values-led and inspirational education. Here I am most humbly inspired by Lao Tzu, a mystic philosopher of ancient China, considered the founder of Taoism. He said:
Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
You reconcile all beings in the world.
It is this discovery of what education is all about, that led me to begin to think about what my own teaching of economics to my own students, should be all about.
Yes, I went on to change. Let me quote you a passage from a book I had written in 2005, well before the financial/economic crash of 2008:
‘From 1980 onwards, for the next twenty years, I taught economics in universities, enthusiastically demonstrating how economic theories provided answers to problems of all sorts. I got quite carried away by the beauty, the sophisticated elegance of complicated mathematical models and theories. But gradually I started to have an empty feeling.
‘I began to ask fundamental questions of myself. Why did I never talk to my students about compassion, dignity, comradeship, solidarity, happiness, spirituality – about the meaning of life? We never debated the biggest questions. Who are we? Where have we come from? Where are we going to?
‘I told them to create wealth, but I did not tell them for what reason. I told them about scarcity and competition, but not about abundance and co-operation. I told them about free trade, but not about fair trade; about GNP – Gross National Product – but not about GNH – Gross National Happiness. I told them about profit maximisation and cost minimisation, about the highest returns to the shareholders, but not about social consciousness, accountability to the community, sustainability and respect for creation and the creator. I did not tell them that, without humanity, economics is a house of cards built on shifting sands.
‘These conflicts caused me much frustration and alienation, leading to heartache and despair. I needed to rediscover myself and real-life economics. After a proud twenty-year or so academic career, I became a student all over again. I would study theology, philosophy and ethics, disciplines nobody had taught me when I was a student of economics and I did not teach my own students when I became a teacher of economics.
‘It was at this difficult time that I came to understand that I needed to bring spirituality, compassion, ethics and morality back into economics itself, to make this dismal science once again relevant to and concerned with the common good.’
I then went on to found the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative to work towards this, the story of which I love to share with you in another time, another day.
Now, at this point, I wish to say a few words about hope, dreams, imagination, stories, that I have mentioned a few times in my talk already. These are the neglected matters in this painful world we have created. These are the things that make us truly human and humble.
There is no other way: “We Are Here for the Sake of One Another”
The world needs hope; every person, everywhere, needs hope. HOPE gives us life. HOPE connects us. HOPE fuels us. HOPE moves us. HOPE keeps us. HOPE grounds us. HOPE protects us. HOPE anchors us.
We are not mean people. We have hearts and minds, we care for each other still, we have our dreams, and in dreams begin responsibilities and possibilities.
Reimagining a Better World, a Better Life
“We do not need magic to transform the world. We carry all the power we need inside of us already. We have the power to imagine better.” J.K. Rowling
“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than one with all the facts.” Albert Einstein
This is how I imagining a better world
Imagine a political system that puts the public first. Imagine the economy and markets serving people rather than the other way round. Imagine us placing values of respect, fairness, interdependence, and mutuality at the heart of our economy. Imagine an economy that gives everyone their fair share, at least an appropriate living wage, and no zero-hour contracts. Imagine where jobs are accessible and fulfilling, producing useful things rather than games of speculation and casino capitalism. Imagine where wages support lives rather than an ever expanding divisions and separations between the top 1% and the rest. Imagine a society capable of supporting everyone’s needs, and which says no to greed. Imagine unrestricted access to an excellent education, healthcare, housing and social services. Imagine hunger being eliminated, no more food banks and soup kitchens. Imagine each person having a place he/she can call home. Imagine all senior citizens living a dignified and secure life. Imagine all the youth leading their lives with ever-present hope for a better world. Imagine a planet protected from the threat of climate change now and for the generations to come. Imagine no more wars, but dialogue, conversation and non-violent resolution of conflicts.
This is the world I wish to see and I believe we have the means to build it, if we take action in the interest of the common good.
We must begin to seriously think, ponder and reflect together on Life’s Big Questions, questions of meaning, values and purpose:
- What does it mean to be human?
- What does it mean to live a life of meaning and purpose?
- What does it mean to understand and appreciate the natural world?
- What does it mean to forge a more just society for the common good?
- In what ways are we living our highest values?
- How are we working to embody the changes we wish to see in the world?
- What projects, models or initiatives give us the greatest sense of hope?
- How can we do well in life by doing good?
By their very nature, these questions involve thought and discussion around spirituality, ethics, morals and values.
This means that our lives are connected not only to knowledge, power and money, but also to faith, love and wisdom. Unless the questions we ask encompass the full spectrum of these emotions and experiences, we are unlikely to find the answers we are looking for, or to understand them in any depth, let alone solving problems and attaining goals.
In seeking to answer these and other pertinent questions, and to understand the world better, we need to discover the world not just as it is, but also how it ought to be. Indeed, the deepest and most difficult questions with which we wrestle are problems of value — right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, just and unjust, worthy or unworthy, dignified or abhorrent, love or hatred, cooperation or competition, selflessness or selfishness, prosperity or poverty, profit or loss.
Human beings have explored these many questions of value through religion, philosophy, the creation of art and literature, and more. Indeed, questions of value have inaugurated many disciplines within the humanities and continue to drive them today.
Questions and conversations about values and valuing are fundamental to what it means to be human, but rarely become the subject of explicit public reflection.
I hope that we can come together and think more fully and constructively about these fundamental questions and values, finding possibilities of exploring how values-led action can be a resource for renewal.
This brings me to the final challenge of this article: to set the values needed to build the better world that we are imagining.
To focus our minds, assisting us to see the big picture, I very much wish to offer for consideration and reflection the values of the GCGI, which we hold very dearly:
We value caring and kindness
We value passion and positive energy
We value service and volunteerism
We value simplicity and humility
We value trust, openness, and transparency
We value values-led education
We value harmony with nature
We value non-violent conflict resolution
We value interfaith, inter-civilisational and intergenerational dialogue
We value teamwork and collaboration
We value challenge and excellence
We value fun and play
We value curiosity and innovation
We value health and wellbeing
We value a sense of adventure
We value people, communities and cultures
We value friendship, cooperation and responsibility.
Co-creating “The Future We Want” in the Interest of the Common Good
The future is indeed fraught with environmental, socio-economic, political, and security risks that could derail the progress towards the building of “The Future We Want”. However, although these serious challenges are confronting us, we can, if we are serious and sincere enough, overcome them by taking risks in the interest of the common good.
One thing is clear: the main problem we face today is not the absence of technical or economic solutions, but rather the presence of moral and spiritual crises. This requires us to build broad global consensus on a vision that places values such as love, generosity and caring for the common good into socio-political and economic practice, suggesting possibilities for healing and transforming our world. Let us seize it. Carpe Diem!
*This article is the revised version of a paper I had prepared for delivery at the 2018 Todi-Week which for reasons beyond my control I was unable to attend.
Prof. Kamran Mofid is Founder of the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI– founded at an international conference in Oxford in 2002), Co-founder/Editor, GCGI Journal, which is hosted at Wilmington College, Ohio, USA, a Patron of the Human Values Foundation, a Founding member of World Dignity University, and a TFF Associate. Mofid received his BA and MA in economics from the University of Windsor, Canada in 1980 and 1982 respectively. In 1986 he was awarded his doctorate in economics from the University of Birmingham, UK. In 2001 he received a Certificate in Education in Pastoral Studies at Plater College, Oxford. Mofid’s work is highly interdisciplinary, drawing on Economics, Business, Politics, International Relations, Theology, Culture, Ecology, Ethics and Spirituality. Mofid’s writings have appeared in leading scholarly journals, popular magazines and newspapers. His books include Development Planning in Iran: From Monarchy to Islamic Republic , The Economic Consequences of the Gulf war, Globalisation for the Common Good, Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility and Globalisation for the Common Good , Promoting the Common Good (with Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke, 2005), and A non-Violent Path to Conflict Resolution and Peace Building (Co-authored, 2008). Prof. Mofid was the instigator, Co-founder and the Associate Director (1996-1999) of the Centre for the Study of Forgiveness and Reconciliation at Coventry University.