Of course he must have been an unusually intelligent and interesting person. Of course.

For a few days I have been at a conference with over a thousand people; some I know, but most I don’t. They are from all over America and from 67 countries around the world.

There are several reasons I am here, but one is that I am speaking on “the economics of mutuality,” a vision of the way business ought to be, and a vision that is being worked out in the marketplaces of the world by real companies that make real money.

But can we even speak about anything that “ought to be” in a world where nothing seems quite like that? Is that even a morally meaningful conversation?

There is nothing utopian about this though; in fact it is being done in the face of the hardest challenges of realeconomik, the push-and-shove of economic realities that are typically unforgiving and relentless. After all, “business is just business” is the bottom line of bottom lines.

But what if business was imagined more as a means of human flourishing? If economic life were seen as an arena in which human beings flourished, and are meant to flourish? And what if human flourishing was really the point of life, not only personally but publicly? What if we knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there are reasons that we flourish, and reasons that we don’t? What if mutuality and responsibility actually mattered in the way we determine “bottom lines”? What if we could see that sustained profitability was dependent upon a more complex bottom line, one that honestly counted more than mere maximization of profit? What if we could see that the way the world turns out matters, and that our choices matter, not only for us as individuals but for everyone everywhere?

Don’t we all really want it to be like that? I talk to enough people week after week who do to know that given the possibility, people want something more than just “I’ll stab you in the back before you stab me in the back!” We long for more.

So is a conversation about a good marriage, a good business, a good government, just pie-in-the-sky– and nothing honest people ever even imagine?

Not surprisingly to anyone who knows much about me, but I live my life in hope that those questions matter. Seeing this young man reading my book, Visions of Vocation, stopped my heart, and I smiled… hoping that he will find his way into answering the question that runs its way through the book, “Knowing what you know about the world, can you still love the world?” It is the hardest of all questions, and always has been. If our answer falls into the abysses of cynicism and stoicism, then we all should just eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die—as human beings have concluded for thousands upon thousands of years.

And that’s not a very happy way to begin the day. But more importantly, it is not a way into a good life—or a good marriage, or a good business, or a good government. We long for more.

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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