The Moral Biographies of Wealthy Clients - models thereof? Saints lives? Or, St Augustine's Confessions? Rousseau's Confessions? Browning's, "The Bishop Orders his Tomb"? A Rogue's Progress? Moll Flanders? Dr. Paul Schervish, trained orginally as a Jesuit, is the recognized expert on moral biographies of wealth, or as he sometimes calls them, "Gospels of Wealth." Having read a few of his, most of them in the mode of Horatio Alger, I wonder why Paul doesn't end them, as would a Father Confessor, by assigning penance and restitution, ending with, "Go and sin no more." Well, obviously, Paul is not wanting to offend the Wealthy. He went into all this reading St. Augustine, and ended up with Atlas Shrugged. We can do better, Paul, or own Moral Biography will not pass muster with the Big Guy Upstairs. We moralists, or common Fools, are not here on earth to admire the vanities of wealthy people, but to cure them of their vice and folly. We too have a talent that is death to hide. Let me make it clear that I am not judging anyone. I have a few skeletons in my own closet. I am not proud of what I do for money. But we all have to make compromises in the best interest of Wealth Bond*ge: The Great American Freedom Machine. God knows, I have. But at least I own up to the sleazy things I do, rather than writing some bogus Moral Biography and making myself seem like a Saint. We all have our secret lives, don't we? The less said the better, I guess. Mum's the word.
I think gentleness, with others and with ourselves as we redefine our lives and our goals, is a good thing. I am thinking of one investor we are working with who is new to the whole "business that does good" space. the ways his new involvement are turning his head around, you can almost see him get whiplash sometimes. one minute he's all about trying to get his pet social enterprise into the black. the next he's fretting over trying to make sure its focus stays on its mission. he's like a man living in two worlds who's trying to create a new space in the middle. he's not about to write a moral biography. but i see the change that's happening to him in a lot of the people we are working with. it's not about glory. there is a new moral hunger at work here, to quote katherine fulton. it's starting to take shape, but it's a work in progress. as you say, a little gentleness is probably in order.
Posted by: Kevin Jones | October 05, 2007 at 05:56 PM
Well said, Kevin. May you be the midwife to many such a rebirth. (That was Socrates's metaphor for the work of values-based planing. Of course giving birth can be painful, particularly for a man.)
Posted by: Phil | October 05, 2007 at 06:04 PM
pretty funny. we at good capital are not raising a fund. We are setting up a birthing center. hmm not sure how that would play in powerpoint?
Posted by: Kevin Jones | October 05, 2007 at 06:32 PM
Yes, you raise the most important subject we treat here. How seriously does one work on the issue of moral hunger, moral health? To me unless we find a way to treat the subject lightly, as did Diogenes, we, or at least I, had better not treat it at all. What is our position as morals tutor, how can it be other than Fraud or Fool?
Posted by: Phil | October 05, 2007 at 08:04 PM
you raise an ego crushing viewpoint.. so i will respond in a suitably shattered way...
when you talk about fools and frauds, frederich beuchner's book of bebb comes to mind. so does charles williams greater trumps and the fool in the living tarot. looking at myself, sometimes i'm a fool. sometimes a holy fool. sometimes a fraud... yeah well.. but then there is that three percent of the time that i am what i intend to be... so.. on balance.. in my own head, it sorta kinda works out.. if you keep looking at where you're going and not where you are... wave not particle.. progress not perfection. yada yada ... he keeps talking..
Posted by: Kevin Jones | October 06, 2007 at 02:01 AM
Kevin, actually, other than H. Peter Karoff, you are the first person in all these years to raise what is for me the fundamental issue, the issue of what we are doing here. I am very interested in your "setup." What is it that you are doing that attracts "people in transition," people who are in effect giving birth to themselves? I thought you were basically in the business of packaging and promoting double bottom line investments. Where does the moral hunger piece come into it? Where, and how, and under what rationale, are you finding yourself engaged with fellow citizens, in this quest, or moral self-transformation? How do you characterize that process, and how do you position yourself? What makes you, or me, or Karoff, or anyone qualified to be the "mentor" of a fellow citizen turning themselves inside out, recreating themselves, and simultaneously the world around them? What credentials, background, team, supports that role? Defining it, I come up with many possible roles, but only one for me really fits (Fool) because only the Fool has the humility or sanity to recognize that he is of all people the least qualified to mentor the King. Here are some other alternative ways of conceptualizing the role of moral mentor:
Judge, Jury, and Hangman
Coach, Life Coach
Author of books like Seven Habits of Highly Successful People
Philosopher in the spirit of Kant
Philosopher in the spirit of Socrates
Philosopher in the spirit of Epicurus
Philosopher in the method of Diogenes
Psychopomp in the cult of Dionysus
Leader of the Revels
Convener of the Carnival
Moral Physician in the Hellenistic Tradition (The cure of souls)
As I say, Fool is the one that works for me, but that requires a mask, or cap and bells, and motley. Those are not considered suitable business attire, even if your firm accepts business casual as the norm.
Posted by: Phil | October 06, 2007 at 09:43 AM
You've raised the stakes so that I'm just about shocked into silence.. but.. one thing I can say is that I was a lot like the angel investor I talked about in the start of this post. I put myself in the social purpose/non profit space after a career in business, instantly made a ton of errors crashing into walls I was sure I could knock down just like I had before and discovered this new landscape had its own shape, its own way of operating.
When you are no longer driving toward a single variable and discover that if you want to work on malaria you have to work on roads, water and education, and in cooperation with or overcoming opposition from people in places and roles you never anticipated, when your assumption that churches in Mozambique would have locks on the doors and cupboards that could keep nets safe is just the latest assumption that has proven false... and a host of other things like that where your proven, hard headed, driving approach is actually the last thing a situation needs, and even your friends and allies are taking turns slapping you around for your latest brilliant but overly aggressive move that didn't take existing relationships into account (this happened last night, actually).
then you can at least recognize another new fool walking in the door.
Posted by: kevindoylejones | October 06, 2007 at 12:18 PM
Yes, Kevin, thank you. This is the kind of conversation that the field needs. I hope you will share more about not only what you are learning, but about your evolving sense of what the field is, what is at stake, what the true models are. I am reading a book by Martha Nussbaum, a classicist, The Therapies of Desire, about Hellenistic philosophy as a healing discipline. Very helpful and on point. But we are creating this new discipline from bits and pieces of old ones. Can you share what you have found helpful as a model, or way of framing the role you play vis a vis your "clients" or whatever you call them?
Posted by: Phil | October 06, 2007 at 01:24 PM
It's not in the personal level we've been talking, but Phil, one thing we are doing is creating a map of the social capital market, a place to add coherence for the players. We've got a little bit (not much) money to put into it and it has a five part taxonomy; producers (funds and syndicators) products (funds and the enterprises (non profit and for profit) they invest in) order providers (rating agencies like b lab, fourth sector, analysts, those creating taxonomies and maps) exchanges (like the social capital market in the UK and others that are emerging) and Story (those that provide context, make sense of this movement).
So basically, when you asked how I'm viewing my role with the people we are working with, I changed the subject. Not very adroitly, I admit. I guess when I do think about that, I just consider myself a fellow traveller. My experience has been in helping emerging markets form. This is a market where entering it subtly but insistently, turns you into something new that you would not quite have recognized before, but that, is also something the people drawn to it want in a deep way that's hard to express. Katherine Fulton said we are acting our way into a new way of thinking. I think she's right about that.
Broadly, I think a new myth of capital is emerging, dethroning the Gospel of Wealth dichotomy foisted on us by Andrew Carnegie and other robber barons. The market is not a force of nature. The market is part of nature, and has to be responsible for its impact. And we all are discovering that we have to think about our impact in new ways, with feedback from Iraq to the arctic melt, to children who die needlessly of poverty related causes every three seconds, to the spiraling wealth disparities in the U.S.
Plus, I have grandchildren now. So my time horizon has shifted.
Posted by: Kevin Jones | October 06, 2007 at 01:42 PM
Thanks. Where does Katherine Fulton says the things you have attributed to her? I know here work but don't recall those sayings, and would like to pursue them. We are all feeling our way into a new world. Your comments show that you have been around people in that awkward moment when their old way of being in the world begins to give way to a new one. I keep wondering how to help more people explore that, or "act their way into a new understanding."
Posted by: Phil | October 06, 2007 at 04:08 PM