Choices between ‘right action’ and wrong values - An evening with businessman and environmentalist Lawrence Bloom
by Doris Okenwa
Lawrence Bloom, Chairman of Be Energy and soon to be Secretary General of the Be Earth Foundation, a United Nations intergovernmental organization, took his audience on a journey between the boundaries of right, wrong and the multiple shades of grey in between, when he addressed a TIGETalk in the London centre of Initiatives of Change (IofC) on 7 October.
Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy (TIGE), a programme of IofC that is at the forefront of championing path towards ethics and values in business, treated guests to an evening with a man who has impacted the world positively with his ideals and integrity. As a board member of the Intercontinental Hotels Group, he pioneered a major environmental manual, subsequently adopted by other hotel groups under the encouragement of Prince Charles and now practised in five million hotel bedrooms worldwide.
Honesty, integrity and the care for people, planet and future generations have always been advocated by Initiatives of Change (IofC). The theme of Bloom’s talk—Business Values: ‘We are not all guilty but we are all responsible’— quoting Abraham Joshua Heschel, gets the mind working on how to contend with staying on the right track. As Mike Smith, head of TIGE UK, remarked in his opening comments, ‘We are not all guilty in the sense that we cannot all be blamed for the economic collapse of 2008 or for the subsequent recession and credit squeeze, but we are all responsible in the sense of looking after the direction of our organizations and the moral and ethical culture in which they are run and which we personally operate.’
The Age of Change versus the Change of Age
Bloom asserted that the current world system is unsustainable. The protocols the world has used till now, ‘the drivers, the ideas, concepts actually cannot take us any further,’ he said. ‘Our current way of living is not fit for purpose’ and the current situation was an ‘intelligence test for humanity’. The world as we know it seems to be gasping from environmental pressures, insecurity and terrorism, and economic outputs that set only a few in a good light.
Bloom is not the first to assert such notions. Renowned sociologist and world systems analyst Immanuel Wallerstein wrote of a ‘systemic crises’ in 1997 where he posited a ‘disintegration of our existing historical social system’. There are many more who have been vociferous about the crises the world is enveloped in. Lawrence Bloom is one of them and he admits that, ‘we live in interesting times’—times of endless opportunities and times of danger.
Bloom makes a striking assertion that ‘we are not living in an age of change anymore, we are living in the change of age.’ He clarifies that ‘what happens in an age of change is that things get smaller and faster, nothing fundamentally shifts. But in a change of age, something dramatically shifts and that is our concept of how we see things and how we discover things about the way we live.’ The Change of Age has been characterized by the race to the bottom towards success, the glorification of capital and winner-takes-all syndrome plus the ever widening inequality gap between rich and poor. Bloom believes that ‘it is time to let go of a few things we have defined as priority.’
A tough question for today’s world is the wealth factor, especially when it becomes the definition for happiness. As a young man swinging between extremes of anxiety over making wealth and then keeping it, Bloom’s epiphany moment came with the realization that inner nourishment was the better target to achieve. ‘Who am I and what am I doing here?’ were the questions that steered him towards ‘right action’ regardless of the prevailing challenges.
Not just a man of rhetoric, Bloom gives evidence to his postulations by listing three converging crises confronting the world: economic, environment and social. He ties all three to an even deeper crises of values and argues that ‘crises in the world leads to crises in values.’ This defective worldview has led, according to Bloom, to unhealthy competition, evident in the blurred lines between right and wrong as many seek to legitimize their way of doing business. Prosperity has been defined by the drive towards acquisition rather than contribution.
But there is a solution. The current system is unsustainable and will implode on itself. And while gazing at the stark reality might be daunting, what is needed is a trigger to set off a chain of events that will counter the corruption, mediocrity and unhealthy race to the bottom. Bloom submits, ‘we are able to make a difference but we just haven't mobilized.’ He points towards a change of perception. The challenges can be overcome and Bloom is positive about the future, regardless of today’s crises. He insists that a few can make the change which in turn will have ripple effects.
It all comes down to decisions to ‘change the trajectory of a world that has lost its way’. So how can a world, so consumed with gratification of self, see beyond immediate gain? Two key words for Bloom are ‘forgiveness’ and ‘gratitude’. Taking personal responsibility and being in harmony with the world will produce the right decisions, he asserts. This presents change as a choice, a conscious decision to do right regardless of the status quo and, in so doing, trigger a chain of more rights. But it can also go the other way. Again, it comes down to decisions. Ending on a positive note, Bloom called for the coming together of all as a global family to rediscover purpose, because ‘the penalties for failure are beyond our worst nightmare.’