Mike Smith
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04 May, 2016

Tackling the root causes of extremism of all kinds should be the number one priority of Initiatives of Change worldwide, says a recommendation from its International Council. I have been reflecting on this in relation to the global economy.

Mike SmithThe global economy is all pervasive, affecting the daily lives of everyone on the planet in one way or another, whether we like it or not. Its injustices too easily fuel the humiliations and anger that lead to extremism.

It includes the purchasing choices we make about our food and clothing and their origins; the road, rail and air transport we use; our carbon footprint and our energy use affecting climate change. It includes all the information technology and global social media we use, provided by some of the world’s biggest corporations, and the taxes we pay or fail to, due to tax evasion and offshore tax havens. It includes the appalling wealth gap between excessive boardroom pay and average pay inside large organizations—a form of extremism for which, thank God, there is the beginning of a backlash from institutional investors.

The global economy fuels the appalling gap between the world’s rich and poor, including the extremism of the world’s 62 richest people who have the same wealth as the poorest half of the global population. Some 20 per cent of the global population still live in absolute poverty. It includes the flight in search of jobs and economic security from wars, poverty and dictatorial regimes, and the flight from villages to the big cities in search of work. It affects the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink—and the plastic we throw away.

So anyone who says they are not interested in the issues of the global economy really should think again. Because the global economy has a real interest in them and in all of us. It provides the goods and services for our daily lives, jobs, incomes, education, skills, housing, health care, economic wellbeing and a degree of human and social security for the billions of people around the world. So we need a global economy of human wellbeing and the common good.

And we need to be extremists on the side of those who suffer due to the appalling disparities in the global economy. That is why social media, social and ethical entrepreneurship and other alternative economic models, from Benefit Corporations to Community Interest Companies, are so significant for the world—raising awareness and our sense of social conscience in tackling human need.   

The one other area which is all pervasive to the same degree is our interior lives—our imaginations and mindsets, our consciousness and conscience. Are we driven by materialism or spiritual values, venality or altruism, self-interest or mutual interest and a profound sense of love, care and concern for others? Or are we only interested in self-aggrandisement and greed—an extremism of self-centredness?

These are all affected by our thinking, our mindsets. The daily choice between materialism and spiritual values originates from what is inside our minds, hearts, thinking and motivation. We talk about changing our minds, which is also the meaning of the word conversion.

I was interested in a statement given by Dr John Carlisle at a weekend on the Heart of Effective Organizations, held in Ampleforth, North Yorkshire, recently. He said that there are three levels to our listening (he was talking in the business and economy context but I think it applies across the board): thinking (about the facts we are given); feeling (our heart responses to those facts and dreaming about the possibilities); and willing (the actions we are prepared to take as a result of knowing the facts).

We may be frightened by the extremism of terrorism, for instance, or the appalling backlash against it of political, religious and racial bigotry. But we all need to be extremists in the choice for spiritual values over materialistic ones. We need to be extremists in the choice for love and forgiveness over hate and revenge. As Frank Buchman, IofC's founder, said, 'An extreme of evil needs to be met by an extreme of goodness.'

If I am honest, I find it difficult to forgive those who contradict me or who I profoundly disagree with—I keep them at arm’s length. Yet they may need my perspectives as much I need theirs. The issues that I tend to get worked up about are often really paltry compared to the scale of the world’s depravation.

I believe we need greater understanding of each other’s areas of priority. If there has to be an overriding priority, let it be in tackling the extremisms of hate, fear, greed and power lust in the human heart, and which have always been at the heart of IofC’s historic calling and role.   

Mike Smith is Head of Business Programmes for Initiatives of Change in the UK and one the coordinating team of the annual conferences on Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy in Caux, Switzerland. He is the author of 'Great Company: trust, integrity and leadership in the global economy', published by Initiatives of Change UK, 2015 (£8.50 plus p&p) and IofC, India, 2016.

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.

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