It’s just business
It’s just business – has anyone ever said that to you? Have you ever said that to someone else? What does it mean? What is the intention of making that statement?
When I think about that statement, and the context that that statement is made, what comes to mind is the relationship between emotion and “business”. One should not get emotional as it is “just business”. One should not get upset or angry or offended as it is “just business”. Nobody says “it’s just business” after making lots of money. Nobody says “it’s just business” when both parties involved in the business are happy or comfortable, rather this statement is meant not as a form of consolation, but as a way of attempting to change someone’s perspective and frame of reference when dealing with “business”.
This “it’s just business” implies a call to leave emotion out of “it”. Leave emotion behind, this is just business. A separation of emotion from business is what is being asked of, what is being demanded of. But emotion is an integral part of being human. We can see this, sadly, as those devoid of emotion (ie. Psychopaths) are not as highly regarded as someone who display and feel emotion. Why else would being a psychopath be considered a disorder? Why else would we have a word for psychopath, rather than having a word for people who feel emotion? If not feeling emotion was the ‘normal’ state, then those that felt emotion would be considered outliers and they would be the ones with the disorder, with the title to categorize them and distinguish them from the norm, from those without emotion.
We value emotion. It might not be the sole thing that makes us human, but it surely completes our humanity. Without emotion a human suffers a disorder, and we as a society look to help them. Whether we find it politically correct or not to say so, we do not feel completely comfortable or at ease with the idea of psychopaths, with those that do not experience emotion. It is unnatural for a human.
Yet this is what “it’s just business” demands of us. This concept, this frame of reference, this ideology of how to conduct oneself in the world wishes to separate our valued nature, our emotions, from our doings (business). “It’s just business” demands of us to become pyschopaths when doing business. If emotions complete us as humans and are something we value as part of human nature, then what does it mean that this “it’s just business” seeks to separate our human nature, the human aspect, and humanity itself, from business?
Does business, under this paradigm, create environments that seek to grow and foster psychopath behaviour?
I am reminded of people in my life who I won’t name, who work for a small business. The number of employees can be counted on two hands. One of the employees of this business, someone who is almost as integral as the owner themselves, asked to have a day off as this persons partner lost their father and wanted to be with their partner to console them and be there for them. This person wanted to fulfill their primary role in life, that is, to be a good human, not to accumulate money. To help restore quality in that person’s life. The business owner wouldn’t allow it. I wondered to myself why this was. To provide more information and paint a more accurate and fuller picture for this story, this person’s presence was not necessary and the store would function perfectly well without their presence for a single day. It was simply a matter of putting business first over humanity.
But is it not our human responsibilities first and foremost that are important, only then followed by the responsibilities due to the roles that we play?
I thought about the relationship that this small business owner has to the employees. This business owner lives quite comfortable, and deservedly so. I am sure this business owner works and has worked incredibly hard and deserves all that they have received. But, this success, or rather measure of success (income, $) is completely dependent on those employees that can be counted on with just two hands. Those employees are the ones that acquire the income, the success, that the business owner gets to enjoy. Those employees create the lifestyle and career that the business owner is able to enjoy. They are all necessary and complete each other. They form an integral function in the business owners lifestyle. Without the business owner there would be no jobs, and without the employees there would be no business. They are all co-dependent and all function to each others benefit. These employees function to create, for the business owner, the business, income and life that is desired and enjoyed. How could the business owner not owe everything they have to these employees? How could someone who owes everything to those employees not show humanity to them?
It’s just business.
Of course, that is one specific single example, and there are countless number of examples when business owners are great, and also when that specific business owner is great as well.
It’s just business.
I thought some more about the relationship employees have with employers, with customers. It is this completely interconnected web of dependence. Each node is either an employee, an employer, a customer (who is themselves employees/employers). Each node is connected to other nodes in this web of interconnectivity.
The web works because of the connections, and so each connection, each node, each person, in that web completes the other connections, completes the other nodes, completes the other person. It is quite an amazing thing when you think about it! But do we take this frame of reference and adopt this paradigm when we look at business? No, we repeat the mantra that it is just business.
This led me to think of my constant trips to the grocery store, to loblaws for example. I am guilty of being a snob. It is horrible, but I think it is something worth sharing. I became aware of this in the last couple of months, and it really hit me the last time I was getting groceries. I was walking through the produce section while a loblaws employee was watering some vegetables, putting new produce on the shelves, etc. I remember looking at him and thinking that he didn’t look happy. I didn’t think he enjoyed his job. I thought that he probably doesn’t get much respect, and he probably doesn’t view his job as that important, and that he probably doesn’t get much fulfillment out of his job, and that he probably doesn’t get much satisfaction from his job and I could see it in the way he worked.
Maybe other days he is much more joyful and happy, maybe today he was just sad or upset or down or super focussed and I was misinterpreting his demeanour. Maybe. It is possible. In that analysis, I couldn’t help but think that maybe it wasn’t a good job to have. Maybe the guy didn’t have a good education, maybe this was the best job he could get.
That was me being a judging snob.
But then I quickly realized that this guy’s job is so incredibly important, and I wondered if he really knew how important it was. It was important to me, and to anyone else that buys fresh produce from that loblaws. Can you imagine what your food would be like if it wasn’t constantly sprayed with water at the grocery store? If it wasn’t constantly shuffled around so that the freshest produce was at the front, and the rotten food taken away? Could you imagine if the food was just shipped in boxes and crates and left out in the store for customers to go through themselves? The food quality would go down, and much more would be wasted, thus driving up food prices. This person’s job is incredibly critical and valued, but why didn’t I see that before? Why doesn’t this employee carry himself with the pride that doing a completely essential role would bring? Does he know how important his job is, his function is? I wondered why it wasn’t the case as it is at farmers markets where we go and make small talk and ask questions to the various vendors that are providing us with food, why I don’t do that with this guy at loblaws. No, he doesn’t farm the food and bring it to me, but he is functioning as the guardian of the food that I will buy once it arrives in the store. Surely that is an essential and valued role.
Sometimes I catch myself idealizing other times. I can imagine a time, whether it is the past, the future or perhaps the present of another place, where people come into their grocery shops and know the employees that handle and care for their produce by name, they joke with them and ask them on updates on how they are doing, what is freshest this week, what is coming soon, etc. I wonder why I don’t function like that, and why I have absolutely no recollection of ever seeing anyone function like that, at least outside of a farmers market.
Is it a function of how the employee carries himself? Is it a function of my own social interactions? Is it a function of how I view and value other people? Is it a function of how we perceive hierarchies of values in people, jobs, services?
I don’t aspire to be the person that cleans and maintains produce at loblaws. But why is that? Is it not a valuable and critical job? Is there a reason to look down on something that you yourself value and view as essential?
I think that it might be related to hierarchy. We have, somewhere, a hierarchy of things that we value. The top are things like doctors, lawyers, scientists, athletes, political leaders, and so on. Down the hierarchy we go we come to other things, maybe police officers, maybe actors and celebrities (though I would say that today that is most likely higher than lawyers and scientists). I would say that probably lower down the pyramid of hierarchy occupations that are less valued would be farmers, construction workers, trades people, and the people that provide for us our day to day things such as the newspaper, the coffee you drink at starbucks, the gas delivery truck drivers for the gas you drive, the miners for the resources you use in your car, phones, house, the cable guy who provides a working tv for you to relax in front of.
This reminds me of the original ideology behind the caste system in Hinduism. It is the exact same as described in Plato’s Republic, in which Socrates is describing a perfect city. In each case, each person is doing their role that they are best suited for. As originally viewed in the caste system, there were no higher or lower associations in terms of importance. Each person was doing their role, their dharma, their function, and it was of complete and equal importance to every other person that was doing their role, their function. If tomorrow you took out doctors from the equation, the society would suffer. If tomorrow you took out plumbers, the society would suffer. If tomorrow you took out the police officers, the society would suffer. If tomorrow you took out the bus drives and cab drives, the society would suffer. If tomorrow you took out the farmers, the society would suffer. If tomorrow you took out the guy that shipped the food, the society would suffer. If tomorrow you took out the people that sold you the food you eat, the goods you use, the clothes you wear, the society would suffer. Each person is completely necessary, and each plays a role and a function that is meant to keep the whole thing going together.
There is a great value to be seen in each of those roles. A necessity even. But we don’t see it that way. There is this Hindu story that I will do my best to recount. It involves an argument between the head and the stomach. The head and the stomach are arguing over who is more important and valued. The head tells the stomach that it thinks that the head is more important and valued as it does all the thinking and see’s everything and even allows the food to enter the mouth for it to eventually make its way to the stomach. The stomach tells the head that it is more important as it functions to provide nutrition to the body and it does this by breaking down food. They kept arguing like this for a while, until one day the head thought that he had outsmarted the stomach and found a way to prove that the stomach was subservient to the head. The head decided to stop eating, to cut off the stomach from its function, to show the stomach that it wasn’t in control and not as important as the head. The end of the story, of course, ends with a dead body.
The story shows that everything is completely dependent and interconnected. To say that one thing is more important than another, and more valued, when they are both absolute necessities is absurd. If I need to eat food then I should value not just the food, but the farmer, the people the farmer employs and relies upon to harvest the food that I will eat, the truckers that deliver the food into the city, to the shops that I go to, the people working at the grocery store who take care of the food and maintain its quality, and so on. There isn’t a person there that doesn’t have value and that isn’t integral to the entire process.
But I don’t think, for the most part, we think like that. We have hierarchies, and we have values based on those hierarchies. Perhaps that is why the worker at loblaws seems to lack passion, satisfaction and pride in his job. He have dissociated value from the very things that we truly do value and rely upon. We have separated ourselves and our sense of worth from these people who are “just doing their jobs”.
Just. Just doing their jobs. Just business. Just- this word aims to degrade whatever word and concept that follows. It lowers its importance. This loblaws employee isn’t “just” spraying water on the vegetables, and isn’t “just” making sure the shelves are arranged from oldest to freshest foods, this loblaws employee is providing a valued service that is critical for me to eat healthy and nutritious food.
So what does this have to do with “it’s just business”? This is obviously a very heavy and loaded issue, but I can’t help but think that this “it’s just business” mantra, this “it’s just business” frame of mind and view of the world, is partly responsible. This person isn’t just doing business, isn’t just doing their job, this person is providing an invaluable service that those who eat produce reap the benefits from. And of course, it isn’t just him. It is the person that produces the goods you use, the people that ship them and sell them to you, the people that provide the services you use.
This “it’s just business” and it’s “just a job” or “just doing your job” is not a healthy paradigm to operate under. Imagine the inward emotions and inward evaluation someone has on themselves if they work at loblaws in the produce section and they themselves feel and are aware that their job is “just” a produce guy, that they aren’t as valued or important as another person with another function in society. It must affect their outlook not just on life but of their own sense of self. Their satisfaction is lower when they operate under a paradigm that “it’s just business” and it’s “just a job” at which they “just water vegetables”. How can someone feel satisfied under that frame of reference? Under that outlook? How can someone be expected to take pride in their work with that frame of reference? They have separated out the human value from their job under this paradigm, and from this separation they have removed their own sense of value and function. If you have two sets of people, one who sees value and function in their job, and the other set of people who while performing the exact same job, no matter what it is, sees less value and function in their job, what are the effects? Surely the ones who see their job with value and function will perform better, take more pride, make more of an effort, be a better contributor and experience a higher quality of life.
Perhaps this is a problem generations are experiencing today. This is simply a different way of looking at the “entitled” generation and problem they pose. The feeling of entitlement that one should work a high paying super amazing and valued job right away in life could very well be a direct consequence from adopting this paradigm that there exists a hierarchy of importance and valued jobs. This hierarchy is purely a construct and completely subjective. The whole truth is that every single function is necessary, and equally as necessary. The head is no more important than the stomach, they are both essential and should be valued as such. But we don’t value them equally. In the end, what you get is generations of people who don’t value integral and essential roles in society. They don’t value them and so refuse to function in playing those roles in society. They don’t value them and they don’t believe society values them, and so why would anyone perform a thankless and non-valued role?
People want to be valued, and people want to be experienced as a human. To not be valued is to say that you are not as good as. This is to take away from the human experience, from humanity, from being humane. To be valued less is to be less of a human (or is it a lie that no human life is more than another?). To be a lesser human, a lesser person. “It’s just business” seeks to separate our humanity, our emotion, from business. And in a world driven by the economy and the effort to maintain a functioning and growing economy, economy being the sum total of business, what we are actually subscribing to is a world driven to be less emotional, less empathetic, less sympathetic, less humane and less human.