Our individual health is intimately connected with the health of our community, state and society since the attitudes, values, and actions of us collectively influences each and every one of our individual lives. Recent events and budget decisions in the state of New Hampshire are poignantly bringing home this truth to all of us, whatever our political convictions and fiscal attitudes.
A Chilean friend of mine who is a Greek scholar once told me that for the Greeks the goal of society was “ocio,” or pleasure. He explained that this pleasure meant writing poetry, composing music, dancing, enjoying good food and company, attending sacred ceremonies, and such. Their word for business, which is used in Spanish to this day, is “neg-ocio,” or the negation of pleasure. Thus, business was viewed as less significant than pleasure, a need to be filled only to the extent that it enabled people to pursue “ocio,” to have a creative life.
We reflected how these days our societies seem to have turned the Greek view upside down. Business seems to be the driving force behind more and more of what we do and undertake. Where is the pleasure? Where is the creativity? Should our decisions be based primarily on the financial “bottom line?”
I have just returned from two and a half weeks in Chile. While there, at least two large manifestations were held that drew thousands of people each. The first was about a proposed hydroelectric dam slated to be built in one of the most pristine places on Earth – southern Patagonia. The second was about the financing of university education. Specifically, it was a response to the move towards viewing universities as a “business” like any other rather than recognizing the unique and critical role of education in any society, which is to shape future generations. That demonstration made the front page of the national paper on my last day in Chile.
On the flight back home, I saw the movie “Inside Job,” which outlines clearly how the financial crisis of a few years ago that has had a key role in our state’s current budget situation came about. Influential business people, financiers, and political figures at the highest level used the deregulated market place to make millions of dollars of personal gain. None have been made accountable for their actions to date. In fact, quite a few are still in key positions of power.
Perhaps more notable is that none of us are protesting against them, unlike what probably would have happened many other places in the world, places like Chile, for instance. “Business is business,” we seem to mumble quietly, excusing massive breaches of ethics and morality.
It is likely that the personal pleasure of these people who made massive fortunes as they brought the United States to the brink of financial collapse has improved in recent years due to their multi-million dollar deals. But what about the overall well being of our community, state and nation? Is the average person from New Hampshire finding life more pleasurable these days as our state enacts massive financial cuts for essential social services and education in the name of “good business”?
I can’t help but wonder what the ancient Greeks would say if they were alive in the Monadnock region right now concerning how we live our life and run our society? What would they think about our “neg-ocios” of late?
-Published in newspaper in Keene, NH 2011