The Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace commissioned a document called “The Vocation of the Business Leader – A Reflection.” My first question when I discovered the document was, “What does business have to do with justice and peace?”
As it turns out, business is the key to justice and peace in the world.
Firstly, how does the Church define the words “justice” and “peace”? The super short version of justice is giving others their due. The next question you may have is, “What in the world does give others their due mean?” It’s at this point that the average Catholic business leader may just give up and decide they can manage without the wisdom dispensed from Rome.
The Church defines justice as treating others with honesty and integrity, providing them with the environment to thrive based on their abilities and upholding their dignity, and working towards the common good.
The Church defines peace as “the tranquility of order” that is created by the restoration of right relationships with both God and neighbor. Peace is something that can be attained within yourself, in your personal relationships, within families, communities and societies.
OK, that’s a lot to take in, but you get the general idea. In short, justice and peace can only happen when we have a healthy, loving relationship with God and with our neighbors. Pope St. John Paul II wrote for the celebration of the World Day of Peace that “True peace therefore is the fruit of justice, that moral virtue and legal guarantee which ensures full respect for rights and responsibilities, and the just distribution of benefits and burdens.”
Getting back to the document then. The executive summary of the Vocation of the Business Leader states in part that “Business leaders, who are guided by ethical social principles exemplified through lives of virtue and illuminated for Christians by the Gospel, can succeed and contribute to the common good.”
Like all great documents that come from Rome, there’s always a “however” or what I like to call the other shoe drop, which is this. (However — shoe drop)… “Obstacles to serving the common good come in many forms — corruption, absence of rule of law, tendencies towards greed, and poor stewardship of resources — but the most significant for a business leader on a personal level is leading a divided life. This split between faith and daily business practice can lead to imbalances and misplaced devotion to worldly success.” Likewise, almost 50 years before, Pope Paul VI reflected the same sentiment in Gaudium et spes: “This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age” (43).
How does misplaced devotion to worldly success of business leaders affect justice and peace? The assumption with this statement is a Catholic business leader’s devotion moves from God and neighbor to the self or maybe was never on God and neighbor in the first place. Either way, worldly success forces many an executive to stray from imitating Christ to imitating the glitterati. The glitterati of Hollywood, of business and even of the multi-generational power families in the government sure make it look like a good life, at least from the outside looking in.
However, there’s a dark side to the good life and that is: it’s never enough. Sometimes common-sense rules of ethics are ignored, bent or broken to keep the good times rolling. The Vocation of the Business Leader created a short list of obstacles to serving the common good. The main obstacle, though, is living a divided life which is based on the desire to serve the self rather than keep others in mind.
A divided life means living a life of faith on Sunday, and more likely just at Mass, while living a life of secular-hedonism the rest of the week that starts when pulling out of the parish parking lot after Mass. Loving thoughts of the creator and imitating his son in the work week are fleeting and often conditional.
Outward examples of obstacles to the common good played out in the world include the electric vehicle industry, which ignores how cobalt, needed to make batteries for EV cars, is dug out of the ground mainly in the Congo in unsafe working conditions by child labor while also creating local environmental problems.
Another example: The Wells Fargo scandal included opening multiple fake bank accounts and credit cards in their customers’ names by employees who were under pressure to meet unrealistic sales targets, manipulation of customer funds, and much more.
The last example is closer to home. A restaurant in Northern California, I kid you not, brought in a fake priest to elicit wrongdoing confessions from employees, most of whom were Catholic immigrants. A federal investigation revealed that the business also withheld overtime pay and tips and discovered cases of retaliation when workers complained.
You can’t make this stuff up and it happens daily.
If we want to spread justice (giving others their due) and peace (tranquility of order by loving God and neighbor), business leaders will have to start being more intentional about incorporating justice and peace into their company values and then transform those values into action through its culture.