Category: Shifting Perspectives Written by José Stevens PhD
Indigenous peoples of the world agree that there are two fundamental fears that all human beings dread. The first fear is the fear of abandonment. The second fear is the terror of being limited, restricted, enslaved, or trapped. These fears are intertwined and interrelated and each one leads to the other. People do not want to be abandoned so they seek out fraternal relationships, but then these relationships can become restrictive, leading people to abandon one another. So you can see that these two fears represent polarities in the human experience and people are always trying to find that happy medium of connection without slavery.
Here in this article we will focus more exclusively on the fear of abandonment and specifically explore how it impacts our business dealings with one another.
The natural mammal terror of abandonment helps animals to survive the rigors of the first months of life. In the best of worlds, with constant support and guardianship, animals eventually learn to trust the environment and their fear of abandonment is replaced by the intense curiosity of exploration and learning. For humans in particular, fear of abandonment can rear its head throughout life with the occasional loss of relationships through death, divorce, or friends moving away. Feelings of abandonment also come with the loss of a home, a job, a pet, or health. The reason that this is such a painful and sensitive area for most people is that being expelled from the womb at birth feels like the original abandonment from mother and from connection with spirit. So from that most primary moment, human beings are set up to both flee from abandonment and to create connective relationships with each other that will ward off abandonment.
So great is the fear of abandonment that some people resort to abandoning others in order to control their own fear. Better to abandon than be abandoned. As a result many people abandon their own essence and relationship to spirit rather than experience being abandoned by them. The result is the deepest kind of disconnection.
Doing Business is About Connection
Doing business is primarily about people and relationships and is one of the main ways that people devised to overcome their initial separateness and isolation. When people have business to do together this becomes their excuse to interact with one another and become involved in the games of commerce, teamwork, communication, and production. Thus humans seek each other out to do business with each other, to improve their chances of survival, to enjoy each others company, to prosper, relate, and create together. Originally business was conceived and conducted to improve survival odds, to provide social interaction, and to have fun creating together in win-win situations and strategies.
Abandonment in Business
The theme of abandonment has more to do with our modern corporate business world than anyone would imagine with truly horrifying implications. Unless we understand and confront this instinctive human fear, we will be unable to address some of the most fundamental problems in our world today. Because almost everyone engages in business in one way or the other either as a provider or a consumer, abandonment in business directly affects you one way or another.
The following is a vastly simplified version of the progression of human activities in regard to commerce. Bear in mind this progression has been repeated again and again over the course of human history and is not simply a linear process but has spiraled into being many times over.
The Business of Trade
In the beginning, people engaged in simple trades, clothing for protection, food for shelter, basic tools and implements to make things, and adornments to decorate. As the human race progressed and evolved and life became more complex humans began to develop specific rules, laws, and structures that governed their business dealings with one another. This insured that there would be a process and a format that could be expected when doing business with others. Thus business rose to the level of the toddler behavior, with an emphasis on structure, rules, laws, and limits to define the game of trade.
With more evolution humans began developing an appetite for competition and for achieving the greatest successes by outwitting everyone else in order to come out way ahead. The strategy for doing business then became about winning over others rather than commerce for the sake of camaraderie and mutual satisfaction. This introduced the concept of defeating competition and even manipulating the marketplace to come out ahead while giving lip service to the laws governing fair practice. At this stage business rose to the level of the child playing king of the mountain and he who dies with the most toys wins.
With this turn of events, fear was introduced as a major player in transactions of all types. Because winning and getting financially ahead at all costs became the greatest value, people negotiating trade had to ask the new and difficult questions? Am I being cheated here? Are they telling the truth? Do they have my best interest in mind? Will I lose in this transaction? So trust was shattered and fear replaced that original innocence of the handshake deal. The greater the fear introduced into business the greater the distrust and the more each party had to strategize to come out ahead of the other. This can only happen when people feel so separate from one another or disconnected that they pit themselves against the other as if they were dealing with an enemy, a total alien rather than a brother or sister or friend. The result is the business culture of fear that prevails in the world of commerce today. The level that is no more sophisticated than the child of eight, nine, or ten years of age.
So strong is the value to win at all costs that a corporation or a partner can be willing to sacrifice its own employees, suppliers, and even customers at the alter of profits. Here we have the reintroduction of one of the human race’s greatest fears, the fear of abandonment. If a company is willing, at a moments notice, to dump its own in order to stay ahead of the game, then eventually everyone lives with the fear and resulting stress of possible abandonment at any time. This is one of the primary reasons that business is no longer fun for so many people in this day and age. Whereas it was once about being connected to common goals, to a community with similar values and visions, now business is about the abstraction of the corporation and shareholders winning profits and if that is compromised in any way there will be abandonment with dire consequences.
Abandonment in Business
These changes created an environment that replaced connectedness with fear of abandonment and loss. Here are some everyday examples of the way people now abandon each other while doing business:
Networking business people immediately abandon a prospect after finding out that they may not be of benefit to them.
Result: People are seen as tools rather than as beings.
Stockholders abandon a company when they hear a negative report on earnings, even if the company is still profitable.
Result: Stockholders do not care about the company, its values, its long-range vision, or its products, only that it make a profit as quickly as possible.
The corporation abandons former suppliers when getting a lower bid from a new one, even if that bid includes questionable production processes and causes greater human suffering in some remote part of the world (sweat shops).
Result: Suppliers are seen as interchangeable and as cogs in the machinery rather than partners in business.
A company abandons employees when downsizing to become more efficient and profit making.
Result: Employees are treated like discarded outmoded machinery. The rest of the employed staff must do their former jobs plus the work of those discarded to hold onto their jobs.
Employees shop around for greater benefits and at a moments notice abandon the company that has trained them.
Result: Staff sees the corporation or company that employs them as a simple means to an end and no more.
Management abandons its staff by risking retirement funds on wild schemes and abandons its shareholders by skimming profits and engaging in highly unethical business practices designed to personally enrich themselves at others’ expense.
Result: Management has contempt for their own corporation and for others in general.
With these and other similar values ruling the day, it is no wonder that most people go to work and come home from work incredibly stressed. They are faced with abandonment on every side each day. Remember that abandonment is one of humankind’s worst fears.
Some of these values and practices have become cornerstones of the present economic system and economists have proposed that they are the necessary hard knocks of a successful economy. Fingers point to the failure of the Japanese system where people signed up for life employment, complete cradle to grave security, without risk of ever being let go.
The Japanese system is actually more of small child’s view of business life because of that very promise of security. This approach however represents the extreme. There is no such thing as ultimate security because life is too rich and variable to promise anything like that. But this does not mean the alternative is the complete abandonment of respectful intercourse among people doing business with one another.
Remember, the me-first, “he who dies with the most toys wins” way of doing business is akin to a ten year old’s approach to life. Ten year olds want to play king of the mountain and are notoriously ruthless in their dealings with one another. They are often entirely insensitive to each others feelings wanting nothing more than to cut each other down to the aggrandizement of their own ego’s. That is what it is like to be ten years old.
When the Soviet Union fell apart the remnants tried to instantly shift to a western style of capitalism and they have failed miserably because they plunged into a ten year old version of capitalism. The system was plagued by corruption so massive that it has failed to thrive. This will happen anywhere that capitalism is introduced where there is no prior experience with it. The results are that they have begun to return to a totalitarian style of government to run their economic world.
Here is the ten year old approach to doing business in a nutshell. These are some of the business practices that have fostered an increased sense of separation and made doing business a terrifying prospect for so many people because of the risk of abandonment.
- Personal incentives were introduced to produce profits at all costs.
- Productivity became more important than creativity and interaction.
- Business became more about personal success than relationship.
- Business competition intensified to the point of willingness to destroy the other.
- Team members were pitted against each other to produce more profit.
- Profits became more important than mutual exchange and enjoying interaction.
- Emphasis on mutual survival shifted to personal survival.
- Marketing and advertising became more important than quality control.
- Business began to emphasize consumerism over improving the quality of life.
- Commerce emphasized disposables over products built to last.
- Profits became more important than people’s well-being, health, and longevity.
- Higher quality products and systems no longer prevailed in the marketplace because huge companies could squash the competition and instead offer their own inferior products in attractive packaging.
Fortunately evolution is a fact of life and a great many human beings do not carry the values and mentality of ten year olds any more even if that is the prevailing system left over from a former era. Many people have moved on, have become more mature, and desire a more sophisticated way of interacting that values relationship, belonging, and connectedness. They struggle with the present system and often suffer at the hands of ruthless competition.
A more mature business environment might include the following policies:
- Companies are given incentives to relocate or retrain employees who have been let go due to downsizing (tax breaks).
- Taxes are levied on what is discouraged (pollution) rather than what is desired (productivity).
- Business schools offer required courses in the importance of relationship in the work environment.
Business takes another look at the value of ruthless competition. In nature there is competition but more importantly there is cooperation among species, something Darwin missed.
- Creativity and interaction become more important than control as the prevailing value.
- Incentives are offered for contributing to satisfaction and fulfillment in the work place.
- Mutual cooperation becomes the prevailing value in team building.
- Mutual exchange and enjoying the interaction once again replace profits as the highest priority for doing business.
- Business looks to the greatest common good in its practices.
- Quality control of the product comes first before the marketing and advertising of it.
- Business emphasizes improving the quality of life.
- Commerce emphasizes products that contribute to a sustainable way of life and a livable world.
- Profits are linked to people’s well-being, health, and longevity.
These are just a few of the changes in values that are necessary for a return to pleasure in doing business. These and other policies like them will greatly reduce the fear of abandonment that prevails in the modern workplace.
In the real world some people will always lose their jobs because of incompetence, changes in methods of production, greater efficiency, downsizing, or other similar justifiable reasons. The argument for a change in values is not to promote some unattainable utopian society where no one loses a job or people are kept on the payroll for doing nothing. That is not a preferable system. It is about a sea change in the status quo that is not only unsustainable but makes life miserable for so many in the workplace. In a grown up world why would anyone opt for the current system that is so destructive to the environment and the vast majority of workers? We cannot simultaneously have an economy where greater efficiency causes people to lose their jobs but where people need to work to buy products. This is called a shrinking market place and is not sustainable to greater profit making in the long run. Duh! This is a complete no brainer.
We must figure out a way for people to find meaningful work even as the world rapidly progresses to greater efficiency. Training and rearing children will never be successfully taken over by machines and it is an exceptionally important foundation of society. Yet the culture has not wanted to see it as important or worth paying for, so well paying jobs disappear while education and childrearing and other services are starved to death. Perhaps we need to look here first. If we are not willing to as a nation and as a species, then perhaps the system must ultimately collapse before a more effective approach to our world is discovered.
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