Imagine a gorgeous sunny day. You’re in the park with your daughter. A man approaches. He smiles. First at her and then at you.
“How much for the little girl?” he asks.
What’s your price?
He makes an offer.
“I will give you a million dollars.”
I imagine you find the idea abhorrent. Inconceivable. We would never consider selling what matters most to us, at any price.
Or would we?
Have we done it already?
I am certain that every one of us has sold something precious, something we promised we would never sell. At some stage in our lives we have sold our souls.
We might have set aside our own beliefs for a business deal worth a lot of money. We might have defied our own instincts to pursue a promising investment opportunity. We might have accepted a job with a company whose practices are at odds with our own code of conduct. We might have received a gift from someone whose motives we don’t quite trust.
Often, at some time afterwards, we’ve been wracked by remorse. We knew we shouldn’t have, but we did. Too late.
So why does it happen? Do we all have a price at which we can be bought? Or is it simply that we have forgotten – if only briefly – what we believe in? Did we forget because we’ve never stopped to list our values? Is it because we’ve never drawn the line in the sand that we will not cross?
In business, as in life, we need to define our own set of values. Not society’s. Not the law’s. Our own.
Writing down our values forces us to reflect on the shape of our own morality. In a relationship or a business partnership or a deal, things go wrong when we discover that others don’t share our own values, or we realise we’ve been seduced into doing something against our own code.
If you are self-employed, your business’s values will be your personal values. In a partnership, the business’s values should be the mutual values of the partners. In a big organisation, the corporation’s values should be established by the founders or leaders.
Here are my values:
Does this mean I have never lied? I wish I could say it doesn’t. What it does mean is that I have felt really bad every time I have lied.
I try to support the people around me and the strangers I meet, even if they can’t help me back. I have felt awful when I had a chance to help someone, but didn’t.
I believe the earth needs my help, however insignificant that might be. Have I wasted precious resources? Yes. Worked in the past for clients in unsustainable industries? Yes. Would I do it now? No.
Do no harm
This one’s easy: Do unto others … Have I harmed others? I am ashamed to say I have.
This mightn’t be important to you, but it is to me. If I were to lose my desire to discover and understand, my life would feel empty.
I hear people say that others need to earn their respect. I prefer to start from a point of respect and only remove it if someone proves himself unworthy of it. There have been times when I have lost respect for myself – usually because I have defied one of my own values.
These are my values and, by extension, the values of my business.
I have defied these values in the past. As I get older, it becomes increasingly difficult for someone to seduce me into crossing my moral line. If I once had a price, I don’t any more.
Legend has it that bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in exchange for extraordinary guitar-playing prowess. The deal was made at the intersection of highways 49 and 61 in Mississippi.
Robert Johnson was a very good guitarist. He died young. Legend has it he was poisoned by the jealous husband of a woman with whom he flirted – some might say the consequence of the life the devil led him to.
You wouldn’t sell your child or spouse or parent at any price. Don’t sell your soul.