No False Hopes

One of the most dangerous but prevalent of false hopes in our age is that we can have "heaven on earth. " It is the belief that human nature is perfectible.

One of the most dangerous but prevalent of false hopes in our age is that we can have "heaven on earth." It is the belief that human nature is perfectible. This false hope is the fatal weakness in every utopian scheme that has bedeviled society in the last several centuries. The most monstrous and deadly expression of this false hope has been in socialism and communism, whose evils we have not yet fully comprehended.

Although the success of free market economies has helped debunk the tragic delusion of bliss by government planning, democratic capitalism is not entirely free of its vestiges. In fact, this error infects many of the current notions about achieving the ideal workplace. It is the undetected heresy in many so-called enlightened approaches to business management.

For some of us truly believe that we can build ever more nurturing and sustaining communities in our factories and offices. It seems that the lack of proper management techniques stands in the way. The concepts need only further refinement, and the application needs only more conscientious implementation, the thinking goes. The egalitarian impulse to legislate and regulate workplace "morality" and "correctness" is symptomatic—and in vain.

The antidote is to keep in mind the true nature of free enterprise. An enterprise is exactly that—a venture, an undertaking, an attempt. To be part of an enterprise is to be engaged in an attempt. When we focus on the trying and not on the attaining, then we can let go of the notion that perfection can be reached. That is the essence of continuous improvement.

What creates the bond between workers in any enterprise is this trying together. When the goal is perceived as ultimately elusive yet deeply rewarding in the attempt to reach it, people tend to overlook differences, subordinate self interests, subdue prejudices and nullify other behavioral impediments. Respect and fairness seek their natural levels.

Where that spirit of sacrifice prevails you are most likely to hear those involved saying, "Gee, I love this place." But where concern for individual happiness and fulfillment overrides the harsh demands of competitiveness, you will find the deepest discontent and the most fractious divisiveness. This in no paradox.

Because we cannot have "heaven on earth," those who insist on it, in the end, can know only despair. Yet for those who for the sake of the enterprise submit to it, genuine hope is abiding. Heaven must wait. In the meantime, what joy there is, is in the trying.