I think it’s time that someone bring to the discussion table the difference between the concept of “greed” and the idea of the pursuit of someone’s “best interests.” The two concepts are not the same. However, the intent to confuse the two has some ideological appeal, and as usual, time aids in the erosion of many traditional words and concepts.
Historically, greed has been considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins. It is a sin of excess and inappropriate expectation—the “me first regardless of cost or consequences.” Greed is not always easily identifiable in the beginning, and that makes it confusing. But be assured that sooner or later, harbored greed will surface into observable behavior. Another thing I have noticed is that greed delivers a different result from what was anticipated in the beginning, and sad and terrible consequences of greed may take a long time to surface.
Pursuing one’s best self-interest, however, is not necessarily greed or selfishness. It has to do with appropriate expectations and comes along as a necessary component in the “free choice” package. When you are given daily alternatives, it is the expected behavior to choose that which is highest, best, and most fulfilling. Of course people pursue their own self-interests; thus the beauty of individuality and divergent creativity. Pursuit of their own self-interests includes seeing their families become better off. It also includes their concerns for their friends and neighbors being better off, as well as the entire citizenry of their communities.
I am a businessman and an economist—a compassionately involved cultural economist dedicated to helping other individuals in the wholesome fulfillment of their self-interests.
I often tell people that “I have decided to give the best of my life for the rest of my life helping other people be better off.” So what on earth does that mean? Albert Schweitzer acknowledged, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Serving other people includes the concept of helping them become better off.
Lately, I am running into more articles and interviews where I hear frustrated folks bashing the concept of anyone advancing or moving ahead in their circumstances, saying, “They are getting more education and trying to acquire more skills just because they want more of the pie, and I get less of the pie as a result. They are just greedy, and it’s not fair.” Or “The earth is sufficient to meet every man’s need . . . if only those profit people would just stop their greed.”
I have two dear friends, husband and wife, each of whom is a talented medical doctor. They are highly motivated, full of energy, and are Nigerian.Their burning passion was to build a fifty-bed hospital in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, with a fine radiology department, laboratory, and well-equipped operating room. Impossible!
Dr. I. C. Ekwem and Dr. Linda Ekwem heard about Project C.U.R.E.’s work in Nigeria. They pursued me aggressively and even secured the money, purchased airline tickets, came to Colorado, and stayed at our home in Evergreen. They shared their dream and passion with Anna Marie and me. They showed us what they had already done to accomplish their dream. I really wanted to help them become better off, so we helped them finish and furnish their dream hospital. Today, the Ebony Hospital stands as a miracle near the shores of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
The doctors Ekwem were aggressive, passionate, and persistent in pursuit of their self-interests. They wanted to see their hospital become a reality.Today they are better off, and hundreds of patients are alive and not dead, and thousands more are healthier. All are better off. But I implore the cultural levelers to never bash my friends as “greedy” and assign them to their contrived category of “selfish.” Acting in one’s self-interests is not the same as being selfish. Making good choices that serve one’s best interests is different from greed.