Southwestern @ Georgetown
Volume 17 • Number 3
Paying Attention to Principles

In his popular book, Halftime, Bob Buford reminds us that while some part of life might be spent concentrating on the discipline of acquisition, a full and rich life must also move at some point toward the joy that comes from living a life of significance.

I believe we live a life of significance when we move beyond selfish desires and become people whose values and actions align with tenets basic to nearly every religion, when we become people whose “values and actions encourage contributions toward the well-being of humanity.”

From our earliest days as a nation, we have placed a high value on ethical behavior and philanthropy, realizing that contributions to the commonweal make life better for all. The agrarian communities of early 19th-century America demonstrated the vitality of giving time and again. Every year in these small communities, a similar scenario was repeated. A new family would move to the village with the hope of building a new and better life. Neighbors would help the newcomers get their first crops planted, help them build their barn, and find other ways to support them while the new family worked toward becoming self-sufficient. This type of ethical behavior and generosity was the rule, not the exception. According to Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, published in 1835, this strong sense of philanthropy (love of humankind) was America’s most distinctive quality.

We encourage our students to be concerned with social margins as well as profit margins.

Now, as a nation, we find ourselves facing monumental decisions. We face decisions that not only affect the economic balance that impinges on nations, continents, races and individuals, but also on the health and sustainability of the delicate little rock we call Earth. Unfortunately, the track record of most nations so challenged is none too promising. Perhaps we lack the ethical fortitude of our forebears, or maybe we’re not paying enough attention to some important principles.

Economically, if we want people to have the basic ingredients for a life lived in the pursuit of happiness, then we must pay wages that afford them that opportunity. Socially, the affluent must be more concerned with giving than getting and earnestly cultivate a culture of philanthropy. Warren Buffet’s recent announcement to grant $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for education and global health provides a striking example of the philanthropic leadership we desperately need. Though few can give on such a grand scale, each and every one of us can—and should—serve as advocates and agents for the well-being of humanity.

Higher education also has its role to play. Economics and business taught without an ethical orientation is not only wrong-headed, but also totally irresponsible in a world desperate for business leaders who care about something more than maximizing profits. It befalls us to ensure that future CEOs and business leaders develop a strong sense of social, as well as fiduciary, responsibility. At Southwestern, which has a very strong program in business and economics, we encourage our students to understand business strategies as a way of contributing to the common good, to be concerned with social margins as well as profit margins.

The bottom line at Southwestern is that we care that our graduates do well, but we care more that they do good.

— Jake B. Schrum '68
President, Southwestern University