By Suma Varughese
Substitute the profit motive with the service motive in the economy. This means we still do what we want to do, but we do it to serve society and not make money
One of my hobbyhorses, I confess, is to figure out the right economic system for our country. Communism and capitalism have both been shown up for what they are. Communism went against the very cornerstone of human nature when it attempted topdown personal transformation. The ends—focusing on the larger good, each giving to society according to his ability and taking from society according to his needs—are noble and praiseworthy; the means, however, were deplorable. Power was concentrated in the state, and the individual deprived of any. But society cannot transform the individual; it is the individual who can transform society. By negating the individual, it negated its own success.
Capitalism is still a going concern but surely every thinking individual will have already questioned its rapacious destruction of the environment and of the individual by generating and fulfilling an endless amount of desires. Capitalism is purely dominated by the profit motive. This is an amoral motive, which allows you to throw people out, to swallow smaller companies, to send your toxic waste into Third World countries, to patent nature’s bounty, to overprice your product, to destroy the environment, and so on.
As spiritual masters and teachers have also emphasized, we cannot afford to live like this any more. The futile chase after material possessions has reduced us to nervous wrecks, rubbished our values and self-esteem and destroyed relationships. Human society has never been in so much turmoil as in the present moment, and although all of it cannot be attributed to economics, much of it is. We need a system that uses the best of capitalism without the dangers of it. We need capitalism’s free enterprise and communism’s noble ends.
So here’s what. Substitute the profit motive with the service motive. What this means, in effect, is that we still do what we want to do, but we do it to serve society and not to make money. I have noticed time and again that no one works as hard as sevaks do. The efficient and orderly functioning of ashrams is a testimony to the power of the service motive.
I have just returned from a weekend at a spiritual center resonating with a sense of seva. The occasion was a seminar attended by philosophy lecturers from across the country and we were taken care of with a real sense of love. Early morning the sevaks would wake us up with bed tea and later light a wood fire to heat water in an old-fashioned boiler. Until all of us had had our baths, one or two of them would stay with us, swapping life stories and experiences. There were sevaks to cook, serve food, to wash up and sevaks to give us spiritual counsel. The hours were long and the work was arduous, but there was an unfaltering smile on all their faces. Why? Love for the guru, explained one.
If this sense of service to humanity as a way of serving God can be inculcated in all of us, what a radical shift we would witness in the way the world conducts its work life. If government servants, for instance, could be infused with this spirit, what would they not do for the country? Instead of looking for bribes and favors, they would look to serve the public by creating laws that help not hinder, by implement projects and works that would look after the poor and create an efficient infrastructure. Licenses and permits would be ours for the asking so long as our motives are pure. Focusing on the larger good, they would unfalteringly do their job regardless of the political pressures upon them.
One can even dream that the service spirit would overtake politicians too. What a sunrise we would witness in our political destiny! No more naked manipulations for power and money; no exploitation of vote banks or the use of religion to win elections. Every decision would be based on the common good and not on personal gain. The welfare of the lowest strata of society would be the focal point for that would then push up welfare for everyone.
Teachers focused on the welfare of their wards would attempt to provide education that built character and not just garner marks at the SSC. Companies would produce goods that fulfill genuine needs and not wants. What is more, the price would be pegged at the lowest possible cost, instead of today’s cynical tendency to soak the market for all it has got. I can go on and on, but you get the picture. What’s the catch? A big one. For us to substitute the service motive for the profit motive, we must evolve sufficiently. The government cannot force us to do this, as communism has proved. We must want to do it. This is one transformation that has to start at the grassroots level. With you and me.
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