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Hope for the New Year: Touching the Walls on Both Sides

As we approached 2013, I sent a note to colleagues and friends. Realizing how many of us in our larger community keep in touch in these group settings, and how central hope is to everything we ethics and compliance folks do every day of the year, I thought I’d share it here.

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I write to offer my best wishes for the new year; my hope that you and all of those you love stay happy and healthy and make good progress on your respective journeys.

Journeys, something we talk a lot about around the shop here, are themselves about hope. The hope involved is not a matter of believing that you will get to a particular end point, just that it makes sense to try; that maybe journeying is the only thing that makes sense. As Vaclav Havel put it, “Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope . . . is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good.” (From Disturbing the Peace, 1986.) Barbara Kingsolver said it rather more poetically: “The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. . . . running down its hallway and touching the walls on both sides.” (From Animal Dreams, 1990.)

Hope in this sense seems to me the most fundamentally human of motive forces; the most beautiful. Maybe as powerful as fear or hunger or desire, and certainly more elegant.

Still, in the business world, hope is much maligned. In my view it ought not to be, particularly if our “business lives” and the businesses within which we spend them are meant to have some lasting, positive impact on our world. As my colleague Dov Seidman put it recently, “There is an old business cliché that hope is not a strategy. It is an expression usually used to belittle someone and to exhort him or her to deliver a linear plan. But inspirational leaders understand that without hope, there is no strategy. When we lose hope, we retreat into ourselves. When we are inspired by hope, we lean into the world and can collaborate with others to take on great challenges. Hope is thus fundamental to our ability to forge healthy interdependencies and strive together.” (Dov’s piece, “Not Business as Usual” looks at how businesses need to focus on their engagement with customers and employees if society is to prosper. It appears in the winter edition of the Journal of the RSA, which you can see here, or on our blog here.)

The journeys we’re on are fueled by nothing more substantial than hope; that’s what fires the effort behind every step and the vision to choose a direction. It is, as Dov suggests, what encourages and enables us to strive together. Me, I’m hoping that in the year ahead I can live under hope’s roof and run down its hallways, and that I can lean a little farther into the world. I’ll see you out there.

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Topics: Journeys