Gluttony, greed, lust not the ingredients for principled organization
“Temperance and labor are the two best physicians of man; labor sharpens the appetite, and temperance prevents from indulging to excess.”
-- Jean-Jaques Rosseau
You’ll recall that last time, we catalogued the perils of pride and envy in the pursuit of business success, but alas, we’ve barely dented the list of Seven Deadly Sins.
During this economic tumult, we’ve seen excesses like never before in our lifetimes ... excessive credit card and mortgage debt, inflated housing prices, financial malfeasance, Ponzi schemes, egregious compensation plans and much more. It’s no surprise, then, that three of these seven misdeeds are offenses of excess in various incarnations.
Gluttony appears on the list and is defined as the “inordinate desire to consume more than you require,” which originated with concerns for wasting food in the midst of poverty. Thomas Aquinas, a medieval religious thinker, even identified six ways to commit gluttony, including consuming too much, too soon, too eagerly or too expressively – maybe the perfect expression of the runaway consumer spending that brought our economy to its knees.
“Qu'ils mangent de la brioche,” famously translated as “Let them eat cake,” is arguably attributed to Marie Antoinette on the eve of the French Revolution, hailing the ignominious end to another age of excess.
Gluttony is also understood to extend beyond the consumption of food and drink to an excess of anything, e.g., toys, TV or tennis rackets, I suppose. One variation is demanding too much from people, “an excessive desire for other people’s time or presence.” In this sputtering economy, where everyone is expected to do more with less, the relentless push for more can be both exhausting and enervating to our team members.
Usually, this occurs because we haven’t set clear expectations, making it hard to tell when anyone’s work is done, particularly when it seems to come from an endless stockpile of to-do items. If the work never ends, it’s easy to continually demand more.
Yet, there’s a limit to the level of effort we can sustain, even from a strong and loyal work force. When we recognize that gluttony is a sin against the virtue of temperance, we’re reminded that an even-handed approach energizes greater productivity than the relentless pace of “do more.”
Greed is differentiated from its spiritual cousin of gluttony by its focus on material wealth rather than consumption. Gordon Gekko in the landmark 1987 movie, "Wall Street," infamously claimed that “greed is good”. (BTW, Oliver Stone is already filming WS2.) The litany of recent events in the financial marketplace, however, validates for many the painful results of that imperative.
The traditional punishment for greed is being boiled in oil, but even a luxurious bath essence won’t spare the party guilty against the virtue of generosity. Most of us can identify individuals, and even companies, that we consider generous even if their bounty is not overwhelming. It’s a reflection of their attitude, I think, a deep-seated commitment to fairly share the wealth among all members of their corporate family.
In a widely reported move to advance the financial security of all of its employee families, Ben and Jerry’s in 1990 established a 5:1 compensation differential between the top and bottom of the organization. While their anti-establishment culture might be too exacting for some, it reinforces the spirit of generosity that is the cultural bedrock of many successful companies.