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Why Business Is Never Just Business
While there’s much that could be said about last night’s Presidential Debate, the thread that’s most pulling at me today is about Donald Trump’s dismissal of Hillary Clinton’s points regarding how he’s treated people who have worked for him and haven’t gotten paid.
Setting the truth of the points aside, Trump’s main defense about the way he treats people he does business with is that “it’s business” or “it’s just business.”
Business interactions are never “just business” because business interactions are human interactions. (Tweet this.) Business interactions create some different contexts, but those contexts are within the realm of human interactions and thus fall under the realm of ethics. That business ethics is a special category of ethics is something that’s harder to defend than you might think.
It’s the “it’s just business” ideology that has gotten us into ecological, economic, and social calamities, as it creates an easy justification for people to do whatever’s in only their interests if it can create more profit. Business can uplift people, preserve the planet, and advance virtuous purposes, but “it’s just business” creates an easy out for us -- the phrase almost always makes lying, cheating, stealing, or killing seem acceptable or palatable, but it never makes it any less wrong.
It’s true that being in business requires decisions and actions that are unique to the business context, but all of those decisions and actions still carry with them the basic requirement of compassion, honesty, fairness, and so on that cover all other interactions. Take firing someone, for example: it being a necessity of business doesn’t mean that any way of carrying it out is the same. You can fire someone while treating them well or you can fire someone while being a scoundrel. The latter is not the bar.
While it would be easy to make this about Trump, this is instead about us and what we accept. If you’re on the deciding end of the deal, be honest with yourself about what’s going on when “it’s just business” is something you’re using to justify your decision or action. And if you’re on the receiving end of a bad “it’s just business” deal, don’t excuse the person’s behavior and cover over the fact that you’ve been treated wrongly. It’s never just business. It’s business plus the way we should treat each other.