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Reflections: Who is my neighbor?

Who is my neighbor: A global perspective
Part 3: A path to revival, not recovery
By Margaret Edgell

For the reasons given in parts one and two, I believe, along with Christian sociopolitical analyst Jim Wallis, that Christian revival, not economic recovery, is the best path to economic health. Wallis points out that recovery would mean going back to business as usual. In my view, in order to develop a healthy, sustainable economy, we need instead a resurgence of core values. This needs to happen most in the context of the professions.

A professional is educated and trained in the standards of the profession. Business schools began as a professional project to inculcate standards of behavior that bring respect to those in the business profession and to weed out the cheats and charlatans.5 An industry peopled with professionals can regulate itself and thus avoid government regulation. But business schools set aside the professionalism project in the 1980s, when managers generally came to be viewed simply as fiduciary agents legally obligated to serve primarily the interests of stockholders.6

Two colleagues from the Netherlands and I seek a renewed professional project in higher education, including in business schools. Our main goal is to inculcate the values of each profession by mentoring students to reflect deeply on what kind of values they will bring to their work. Mentors also act as role models of desirable professional behavior. The impact of role models is exemplified by Warren Buffet signing up billionaires to give 50 percent or more of their wealth to philanthropic causes as a response to this Great Recession. These billionaires are pushing back at our general tendency to seek ever more financial security.

I have personally observed the seeds of renewal in, of all places, the economically embattled Midwest. I have listened to parents in Grand Rapids, Mich., explain to their little ones the necessity of polite behavior. This may be the product of ethnic heritage or, perhaps, of the common expectations of the Midwest Bible Belt. Research in moral development reveals that values are taught by parents and are merely honed in higher education. At institutions like Calvin College we can mentor students (who already have high religiosity) into the business world and also recommend them personally to employers. My greatest hope for the future of our economy lies in the employee who believes that not only do his parents care about his behavior, but that his community does as well. Most importantly, he does not want to break communion with the God who sees all behaviors, even when no one else is watching. I seek to recommend such students to the top jobs in finance and financial policy.

Questions for reflection:

  • What are the moral standards of your calling? How did you learn them? How will you pass them on?
  • Do Christian values and beliefs make a difference in how you perform your vocation? How did you learn them? How will you pass them on?

—Margaret Edgell, Associate Professor of Business, Calvin College

5 R. Khurana, From Higher Aims to Hired Hands (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007).
6 Ibid.

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