By Alan Louis, PhD (Commerce)
What is SEPA?
SEPA is the acronym I have given to the gracious human emotions collectively referred to as sympathy, empathy, pity and altruism. The former terms are separately defined by Szalavitz & Perry in their book “Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential – and Endangered”:
“When you empathize with someone, you try to see and feel the world from his or her perspective. Your primary feelings are more related to the other person’s situation than your own. But when you sympathize, while you understand what others are going through, you don’t necessarily feel it yourself right now, though you may be moved to help nonetheless. Pity – or feeling sorry for someone – similarly captures this idea of recognizing another’s pain without simultaneously experiencing a sense of it oneself. With empathy, however, you feel the other person’s pain. You’re feeling sorry ‘with’ them, not just ‘for’ them.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines altruism as “selfless concern for the well-being of others.”
Altruism as a Duty in Commerce
Selflessness or altruism is the practice of concern for the welfare of others. It is a traditional virtue in many cultures and a core aspect of various religious traditions, though the notion of others, beneficiaries of such concern, varies among cultures and religions. This quality is the opposite of selfishness.
Altruism is distinctly different than simple feelings like duty and loyalty. It is the motivation to provide something of value to someone other than one’s self, expecting nothing in return, while duty strictly focuses on a moral obligation to a particular individual or group.
In combination, the SEPA qualities mesh to become grace in its finest form. Grace is able to walk in another person’s shoes and reach out to bless that person, and to be blessed in return. Can you imagine the outcome if grace were added to commerce, the world would be a far different and kinder place to live.
The Failure of Grace in Commerce
The failure to cultivate grace in commerce may one day lead to a society where nobody wants to live – a cold, violent, chaotic, and terrifying world where there is no warmth, only animosity and alienation. In commerce, grace is a very rare and precious commodity. Grace is the clean air we now need to breathe in the polluted marketplace. If I could design a bumper sticker it would say: “Never leave home without a measure of grace in your heart” – and by this I mean ours will become a sad and destitute civilization until we elevate grace to ‘treasure’ status.
Consider the feeling of nostalgia many of us get remembering how our parents and grandparents lived, with far more grace, in spite of low incomes and few material possessions. At the time of the Great Depression, desperate unemployed men often walked or hopped trains, going from town to town, seeking work, and when there was none, they knocked on the doors of the locals to ask for food. Most were willing to give hungry strangers a bite to eat. What about now—do we even open our doors to strangers?
Kindness inherent in SEPA
Commercial practices really all boil down to a lack of kindness. Kindness, like empathy, is to have compassion and understanding for someone else’s plight. Kindness reaches out to help someone else – not merely to make itself look good, but from a genuine compassion for a fellow human-being.
I recall an unkind commercial deed when an attorney I once used invited me for a welcome lunch after spending over $1 million in fees with his firm, only to charge me an additional $1,500 for the time he took to enjoy lunch with me (but to his credit I nearly fell off my chair when he offered to pay $80 for the lunch).
Robert Burns, a Scottish poet was correct: “[It is] the heart benevolent and kind that most resembles God.” It was once said that one kind act will teach more love of God than a thousand sermons. The kindest are those who forgive and forget.
The Lust Motive in Commerce
Consider the wisdom of Proverbs 11:23-24: “The desire of the righteous is only good, but the expectation of the wicked is wrath. There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, But it leads to poverty.”
The lust for profit has become celebrated amongst business people as a virtue. Unfortunately, such an atmosphere makes it much more difficult for benevolent business people to succeed.
Ironically, this selfish profit motive is intrinsically at odds with the requirements of any moral code. If the business community is to sustain itself over the long haul, it must make an effort to bring into balance business profits and moral compassion.