"Eventually, too you must come to believe that life is worth the living." Julie and Ethel Rosenburg June 1953
So, ask yourself "what is the point of me". Go on, take five minutes, put down this piece and really ask. It's not a comfortable question. Is it? It creeps up on me when my three year old asks "Daddy what do you do" and when my five year old asks me "why, Daddy". It will still be with me when I draw my last breath. It was the same for Julie and Ethel Rosenburg. They betrayed their country, out of conviction, and were allowed just a handful of words, in a letter, to explain the "why?" to their eight and 10 year old sons, before their execution left their children orphans. What did I do? Was it right? Did it matter?
Last month Jo Cox's husband said she would not have regretted a single day. What stood out in all the eulogies was her sense of purpose - a life lived well, with meaning. It shone brightly against the backdrop of a bitter struggle over Europe. One that seemed to entirely miss the big questions around humanity, society and purpose. A re-run of old debates on economics, isolationism and where we draw the borders. Questions of process and the how - not the what and the why.
Before he too was taken Bobby Kennedy put the economics in context in one of my favourite speeches - "It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."
Back in the UK, our Government is currently asking another big question away from the EU debate. It's a less well publicised consultation on Mission-led Business. No one has noticed but it's really quite important. It asks questions about business and what its purpose is; Milton Friedman says it exists to maximise shareholder return, pure and simple - the economic argument; others might say it exists to provide work and, of course, Freud pretty much said that there's love and work and nothing else, so isn't that good enough? Well, I'm not sure Freud thought mere mechanistic toil was any more worthy than Marx thought it was. Increasingly people seem to want more and it's not money they want more of. The consultation is running because people are asking the question I started with - of themselves, the places they shop and the companies they do businesses with. It seems people only want to work for businesses with purpose and integrity and everyone wants to drink fair trade coffee. So, the CEOs are starting to ask the question too - in a world where staff, customers and, dare I say it, shareholders, increasingly want to feel a sense of purpose, is shareholder return enough?
Whatever Europe I wake up in each day, I will carry on asking and being asked the question - what was the purpose? Do you really mean it or is it just hollow words? Was the day lived good enough? We will ask the same question at my work each day and with luck we will again start to ask the same questions of and in Government.
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