I have been giving this some thought recently. Cognitive Dissonance is the term used to describe mental discomfort that results from holding two or more conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. That mental discomfort can lead to confusion, apathy and indecisiveness and negative attitudes such as, ‘what’s the point’! Attitudes that are disastrous when you have organisational responsibility whether you are top of the leadership chain or in line management.
No one would doubt that individually and in business we are in a time of crisis. We, our families and organisations are faced with existential threats on all fronts; Covid, war, inflation, the cost of living crisis, climate change etc. I would argue a key element of surviving crisis is ‘purpose’. Having a personal and business purpose provides the framework for objective success to survive when others may falter. Today, many are faced with a complex set of value based decisions that create internal conflict i.e. cognitive dissonance. Bringing it close to home and the work of Business against Poverty, our members are faced with a number of difficult choices when it comes to charitable giving; do I give less to charity and build up my financial reserves in this time of difficulty? Should I give to UK poverty causes focusing on our own after all it is significant and growing? How much should I give and to who, what difference will it make? More than any time this century our very sense of being human is effected by the war in Ukraine, our mortality is threatened by disease, our childrens’ future by climate change. Well the good news is that a certain amount of optimism, clarity on organisational and personal values and a clear sense of ‘purpose’, reduces cognitive dissonance, sharpens thinking and supports the building of goals that can be shared by your business and your personal community. Such existential relationships supports well-being: life and business has to have meaning.
Victor Frankl was a holocaust survivor and psychologist whose work had a great impact on me. For Frankl, meaning came from three possible sources: purposeful work, love, and courage in the face of difficulty. His lasting contribution has been to the field of psychology, with his recognition of meaning as a factor in mental health and his advocacy that the psychologist’s role was to help others find meaning. His birth in this field was through his observations in the concentration camps where he noticed that those who shared their meagre rations with those that were dying of disease and hunger had an increased probability of survival. Such survivors didn’t store food for the future; they existed on just enough to sustain life in order to keep others alive. This was their purpose through the atrocities that sucked out the life of so many.
In the previous two years like no other, we at Business against Poverty and our charity People against Poverty have been faced, almost on a continuous basis, with the struggle of survival and who to support as we moved from one crisis to another. Our fellow human beings having been faced with financial meltdown, climate change crisis, famine, disease and war. There have been times when we have been overwhelmed but what has kept us going is a clear sense of our purpose a purpose shared by our supporters. There is little doubt that those Company leaders who share our sense of purpose are more likely to survive and create value than those that don’t.
Contribution by Bill Huxley, Founder Business against Poverty, Trustee