Perhaps the most essential key to happiness is to find meaning in our lives.
What’s meaningful depends on who each of us is as a person. Some find meaning in their families, others in their work, others by bearing the burdens of life with courage, and others find it in spiritual and artistic pursuits.
Meaning comes from being a good human and doing our best to improve the world.
A once largely forgotten collection of lectures by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl was released in English in 2020 with the title Yes to Life: In Spite of Everything. In it, Frankl discusses the challenges he faced in life and the inevitable challenges we all face, and why he believes we should say yes to life. Living with meaning is central to his message.
So why do we idolize people who live a destructive and meaningless existence?
It’s hard to think of anyone who seemed to contribute less to the well-being of the world than former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. Yet Welch was very influential in the world of business. His legacy is best summarized by David Gelles, author of The Man Who Broke Capitalism: How Jack Welch Gutted the Heartland and Crushed the Soul of Corporate America: “I use Welchism as a term to describe … (the) toxic mix of an aggressive, materialistic style of management that prioritizes short-term profits above all else at any cost and uses the tools of downsizing, deal-making and financialization to make good on that absolutely single-minded quest to make profits for investors. That … was really the hallmark of his (Jack Welch’s) entire career.”
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As we deal with increasing interest rates, obscene wages for CEOs, high inflation, looming world hunger and political unrest, many look to the seeds of destruction planted by Welch. He built a house of cards that’s collapsing as we speak.
Yet many people continue to idolize Welch. Former American president Donald Trump was a great admirer and copied many of Welch’s tactics as he built his business empire. Today, we’re gaining a clearer picture of Trump through the Jan. 6 hearings. We learn about a controlling manipulator raging as he loses his grip on the world he created, a man who can’t cope with his internal sense of meaninglessness.
This has nothing to do with generating wealth. Stephen Covey, for example, built his Franklin-Covey publishing empire by simply teaching people, especially business leaders, how to be good humans through his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People resources.
The issue also has nothing to do with capitalism. Creativity, economic risk, and providing the world with good products and services need to be rewarded. Being an ethical businessperson is a very meaningful existence.
Perhaps part of the problem is that we’re mesmerized by wealth and fame. When we see a person with a private jet or an expensive yacht, wouldn’t it be reasonable to ask, “Why do you think you need that? Can’t you just enjoy a nice meal at home with your family and friends?”
Reportedly, Welch’s protegee and successor at General Electric, Jeff Immelt, not only had a private jet but also had a second jet follow the one he was on in case it broke down. I don’t think a person with this extreme insecurity would be comfortable answering such questions.
Life is a gift, and the quest for meaning is the most important journey we will ever experience. The answer always comes in leaving a legacy of goodness, but how we establish that legacy is unique for every one of us.
Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.
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