A Difference Of Perspective

150dishclothWhen I was a kid, my mother used to tell me not to clean anything else in the house with the cloth we used to wash the dishes. Why not? Well, that cloth comes into contact with the plates we eat off so we don't want to contaminate it with dirt from the outside world.

I was recently informed by someone else that I shouldn't clean anything else in the house with the dishwashing cloth because ... wait for it, the cloth is contaminated with food waste, and any other surface it comes into contact with will get a sheen of bacteria-attracting organic gunk.

So who is right? Which way does the contamination go?

I think that, as with most things, it would be a mistake to argue that one particular viewpoint is correct. They are both valid, and they are also both merely opinions. Until someone actually researches this properly, we just don't know.

This all came into my mind a few days ago when I was invited to visit my local Hare Krishna temple and, in the spirit of open-minded enquiry, I accepted. Pretty soon, I found myself sitting with a bunch of serious but smiling people who were devotedly singing a mantra in praise of the god Krishna - who also happens to be us, so they were also praising and loving each other and themselves. All harmless stuff.

400harekrishnaThen it was time for the lesson, at which point I quickly got pretty pissed off. The message of the sermon was basically that business is all about making money at any cost to society and the environment, and we should all surrender ourselves to Krishna instead. Well, that's not how I do business. Whatever you may say about corporate America, most of the entrepreneurs I know are focused on serving customers - providing them with something they need and want.

So I looked around at the tea brewing in the corner thanks to global supply chains, and the warm clothing provided by factories, and the mobile phones created by business people, and all the other trappings of the modern capitalist world. And I wondered where people like me fit into the world picture being presented. I was being offered a choice between exploiting others, and living in a cave with people who disapprove of antibiotics and computers.

Self-sufficiency is great, in theory. But even if you can make everything you need for yourself, you can consume fewer resources to get the same stuff by engaging in trade. Specialisation and exchange are the foundation of business, and they are what distinguishes us from most other life. Human beings have engaged in trade for hundreds of thousands of years, as long as we have been recognisable as a distinct species, and that's far longer than we have been sitting around in temples complaining about "the other."

This is my problem. When you create an either/or situation, you're forcing people into categories they may not belong in. It seems to me to be an incredibly closed-minded way of seeing the world - and it's coming from people who are telling me to open my mind. 

Well, I'm the guy sitting in your temple listening to what you have to say. Why don't you come to an entrepreneur meeting, and hear an alternative point of view to your own? Then we'll see which way the infection travels! Until then, you're just the guy lecturing me about dishcloths without ever taking the trouble to find out what is actually going on.