Public life must turn business to the common good, conference hears

Washington D.C., Oct 4, 2018 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Human dignity and the common good are the essential aims of work, attendees heard at the 2018 Principled Entrepreneurship conference in Washington, D.C. The three-day conference is being cosponsored by the Catholic University of America’s Busch School of Business and the Napa Institute.

The conference, which is organized around the theme of the Dignity of Work, opened Oct. 3 with Mass at the Cathedral of St. Matthew celebrated by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In his homily to attendees, Cardinal Müller outlined the essential question facing the conference.

“The question is–how to organize public life, the basis of democracy, to turn business for the common good?”

This, Müller said, is the Catholic Church’s social doctrine, which preaches the dignity of all people as created in the image of God.

The cardinal also warned against defining people by arbitrary categories, stressing the Church’s teachings on social justice underscores that all nations are one family under God. Similarly, he said, the principle of solidarity links communion to common endeavor and that while the terms “liberal” and “conservative” are common in politics, they do not belong as descriptors for ecclesiastical life.

“It is important to use the correct categories,” said Müller. “There is no ‘conservative baptism,’” he said, or conservative or liberal belief in the Triune God.

All people need to use their God-given gifts for the common good, the cardinal said, and this common good looks towards life after death, not just their life on earth.

Similar themes were developed during the afternoon sessions of the conference, held at the Museum of the Bible.

Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and 2016 contender for the Republican presidential nomination, drew from her own experiences as she spoke on the subject of work and spirituality.

Fiorina told the conference that she was taught “what you make of yourself is your gift to God,” but that as a child she did not feel as though she had any particular gifts or talents.

She told the crowd that she came to realize that “regardless of circumstances, we’re capable and dignified” and that with this common dignity comes a mutual obligation, saying that everyone needs somebody to “lift us up, help us out.”

A person should not be judged by their circumstances, said Fiorina, reiterating the universal dignity of work and that “none of us is better than any other,” regardless of what their job may be. Everyone, said Fiorina, should be respected for their work, not their position.

Fiorina also spoke about her work with Opportunity International, an organization which provides microfinance loans to people in developing communities.

Recalling a trip to the impoverished outskirts of New Delhi, Fiorina said that it was there that she realized the true impact of the project, and the importance of having a job.

“I saw 10 women–they were all women–I saw 10 women who had pride in their faces, and hope in their eyes,” she said. “They were determined. They sat, erect.”

The women, she said, went on to explain to her that in their circumstances starting a business would have been beyond their ability to realize, but thanks to the microfinance program their situation had changed.

Linking the concepts of entrepreneurship and empowerment, Fiorina said that programs like Opportunity emphasized respect as well as financial support. “What they had done was look each of those women in the eye and say ‘you have value. You can live a life of dignity and purpose and meaning.’”

Echoing Cardinal Müller’s emphasis on the communion of a common humanity over other distinctions, Fiorina said “none of us as human souls are defined by the circumstances in which we find ourselves.”

The conference continues through Friday Oct. 5.

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