Taylor Gray, Ph.D.
The world is a better place when companies are good corporate citizens. I remain focused on developing meaningful and actionable insights from empirical data in pursuit of a better world.
We hear a lot about progress. The promise of progress; the need for progress; the ability of one politician or another to deliver progress; and so on...But we seldom hear anyone actually define progress.
"Progress is the trajectory from the world as it is to the world as we would like it to be."
We sometimes hear one person’s vision of progress, and this one vision may be presented in such grandiose terms and fashions that we are expected to believe that this vision is itself the definition of progress. Other times we encounter groups, organizations, or political parties which integrate the word ‘progress’ (or some derivative, such as ‘progressive’) into their own names--typically in efforts to have us believe that to support them is to support progress. Clearly, progress, even just the implicit narrative of progress, is powerful, but what is it?
Progress is a fundamental interest at Motive. We belief that the world is a better place when companies are good corporate citizens and that consumer demand is the most important force in driving companies to become better corporate citizens (a worldview we know as Democratic Capitalism).
Contributing to making the world better certainly fits in the narrative of progress--and this is where we draw our definition of the concept. At Motive, progress is the trajectory from the world as it is to the world as we would like it to be.
Progress Through Change
The world is always changing--society itself is a project in change--but change is not always linear nor purposeful. Change can lead to chaos, devolution, unanticipated developments, or it can be managed, influenced, and guided to lead to that which we desire. Progress is change, but not all change is progress.
In this sense, the key to progress is not in catalyzing change but rather in managing change. If we are to manage change, then it helps to know what we are managing it toward. For change to be progress, we must know the world as we would like it to be.
"There is no objective reality to the concept of ‘better’, and hence there is no objective reality to progress."
Here is the tricky part about progress. My ideas of a better world may share certain attributes with your ideas, but we are unlikely to share the exact same ideas. Conceptualizing a better world is a highly personal endeavor. My past, my exposures, my adventures, my education, my readings, my understandings, my biases, my feelings, my friends and loved ones, my rationalities, and my irrationalities all shape my vision of a better world, just as yours do for you.
There is no objective reality to the concept of ‘better’, and hence there is no objective reality to progress. Consider globalization from the 1990s to today. Some may view the spreading of manufacturing jobs away from the USA as a boon for the economic opportunities for all peoples throughout the world, and hence as progress. Others may view this same development as a disadvantage for American national economic development, social disruption, and national security and resiliency, and hence not as progress. Both are right, but the positions are mutually exclusive and each person in this example must prioritize one facet of this development above the other.
Or consider free tuition for post-secondary education. The idea of free college and university for all is heralded by some as a significant step toward levelling economic inequality yet by others as a dangerous step toward exacerbating economic inequality, while others believe the debate about college tuition misses the mark entirely. For some, progress involves free college tuition for all, for others it involves market-based tuitions supported by financial-need consideration applicable to all, and for others the nature of college tuitions is a moot point in the pursuit of progress.
"How you define progress is shaped by what you care about, and what you care about is shaped by your ethics."
Your Values Shape Progress
Your vision of a better world and how to get from here to there is highly personal. We may all be able to join in agreement on certain broad strokes toward a better world, but only you can define progress for yourself in any degree of detail. How you define progress is shaped by what you care about, and what you care about is shaped by your ethics...which are shaped by morals...which are shaped by your values.
- Values are intrinsic. Values are an internal system of fundamental beliefs which guide your understanding of yourself and the world. Values are typically normative in that they inform how you believe you should act and how things should be in the world.
- Morals are closely related to values yet differ in one very important element. Morals are also fundamental beliefs which guide your understanding of yourself and of the world. Morals are also typically normative. Yet whereas values are intrinsic, morals are extrinsic. Morals are taught. Morals can be thought of as a set of crowd-sourced values. These are the values which are generally agreed upon to be ‘good’ and, in turn, codified and taught so as to be adopted by all. Whereas values are shaped by yourself, morals are shaped by the collective. For many of us, and for most of the time, our values and morals align and so we experience little distinction between values and morals. But we do all, at some point in our lives, experience the distinction--and you will know it whenever you say “I know this is wrong, but I just feel I like I need to do this” (or some variation of this sentiment). This is when your intrinsic values have pulled you astray from the extrinsic morals.
- Ethics, in turn, are our morals and values in action. Morals and values are typically normative in that they shape how we think things should be. When our actions align with our morals and values--when we act to transition from what should be to what actually is--we are behaving ethically.
Each and every one of us has a set of values. Each and every one of us is influenced by morals. Each and every one of us makes choices every day, and each choice is an opportunity to act ethically or not. Clearly, each and every one of us has the power to define progress.
Having values is not the same as knowing our values. To better understand your own values, and how these may shape your understanding of progress, ask yourself a few simple questions: What do I care about? Why do these issues feel important to me? Do my past actions and decisions align with what I said I care about--if not, should I change my actions or reconsider my answers to the first question? These questions seem simple in structure but are likely to lead to long periods of introspection. There are plenty of introductory resources to guide your introspection (see here, here, and here).
"As powerful as the concept of progress may be, there is no progress without you."
You Are Progress; Progress is You
I can share my views of what a better world would be. I can tell you what I believe progress to be. But only you can decide if you agree with me, if you share these same opinions, understandings, and visions, and if we are acting from a shared set of values and morals.
As powerful as the concept of progress may be, there is no progress without you. What you care about matters. Your values and morals, and how these guide your decisions and actions--or your ethics--matter. Not only does what you care about matter, but rather what you care about is instrumental to progress.
At Motive, we are committed to making the world better...but we do not pretend to be able to tell you what ‘better’ is. Progress is a fundamental interest at Motive. We define progress as the trajectory from the world as it is to the world as we would like it to be...but we do not pretend to be able to tell you how it should be.
Our commitment to progress is in our ability to provide you with the credible information you need to be able to align your decisions with your values. The world is always changing and we believe we can all contribute to directing this change toward progress, rather than chaos, when we are empowered with credible information to support our decisions.
Each of us can contribute to progress by exploring our values, morals, and ethics, defining what we care about, and engaging the credible information we need to act accordingly.
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