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Friday, March 18, 2011

The Trap by Ross A. Martinek

I have a friend who is a “small business person.” I happened to remark to her that I have a profound antipathy toward the business mentality. “I don’t like business people,” I said.

She immediately asked, “Do you like me?”

My reply was a very definite, “Yes, I do.”

“Well, I’m a business person.”

As the exchange concluded, she made the distinction between a business person and a corporation person—a distinction I had not really made until she brought it up. This caused me to consider the distinction, and especially why I did not make it. The answer is what I will call, “The Trap.” Corporations are a symptom of The Trap—they fell into it so long ago they have forgotten everything except the essence of The Trap.

Most small business people don’t have that attitude when they start. Almost all small business people that I have ever known fall into The Trap to some extent, and the bait is endemic to our species.

There are two myths shared to some extent by all human societies of which I am aware, and I’m aware of most of them. These myths are called “safety” and “security.” Neither exists, ever has, nor ever will. More primitive societies, or rather, those less technologically advanced than ours, are generally more aware of these two myths as such. Yet all humans, of whatever type, desire to be completely safe and secure—even though attaining this is significantly less likely than attaining physical immortality. The lure of these two myths is so great that even those who never allow themselves to feel safe or secure still desire and seek the maximum amount they can attain—even if they don’t quite believe in it.

This desire appears to be “hard wired” into human consciousness, probably to a greater degree than sexual desire. So there is no escaping the desire. To make matters worse, in our current society, the two are constantly hyped and promised by those who have power and money. They are selling an illusion. The so-called Department of Homeland Security is, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, “a fraud of monstrous size.”

These two myths are most of the bait in the trap. The rest is their opposite, insecurity. Human beings are also hard wired to be insecure. Those selling the illusion of safety and security constantly play on our natural and healthy, absolutely instinctive feeling of insecurity.

When a small business person starts their business, they are trying to succeed against the odds, and they often know it. Their goal is the relative safety and security of a successful, prosperous business, usually involving something they enjoy, at least to some extent. They start in debt or with a large investment of their own capital, or both. They want to produce a good product of which they can take pride. They are under enormous psychological and financial stress, both professionally and personally. Indeed, at this stage, there is all too little distinction between personal and professional concerns. The work is hard, the hours long, and even with success, it is often a nearly hand to mouth existence for years.
In that time, the quest for some degree of security and safety can become an obsession, because it seems always out of reach, and never much closer. For most of our species’ history, we have been conditioned to expect bad, unforeseen things to happen. Good things may happen—nice when they do, but they won’t cause harm. It isn’t important to think about, or even remember them. But if bad things can be anticipated, perhaps some way of avoiding them may be found.

In business, this doesn’t mean doing what you love. It means getting well paid for doing what you love. And because the “getting paid” part is the only one that will generate safety and security, it becomes the most important. It becomes obsessive, because small companies generally don’t have deep pockets. One big client lost, one lawsuit, or even a small economic downturn can be terminal. The small business owners, and often some of their employees, are constantly aware of this. Living in constant fear is unhealthy and very unpleasant. The apparent and simplest solution: make more money.

Eventually, this can, and too often does, become: make more money by any means legally possible. At that point, regardless of size, the small business has become the corporation. It is no longer in business to make a profit by producing a product or service of value to others. It is now in business solely to make money.

What was that line about “the root of all evil”?

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