The Opposite of Idiot

By Nathan Havey

The origin of the word “idiot” comes from ancient the Greek ἰδιώτης, or idiōtēs. The term did not originally have the sharply negative connotation of contemporary usage. An idiot in Athenian democracy was someone characterized by self-centeredness, concerned almost exclusively with private gain as opposed to public prosperity. Idiocy was considered to be the natural state of ignorance into which all persons were born. Only by awakening to see the connectedness of things and by therefore engaging in the work of building and improving Greek society could a person become the opposite of an idiot: a citizen.

If you are holding a copy of Conscious Company Magazine, you probably recognize the responsibility business has for creating value for its many stakeholders (and not just its shareholders). You can see how doing business that way contributes to and strengthens our society. But how do you measure up against the Greek standard of citizenship?

As the 114th Congress gavels into session in Washington, DC, it does so with an abysmally low approval rating. Gridlock and a feeling that the system is rigged have contributed to a crisis of faith in the U.S. political process. In many state legislatures, the situation is little better. The voice of business is uniquely powerful in American politics, but most business people make little if any time to participate.

It is an oft-cited observation that democracies elect the representatives they deserve. Decades of dwindling participation and domination of the conversation by self-serving, short-sighted business interests are largely responsible for creating the system as it is today. While it is very tempting to disengage completely, doing so is exactly what ails us.

In general, we allow our chambers of commerce and professional associations to advocate on our behalf, but these groups are still largely dominated by, well, idiots (in the Greek sense). They overwhelmingly advocate for their narrow and immediate self-interest, remaining blind to the collateral damage in their wake. If we are to create a paradigm shift toward conscious business in America, we must bring Washington along with us. But to do so, we must all raise the bar for ourselves to grow fully into our citizenship.

Elsewhere in the pages of this magazine, there is an article by David Levine and Richard Eidlin of the American Sustainable Business Council. Already more than 200,000 members strong, the ASBC is the leading voice of conscious companies in Washington, and its influence in state governments is growing across the country. The ASBC is a great example of an organization doing the work that must be done, but it is only as effective as its members are active.

It is not enough to be a member of our associations. We must become active participants. We must wade through the long emails from our legislative and government affairs representatives within those associations, and raise our voices to effect organizational positions and eventually state and federal policy. We must tell our stories and share our values in the media, with our elected representatives, and with our trade associations. We must ask our colleagues to follow our lead.

Ascendant is the idea that business exists to achieve the broadest possible prosperity for society as a whole. This publication is only the latest evidence that a transformation in global business is well underway. Yet, public policy in the United States lags far behind most of the developed world on this score. Unless we can continue our own awakening and catalyze a parallel transformation of our political system, our elected representatives will hinder our progress. All that is required to change this reality and accelerate our progress is for you to accept your responsibility and use your power as a citizen.


Nathan Havey founded Thrive Consulting Group in 2012 to help make conscious business the new business as usual. In the past two years, more than 30 organizations across 15 states have hired the Thrive team to help refine their purpose and create a program to achieve it. Nathan believes that conscious companies will create the world we all want to live in. Nathan is an active member of the American Sustainable Business Council and has participated in building several chapters of Conscious Capitalism. He is a regular speaker and trainer on organizing companies around a purpose beyond profit. More at www.ThriveConsultingGroup.com

This article appeared in Issue 1 | Winter 2015

To see more articles like this, including the full cover story on John Mackey, exciting features on Jay Coen Gilbert, Southwest Airlines, New Belgium Brewery and more - purchase Issue 1 of Conscious Company Magazine online!

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