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The 4 Freedoms of Business

Business is about more than profit. It should be an embodiment of principles of freedom.
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The concept of freedom is deeply rooted in the foundation of the US. While we haven't always honored the concept perfectly--we spent hundreds of years enslaving some people, destroying those who were here before us, and discriminating against the religions of others in the name of our own liberty of belief--over time, something like true freedom began to take root. Blood spilled became sanctification for the principle that people have an inherent right to stand upright and be free.

All those barrels of red became the ink writing across a collective Book of Life. We would forget, but again remember when times were darkest. Brave souls would renew our vows; the country would try harder. In 1941, at a terrible time in the history of the world, Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke of the four essential human freedoms that must become the basis of a modern world. Artist Norman Rockwell would create a series of paintings: icons of a civil religion. Let us review the essence of the message:

  • Freedom of speech and expression
  • Freedom of worship
  • Freedom from want
  • Freedom from fear

At a time when we remember our national birth, it is proper to pay tribute to these freedoms and find new ways to express them. To apply them to business seems at first trite. And yet, commerce is the stuff of our everyday lives. The principles that underlie the republic should not be mere symbols annually trotted out and then packed away in a closet. In an age where powerful forces want corporations to have the rights of people, because they are ultimately nothing more than collections of individuals, they need to embrace the responsibilities and duties those freedoms demand. What better way to honor those freedoms than to let them fuel everything that we do, including business?

So let us restate and renew each of these freedoms and turn the work of the entrepreneur into that of the patriot and warrior-citizen. Let us remember and practice these four freedoms.

Freedom of speech and expression

All people, everywhere in the world, should have freedom to express themselves. For a business, with this freedom comes the duty to speak responsibly. Make the points that are true, stand up for what is right. Do not twist and manipulate this dearly won right to hypnotize the public for our own ends. Refrain from flattery and support of those who are more powerful to curry favor.

Freedom of worship

Hold fast to what you believe and use principle to guide your actions. At the same time, remember that others have the same right. Do not force someone to bend a knee and worship at the altar you favor.

Freedom from want

Work to grow and make prosperous your company, but remember that, truly, no one accomplishes everything without help. An uncountable list of ancestors, whether of blood or spirit, built the foundation on which you move ahead. Remember that workers and customers all have their own needs as well. Honor their efforts and let them realize a share of what they have helped make possible.

Freedom from fear

Fiercely compete, but resolve never to terrorize others. Do your best, even when most people think the way impassible. When you break ground, let others know that they can follow without fear of retribution. If regulations are daunting, do not cower and complain that the market is too hard. Find a way to move forward and become greater than before.

Be brave and true. Stand for what is right and help others do the same. What you profit will be so much more than figures in a ledger.

Last updated: Jul 3, 2014

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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