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Monday, September 17, 2012

Strategic CSR - Luck and responsibility

One of the best graduation addresses from last year was made by Michael Lewis, who writes extensively (and well) about the financial industry. Lewis gave the graduation address at Princeton in June. A YouTube video of the speech, which is well-worth watching, can be seen at:

Lewis was then interviewed on the PBS Newshour ( to explain in more detail why he focused on the main issue that he did—luck and responsibility:

If you are coming out of an Ivy League school today, you are encouraged to believe that you are very special. You have passed through all these very fine filters that society has created and you’ve got this road ahead of you that is deserved and earned and I guess that I do think that it is very easy for the people sitting in those seats to forget that they’re lucky, that there is a huge amount of chance in life and accident plays a very big role in life and they ought to dwell on that for a minute, they ought to dwell on how fortunate they are. … I do think there has been this idea sucked out of society and culture, an idea that used to be pretty robust and that is the idea of noblesse oblige—the idea that to whom much is given, much is expected from. ... There is baked into [life] an awful lot of luck and when you realize that, how do you respond to that? And I think the way to respond to that is with a kind of update of the sentiment of noblesse oblige, that you were the one who chance paid this visit upon, there were others who didn’t have that kind of luck, you owe them something. Think about that, think about the responsibility of being lucky.

Lewis’ message is notable, I think, for two reasons: First, because he told a group of students (who, by definition, have been successful most of their lives) that there is a lot more to their success than their individual abilities; and, second, that the recognition and acceptance of this knowledge carries a responsibility towards those who have been less lucky.

While, in the PBS interview, he was pushed to be more specific about how these students might repay their luck and avoided a direct answer, I think the specifics are less important. All individuals who feel a responsibility fulfill that responsibility in idiosyncratic ways. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” or something to that effect! J

Take care

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