I learned a new word this week. While Webster identifies its first known use in 1616 in the context of “doing or producing good”, other sources date it back to the early 1400s. Most likely, I have encountered this word before. However, I heard it applied this week in the context of New Canvas Advising and how we work with our clients.
We approach their business challenges without preconceived solutions, without judgement, and in a friendly spirit of collaboration, enablement, and transformative change.
The word is—beneficent. It is doing good or causing good to be done, conferring benefits, kindly in action or purpose. It is not kindly as in never feeling bad, never telling the truth, never confronting difficulty or danger; rather kindly in action taken, kindly in words spoken, kindly in intent. It is a rich philosophy of ethics that guides medical treatment and clinical research.
It is also, and perhaps at its essence, observed in nature and the creatures around us; even crowing creatures, like Moses and Winston Churchill…my first roosters.
Beneficent in New Contexts
A rooster? Beneficent? Grown men and women are afraid of roosters. Men with machinery and tools bigger than they are working on my house or yard will ask with trepidation, “is the rooster friendly?” “Can he get out?” I can see in their eyes a memory, like this one from my childhood.
Shrieks of terror are coming from the back yard. Running to the window, I see our rooster chasing my mother. She is running backward, then darting forward…apron and hair flying, jousting with the rooster, her “sword” a wooden cutting board. Who knew my mother could fence? I laughed until I cried, but only until she made it back into the safety of the house. If one cannot help laughing at one’s parents, it is best to not get caught.
Roosters really are the least threatening of all creatures, unless protecting their hens and chicks. They are at the bottom of the food chain, comprised mostly of bravado, noise, and feathers. Yet their instincts compel them to engage predators far bigger than they to protect those more vulnerable. They do not stop to consider their own pain or mortality. Winston Churchill gave his life this way as he protected his flock from a coyote. It is written greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. This type of beneficence isn’t soft. Its kindness is made of sterner stuff.
Moses, my 11-pound boy who crowed from his roost at 3am competing with the morning trains, was also beneficent. This was sweetly evident during blueberry season. As I held a handful of blueberries, Moses took them, one by one, and fed a berry to each hen. Often, they jumped and snatched the blueberry out of his beak. He did not eat a single berry until each hen had at least one, then he would eat the last one.
Beneficence in Team Interactions
As we observe these exquisite instincts evident in nature, there is much to consider in how we apply these concepts to our interactions with each other and our teams. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in The Principle of Beneficence in Applied Ethics,
“the term beneficence connotes acts of mercy, kindness, and charity. It is suggestive of altruism, love, humanity, and promoting the good of others…a normative statement of a moral obligation to act for the others’ benefit, helping them to further their important and legitimate interests, often by preventing or removing possible harm…” However, Tom Beauchamp and Jim Childress caution these principles can lead to paternalism (Husson University, 2009) and, therefore need to be applied with autonomy, justice and nonmaleficence.
Beneficence is at the core of New Canvas Advising values and our unique approach to working with our clients. Ancient principles based on observations of nature (even the humblest of birds), scientific study, and thoughtful debate have modern relevance and provide a tested and sure foundation that guides our approach. It is how we seek to treat each client – with kindness, generosity, truth. Always respecting client heritage, individuality and choice, it is surfacing and focusing your expertise that enables problem-solving, growth and reaching your business objectives. It is offering transformative change.
And, while embracing the courage of Winston, we will, like Moses, always share our blueberries.