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by Margot Kassmann
Monday, Dec. 15, 2008 at 7:22 PM
Having money is not reprehensible. But thinking I am an achiever and make my life myself is incompatible with the Christian faith. Productivity is a grace or gift. The pressure to perform is brutal. Many are in such a hamster wheel they no longer reflect about the meaning of the whole and the shortness of their life.
MAKING PROFITS AND NOT DISMISSING WORKERS
The regional bishop of Hanover, Margot Kassmann, on the mentality of greed and what investment bankers could learn from the Apostle Paul
[This interview published in: sueddeutsche.de, 11/24/2008 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.sueddeutsche.de/wirtschaft/162/448894/text/print.html.]
[The dignity of a person is not defined by his or her job, says Margot Kassmann, the regional bishop of Hanover. Focusing only on profit is irresponsible. For the theologian, the inner attitude is central whether one is a cleaner or manager. Everyone must accept responsibility for his or her works and use his or her powers so the world becomes somewhat better.]
SZ: Ms. Kassmann, when was the last time a manager asked you for advice?
Margot Kassmann: Advice? Not directly. But I was invited to two businesses to give addresses. This surprised me. There was a time when it was said everything comes from the economy, the market regulates itself and the church has nothing to say to us.
SZ: Assume a manager or entrepreneur comes to you who wrestles with dismissing workers. What would you counsel him?
Kassmann: I would say transparency and credibility are important for everyone. I would encourage him to take responsibility – even if it turns out at the end that it wasn’t the most profitable course.
SZ: Is dismissing workers morally defensible?
Kassmann: Not if someone makes a profit.
SZ: Must a businessman wait until he writes in red numbers?
Kassmann: Exactly. Making a profit and discharging workers is contradictory. Businesses have a social responsibility.
SZ: You are strict.
Kassmann: Yes. Someone once came to me who wanted to move his factory to the Ukraine because it is cheaper there.
SZ: That would be good for people in the Ukraine.
Kassmann: Yes. But I said to him, you want your family home and yet you transfer to the Ukraine. People live here. You profit from free schools and can go to any hospital. The streets are redeveloped. Then you invest elsewhere and do not pay taxes here any more. That violates solidarity.
SZ: If an investment banker would come to you who previously earned millions and now is jobless. Would you have understanding for him?
Kassmann: I am a pastor. I would say to him what the Apostle Paul said: Be joyful in hope, patient in distress and persevering in prayer.
SZ: So he could begin something.
Kassmann: The dignity of a person is not defined by his job. For me the successful entrepreneur has the same worth as the dying old man. But I would say to him: Look around now. How will you find work? If he can deal with money, he could become a debt counselor for example. There are so many people in distress. Why not do something social? Elites have a special responsibility.
SZ: Are we mired in this crisis because our elites failed?
Kassmann: “Failure” and “elites” are big words. I think this mentality of greed is unsuited for the future. Elites are not the only afflicted ones. This bargain-hunter mentality or egomania exists in the whole country.
SZ: The case of the Oldenburg regional church that speculated with Lehman securities was well publicized. This was certainly not egomania but arose from the desire to do something Christian with money.
Kassmann: The notion that money works is absurd.
SZ: Are we all responsible for the crisis?
Kassmann: Obviously elites have a special responsibility. They have to be very credible and reliable. An inner attitude that says I will honor the trust many people have in me is part of that responsibility.
SZ: Can they also earn millions?
Kassmann: I am not against anyone earning great sums of money. An envy society is not compatible with the ninth and tenth commandments. They say: you should not constantly covet what another has. Still these exorbitant sums cannot be justified with works. The sense of proportion is lost. As a bishop, I see so much poverty, people who cannot think of a way out. Then there is this superabundance leading to conceitedness, an exaggerated opinion of oneself.
SZ: Jesus said a camel could pass through an eye of a needle before a rich man enters heaven.
Kassmann: Having money in itself is not reprehensible from Jesus’ perspective. But thinking I am an achiever and make my life myself is incompatible with the Christian faith. Productivity is a grace or gift.
SZ: What one does with this power is crucial.
Kassmann: Exactly. There are many engaged entrepreneurs that establish foundations and are benefactors with their money. This is free enterprise in the best evangelical sense. In Lower Saxony we have a strong middle class. There are often people who have a strong vocational ethos, as Martin Luther demanded. They pursue their vocation; they do not merely do a job.
SZ: Aren’t they more often entrepreneurs than managers?
Kassmann: The inner attitude to their task is always crucial, whether as a cleaner or manager. Whoever has such an attitude does not bend over for bribe money. Someone only interested in profit is irresponsible.
SZ: As a leader, what was the greatest dilemma that you faced?
Kassmann: We had to lower our budget 80 million euro in the last four years…
SZ: What are the qualities of a good leader?
Kassmann: Openness, credibility and communicativeness. I must look a co-worker in the eye when I bring bad news. I must be able to admit when I fail.
SZ: This quality is not very widespread.
Kassmann: The pressure to perform is brutal. Many are in such a hamster wheel they no longer reflect about the meaning of the whole and the shortness of their life. For some time we have offered a monastery stay for managers.
SZ: Is there a power search for meaning after the power breakfast?
Kassmann: True spirituality is not a wellness-spirituality. True spirituality does not help improve performance but reflects on the goals in life. What should be on our gravestones?
SZ: Can you give an example?
Kassmann: We have a program called Altera where managers spend a week in a charitable institution. When decision-makers work in a hospice, they learn that the people there also have a dignity.
SZ: Is there anything good about the financial crisis?
Kassmann: Some discovered a new respect for politics. Politics must dominate the economy, not the other way around.
SZ: What produces this trust in politics?
Kassmann: Politics is strongly anchored in the reality of people because there are elections every few years.
SZ: Managers must be responsible to their shareholders in ever-shorter time periods.
Kassmann: Yes, but when shareholders are only concerned with profits and not for example how a business deals with its workers and what it makes, society as a whole is not improved.
SZ: Does the politician know how to create jobs?
Kassmann: Not unconditionally. But he or she often encounters people who are jobless. The managers who are high above have no idea about real life outside.
SZ: What needs to change?
Kassmann: The consciousness that I have to engage myself must grow. In America, for example, engagement is manifest in the school reports of children. Many things can change when everyone takes responsibility for the fabric holding us together, for the local context, for the country, Europe and the world.
“Believing Without Seeing” by Margot Kassmann
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