April 20, 2005

Tobias Delivers 'Last Lecture'

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“Doing Well and Doing Good: Can one be successful and make a better world?” was the question posed by Prof. Donald Tobias, policy analysis and management, in a speech yesterday in HEC auditorium.

The talk was a part of the “Last Lecture” series held by the Mortar Board, a national honor society for students who have distinguished ability in scholarship and leadership. The lecture series gives professors to speak to students as though this was their last opportunity. “I like to think that people come into this world with a sack of stuff over their shoulders, and the journey of life is about meeting people and opening up [their] bag of stuff and trading,” Tobias said.

This philosophy, part of Tobias’ Interactive Paradigm, which expresses the importance of mutual benefit through cooperation and trade, is the key to “doing well and doing good.” The Interactive Paradigm is the third of Tobias’ Three Paradigms that hinder our ability to do good and do well.

The Individual Deficiency Paradigm, the second of the three, describes the human fault of focusing on the deficiencies or bad qualities of others instead of seeing the benefits that an individual can offer. The paradigm emphasizes a need for cooperation and sense of community.

“Many people think of community as the underpinning of the idea of doing good; people work best in groups,” Tobias said. This idea of interdependency is the key to understanding and overcoming the individual deficiency paradigm.

Interdependency can be applied to success in business, as well. What Tobias calls pragmatic business centers around the idea that people should integrate personal values with business values, and requires congruence between people’s needs and their own.

The Social Dysfunctional Paradigm explains the fault in criticizing various organizations, governments or other sources of power by failing to take an active role in changing them. Tobias, currently the director of the Community and Rural Development Institute, shared his own difficulties with finding a career which would allow him to both succeed financially and make charitable contributions to others, a difficulty which caused him to switch from job to job.

“You cannot feel entirely satisfied until you start to get equity in a relationship” whether it be business, or community. Success, therefore, is “not necessarily about picking the right job.”

Many students abide by the philosophy that working hard helps one acquire more opportunities. Tobias, however, believes that more choices are a “curse.” Given enough time, we could do many things, and have many choices, but doing good and doing well depend on how we see opportunities, and not necessarily how many we have.

According to Tobias, philanthropy has become something that some do simply because it has been encouraged by society. Today, 89 percent of households in the United Sates make charitable donations, and 44 percent of the population engages in volunteer activity which accounts for approximately $228 billion in volunteer time.

Success lies in doing well and doing good. If given the opportunity to express famous last words to Cornellians, Tobias’s would be “lead with your heart, not your degree.”

Archived article by Sanika Kulkarni
Sun Contributor