Bono on Business

“New York, New York, New York
New York, New York, New York”

It’s hard not to hear Bono and his band singing their song, walking through the streets of New York. So many people—“Irish, Italians, Jews and Hispanics, religious nuts, political fanatics” –from so many places, each one with longings and loves trying to make sense of life.

At our best we are pilgrims, whether our streets are New York or Los Angeles, Charlottesvile or Shafter. We dream and we hope, we pray and we work, wondering what the day will bring, what our lives will mean. Did we get it right? Have we seen clearly? Clayfooted as we are, none of us ever do, completely. That is even true of Bono.

This past week Forbes told a story of a recent conference where Bono said that it is “‘a humbling thing for me’ to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who ‘got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.’”

“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”

On the train home from New York, after a weekend with a group of people who together are committed to the renewing of the world, each a visionary for vocations of every kind—whether in the worlds of banking and finance, in the arts and politics, in the church and the academy, or as entrepreneurs who pour themselves out in pursuit of dreams for the marketplaces of this world –I found myself thinking of Bono’s acknowledgement that he is still learning about the world and his place in it.

Long one of my heroes, always a pilgrim, Bono is finding his way into a richer vision of vocation. Musician he is, even a rock star. But he has given years now to pressing the politicians of the world to care about Africa, which has been very important work. Advocacy matters, speaking with passion and persistence about things that are important for the way the world turns out. But business matters too—not because business is itself a good, but that business born of habits of heart that are true and right is critical for the common good. One of the streets of New York, Wall Street, is iconic for many reasons, but of late it is more known for doing business for the worst of reasons, unmitigated, short-sighted greed, and when that happens, everyone in the whole world suffers.

With a deepening maturity, Bono now sees that the “biggest killer disease of them all is corruption. It kills more kids than AIDs, TB and malaria. Right now in Africa we spend time with groups in civil society, with groups who are using technology to inform themselves better on what governments are doing and holding them to account.”

http://www.forbes.com/sites/parmyolson/2012/10/22/bonos-humbling-realizations-about-aid-capitalism-and-nerds/

What we believe about the world shapes the way we live in the world, and that has consequence for the world, for blessing and for curse. Faith always forms vocation which always forms culture. That is as true for materialists as it is for Maoists, as true for Hindus as it is for Christians.

I think it might have been a grace for Bono to have listened in on our conversation at the Center for Faith and Work, still learning as he is. Formed by his own deep and honest faith, his instincts are right, seeing his vocation this way, “I write songs. I just hope that when the day is done, I’ve been able to tear a corner off of the darkness.” Words to live by, really, for all of us. They are as true for musicians and their music as they are for people whose businesses nourish the common good– and they are as true on the streets of New York as on the streets of Nairobi.

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  • I especially like this idea: “business born of habits of heart that are true and right is critical for the common good.”

    Isn’t that true of all vocations? When our work is born out of habits based in truth and righteousness, it will be good work. Truth and righteousness are pretty big words, though. Maybe we can change those to something more attainable like integrity and brotherly love? If we live and work with integrity, that will lead to truth. If we live and work with brotherly love, that will include righteousness.

    I always appreciate your thoughts, Steve!

  • Jay Kroeker

    Very encouraging article Steve. Perhaps Bono will, along with his “enlightened” status on capitalism, he will seek truth enough, to find that God is the source of those principles of good. He is indeed a truth seeker.