Business and Kindness
Updated: Oct 19
I recently came across the below quote making its rounds on social media:
“If you’re helping someone and expecting something in return, you are doing business, not kindness.”
There is both wisdom and danger in this one sentence. Let’s start with the wisdom.
Yes, it is good to help people. And yes, in many situations we should help because we are kind, not because we are expecting something in return. So far so good.
Had the quote instead said, “Helping someone and not expecting anything in return is a genuine form of kindness”, there wouldn’t have been any need for me to write anything further.
But for some reason the quote writer is dragging business into this. And because there are so many recent attacks and/or denials about the good that business does, I get a bit defensive when I see business dragged into something that will be interpreted by many as a negative connotation.
If the quote had only said, “If you’re helping someone and expecting something in return, you are doing business,” then that would be accurate. Although it would be a strange way to say things, it does admit that business involves “helping someone.” It’s the “business, not kindness” part that creates a problem. It implies that “business” and “kindness” are opposite things.
When used as an adjective, Merriam Webster defines “kind” as “of a sympathetic or helpful nature…affectionate, loving.” Certainly, these are things that can and should be aspects of a properly run business. And businesses can be kind and helpful while also expecting payment from those it serves. The most prominent success trait of an entrepreneur is the ability to anticipate a pain or need in the community and then to create a business that solves that pain or meets that need. This sounds sympathetic and helpful and kind to me.
It isn’t the expectation of payment that suddenly makes the whole operation become unkind. The expectation of payment makes the business sustainable so that it can continue to serve the needs of its community. It would be an exploitation of customers or employees that would make the operation become unkind. But that would not be a properly run business.
So maybe there is a better way to get the point across. It isn’t as eloquent and doesn’t fit as well in a meme, but perhaps it would be better to say, “While properly run small businesses help their communities by creating solutions to solve the needs of those around them, there are times when we are all called to help someone without any expectation of anything in return."