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Address to the American Society of Corporate Secretaries

Text of the address presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Corporate Secretaries at Hot Springs, Virginia, June 7,1957.

Mr. President, office holders and members of the American Society of Corporate Secretaries, ladies and gentlemen: I must first of all thank the Society for the very kind invitation in response to which I am standing here today. When Mr. Loomis, Mr. Case and Mr. Young met me in New York, and gave me a specimen of their most persuasive methods, it did not take me long to decide to accept the invitation because of the human warmth which accompanied it. I had no idea then that there was anything useful that I could say to you, nor do I confess I have any such idea as yet. This, in spite of Mr. Loomis' very flattering description of me, is my first experience of corporate secretaries at close quarters. In fact, never before in my life have I been surrounded by so many corporate secretaries per square inch as in the last two or three days. And although, in spite of my best efforts, I cannot say that in this short time I have acquired very deep knowledge of your functions, your mission, and your method of work, I must say that in my little experience of the business world, especially on this side of the Atlantic, I have never met a group of men who were less "ulcer-prone" than yours. The good cheer and geniality which you have manifested during the last two or three days have only been second to the charm of your own gracious ladies. In this morning's very interesting speech, Mr. Stryker aphoristically declared that one who thinks two and two is five and feels ecstatically happy about it is a psychotic; and that one who thinks two and two makes four and feels nervous is a neurotic. May I dare to add to his definitions and say that one who feels that two and two is four and thinks it's rather fun, is a corporate secretary. As to the ladies, I must pay them a separate tribute. During these two or three days, Nature has been kind to me; for the fact that it has been raining heavily, which put limits on their outdoor activities made their company more accessible to me than, I fear, it might have been otherwise. For which I thank both them and Nature, and my good fortune.

When Mr. Loomis, Mr. Case and Mr. Young saw me in New York and described to me the composition and aims of your Society, I had very grave doubts as to whether I could add even a little bit to your own rich experience of your work and purposes. I have little knowledge of it except as a distant layman - one who has mostly looked upon business as part of the general panorama of life. But I thought that considering the important place you occupy in a country of expanding economy like America, the situation in which 1957 finds the world, and the situation as far as we can foresee it, in which our children and grand-children will find the world, perhaps I might attempt to convey to you some of the pangs and longings felt by the rest of the world which are embodied in the ideals and the hopes that inspire the conception of the United Nations. Thus, perhaps, I might hope to deepen and intensify some of the urges that are natural to business leaders, and also awaken some which may be lying dormant.

First then, as to the United Nations. What is the United Nations? It is very difficult for one who is not really professionally interested in it, who is, shall we say, an average newspaper reader, not to be occasionally bewildered by the day-to-day news that he reads about it, and fail sometimes to grasp its identity. The phrase, United Nations is, more often than not, used in an imprecise and even casual manner. To some people it means the United Nations Secretariat of which I, for example, am one of the lesser luminaries. They would buttonhole one of us and say, "Why don't you do something about this, that or the other?" – what ever happens to be agitating their minds at the time. Others may think that the United Nations (which consists, as you know, of eighty-one members) is the other eighty nations. And why don't they do something about "it"? If the United Nations sometimes attempts to take action about certain situations, a different type of person would ask whether this meant that the United Nations was now to override the national sovereignty of his nation. In other words, the United Nations is accused, on the one hand, of attempting to be too big for its boots, and, on the other, of not being able to do enough. It is sometimes identified with the Secretariat, at others with the entire body of membership, and yet at others with anyone group within the United Nations which might happen to arouse one's admiration or disapproval at the time.

Leave alone the details. Let us get to the fundamental ideas behind the United Nations. And not merely the ideas that the politicians might give us. For, these ideas have been developed and cherished by statesmen and governments at their level, by the political thinkers at theirs, and by the common man and woman in the light of their own aspirations.

After the war, you will recall, there was a phase of concord amongst the victorious allies. Had the United Nations not come into existence then, when there was comparative harmony and amity amongst the allies, it would have taken, as we know in the light of later developments, quite a while before the idea of a Parliament of Man could have taken concrete shape. To the political scientist it meant a step forward in orderly international procedure. To the war-weary common man and woman it meant a simple thing: "I hope that my son or my father or my sweetheart will now no more be killed senselessly by the sword."

And so each lent it his own beliefs and the colour of his own experience and his own desires. Even today United Nations means ten things to ten different people. And by the time I have finished, perhaps you and I may have come to some understanding as to what it might mean to people like yourselves among whom may be found world-leaders of the future.

The fundamental idea of the United Nations is the idea of consultation, the idea of a parliament. Not a legislative body - the United Nations enacts no laws. It has no machinery for enforcement; it cannot command or commandeer; it cannot rely on being able to punish. It has no built-in process of implementing its decisions as a court of law in a national state has. Every single member of the United Nations, so says the Charter, is an equal and sovereign member.

It is the idea of the parliament which all member nations share, namely, that differences shall be discussed, not fought out. It was a great day for mankind when it dawned upon it that disputes could be talked out. It is, as you know, at the root of all democracy that matters shall be discussed. Not that all the decisions are bound to be right; not that there shall be perfect agreement, but that there should be full discussion. This was a great step forward in the progress of man, and when this advance was sought to be applied, not merely to individuals in a community or a nation, but to the national states in the world and their relations with each other, it was a very bold and imaginative conception. Its implementation will limp, it will creep, but the idea has been born, and I think it will now never die.

Round the idea are certain ideals that cling to it like flowers to a twig. Some of them might die, some of them might grow into big flowers; some of them might be pale and feeble, but they are on this twig. The first idea, the first ideal which is attached to this system of consultation is that there shall be no war.

You know how the Charter of the United Nations opens with the determined pledge to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, "which twice in our life-time has brought untold sorrow to mankind"; because if war is a possibility, no thought of human advancement, no planning of human welfare makes sense. And this is much more so today than it was fifteen or twenty years ago. You know that in June 1955 the members of the United Nations (which were then 60) met in San Francisco. This was not the General Assembly meeting formally; it was the members of the United Nations meeting informally to deliberate the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Charter. I don't know whether anyone of you happened to be in San Francisco at the time. The town was gay and happy. People were only too willing to celebrate a universal idea that had survived ten years of strain. Some of us were afraid that this occasion might mean no more than an orgy of self-congratulation. What use would that be to anybody? Human affairs are not to be appraised in that Pollyannish manner. True enough the meeting did start in a self-congratulatory atmosphere. But as it went on, a sober note began to creep in. Someone complained of some of the failings of the United Nations, which started a whole series of complaints. This looked as if we might move to the other end of the scale, painting United Nations as the villain of history, a useless, expensive instrument which secured neither peace nor justice. This too passed; for at the end a certain balance was achieved, and a unanimous resolution was passed. I do not wish to name all the divergent countries that are represented in the United Nations, and the vast gulfs and chasms that separate them. You know them as well as I do. But in spite of that, there was enough agreement in realistic appraisal. The resolution stressed the idea that in the year 1955 (this was two years ago) international cooperation, international coordination was far from being a luxury; that with engines and instruments of war that have been developed and are being developed, the only alternative to international cooperation was mutual annihilation; that war and death, once let loose now would know no bounds. This great, sober truth, unanimously declared by people who knew more than most of us about the sinister potentialities of the armaments that are being built, was indeed a great pronouncement. And I think - I hope - there is no one in the world today, except he be in an angry, unbalanced mood, who thinks that large-scale killing will or can solve any of the world problems.

In some of the files of old newspapers published in my part of the world, which one day I looked up out of curiosity, I was horrified to find that the two world wars were headlined, not as wars with Germany, or between ABC and XYZ; they were headlined as the "Civil War of Europe", "The Suicidal War of Western Civilization". Now I (and there are many like me) hold Western culture and civilization to be great sources of inspiration and enlightenment to mankind both in the past and the future. There are many in the world like me who have learned a great deal from the great minds of the West. Suddenly to be confronted with the idea that all this progress, all this culture, could lead to annihilation, that it could end in bloodshed and destruction, is extremely depressing.

To abjure war, to abjure the use of force except in the common interest, should be our first ideal. I do not wish to belabour it. If I have spoken a little longer on this topic than I need have done, it is because I feel a little more passionately about it than I do about many other things.

Another significant ideal is the ideal of self-determination; that peoples should be masters in their own home, and foreign domination and exploitation should be abolished. But this is accompanied by conditions that people sometime tend to forget. Respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination, says the Charter, should be the basis for developing friendly relations among nations. In other words, peoples who are not masters of their destiny should both exercise and be given that right in such a way that thereby we promote concord, not sow hatred. But if the establishment of this ideal means destruction, material and moral, and makes enemies of peoples rather than friends, then its real purpose has not been served. One of the great prides of a free man is to stand with dignity on a piece of earth and say, "This is my land." And when he is deprived of this, his frustration is very great indeed. There are some people in the world today who are still deprived of this dignity. It is a thousand pities if this leads to bloodshed. Here then is our dilemma, that although self-determination ought to promote friendship among nations, the struggle for it seems to lead to bloodshed and destruction and hate. Surely, there must be a solution to that. Surely, this problem could not be beyond human ingenuity and a solution of it must be found. Your nation, which has been through that struggle and values human rights, could, I am sure, make great contributions towards the orderly realization of the freedom and independence of peoples.

Yet another ideal is the social and economic development of the world. I do not have to tell you that one of the great causes of strife has been the appalling economic disequilibrium that exists in the world. It is something which should give us deeply to think, that, whereas in some parts of the world people's per capita income should be $1,500, and in other parts of the world it should be $900; that in certain other parts it should be no more than $50 to $60. There is no accusation lurking in my remarks. One cannot accuse history. One can find villains in history for one's momentary satisfaction, but history is the result of the collective wisdom or foolishness of the whole of mankind, especially today. We know why Africa and Asia are backward - because for two or three centuries during which America and Europe have been developing their technological techniques and reaping the fruit of their endeavour, research, enquiry and enterprise, the people of these continents, owing to the vagaries of history, were either under domination or were in one of the troughs of the wave of history, and were stagnant. But that is past. They are awake now, these vast millions. Terrifying vast millions, for there is something frightening and something terribly depressing in millions being poor; in millions of people dying like flies.

And when some Asian countries which I know became free, their best minds asked themselves, "Why are we poor?" And they said we are poor because our land does not produce much. We don't get enough to eat. Why does it not produce enough? Partly because our peasants more than half the year are ill with malaria and can't work. How can they be made well? We, of course, will have to have hospitals. And where will the hospitals come from? We have to train doctors. And how will we get the,' training? We have to have schools. So do we start with education? Yes. Also, we need chemical fertilizers. Then do we start with industry? Yes. And what about education of the masses? That, too. They did not know whether to begin with education, with health, with industrialization, with technical education, with bringing more land under the plow, or with simple drumming up of national enthusiasm. And they came to the conclusion that it did not matter what they did; they had to do something. They had to start somewhere.

And so began the earnest search for plans. And suppose my country wishes to plan to mechanize agriculture. Where is it to get the machines from? Let us say, it gets them from a highly developed country like America. How is it to pay for them? The only way it can pay is if your economy keeps on expanding and we keep on earning foreign exchange. So, our prosperity and your prosperity meet in the end. They do not meet at the same level; the two arms are not of equal length, but they meet somewhere. Today in the world you cannot for long divide either prosperity or poverty.

Furthermore, when a nation moves from an agricultural civilization (such as most of the countries in the East are trying to do) to an industrial civilization, or seeks to do so, the change in its mental orientation, in its outlook, in its economy, even in the daily habits of its people, has to be about as great as the change that must have come over communities when passing from the stone age to the agricultural age. That too is a problem not a problem for this or that country alone but a problem for all of us to ponder.

These are some of the functions, purposes, principles, ideals and problems of the United Nations as I conceive them, and as I wished to present them to you. I agree that not all the governments, not all the government representatives all the time sit in the United Nations with this idea of international cooperation in the forefront of their minds, but this is the thought, the faith, with which you and I and millions of people want to invest it. If you look upon it like this, the United Nations becomes a great universal religion; a "church" for all of us to pray in. And no matter what your views on the day-to-day march of events might be, as long as you are praying to the same God of Liberty, of Freedom, of Social Equality, of Justice and of Peace, you are promoting the deeper urges and ideals of the United Nations. Such faith, I warn you, would occasionally be put to severe tests. For everyone of the eighty-one member nations does take pride in its national sovereignty and would consider it somewhat feeble if it did not proclaim it as often as it felt necessary.

And now, may I turn to this group, to the wiring system of American economy of which you represent some of the important nerve centers. I do not know much about it, but one has to be extremely ignorant not to know the following things about American business leadership.

First, that the American business leadership takes intense pride in enterprise and in organization. Call it management if you like, although you can cover a whole range of activities by the one term: organization. Your great task in the world has been, first of all, to dig things out of the air, the sea and the earth, and then to manipulate them so that human beings should be able to use them for their comfort and welfare. But there is one other element which infuses and inspires business leadership in America, which, to my mind, is, in a sense, unique. In every community, leadership comes from a certain group of people. We have known civilizations in which the leadership came from the intellectual class, others in which it came from the priests or warriors. In a great part of Asia, leadership, in the past, came from the feudal landlords. In Europe, too, for a long time it came from the feudal aristocracy. In the United States, however, community leadership derives from a variety of levels, but unlike other parts of the world, or at least more so than anywhere else, business leadership plays a very important role. I do not know of any business leader of importance who does not consider it a matter of pride, almost a matter of duty, to take part in the civic activities around him, on a local, state, or national level. Not as a useful device for promoting public relations, not as a method of advertisement, but as a mission which occupies an elevated position in his mind. I was very much struck by some of the most penetrating remarks made by Mr. Stryker this morning, how, for example, at a certain stage, a good executive's drive passes beyond the motives of self-interest. It has been one of the strangest phenomena of the business world that, in the United States, a very large number of people, although obviously actuated by a profit motive, nevertheless have transcended, time and again, to a sphere much larger than the sphere of profit making. There is, it seems, a certain mystique in the American business world which makes this possible. To me the great mystique of the business leadership of America is how, inside the inner recesses of its soul, it can rise above the self-interest motive and dedicate part of its energies to the service of the community. There may be hypocrites here and there, but I think, by and large, it is true that what motivates the greater enterprising efforts of the true business leader of the United States is the idea of doing service to the community. The profit motive is not absent, but even this is given a genuine altruistic touch by the thought that if he wants a big piece of cake, the best way to achieve it would be to bake a big cake, so that not only he but everybody has a bigger piece. That is where his purposes coincide with the vaster purposes which can be unfolded to a humanitarian mind by the contemplation of the ideals of the United Nations. Today, you have been catapulted right out of your community on to the stage of the world, and if you are not yet convinced of this, you soon will be. You have to realize, for the sake of your children and grand-children, that your community is no longer what you had considered it to be. Your community now is the world. American leadership in politics, in civic affairs, in economic development, may not be something of your own seeking, but it is something inevitable. Escape it you cannot. The only question that remains, therefore, is whether, in meeting the challenge, you write a feeble couple of lines in history or add a glorious page to it. I have not the slightest doubt as to what you will do.

And so American business leadership has, first and foremost, to adopt the world, no less, as the community to which its ideals of service will extend. It can still love its native small town, and had I time, I would have joined issue with one of this morning's speakers who hinted that a successful executive, in order to identify himself with an abstraction like his organization, must, of psychological necessity, ignore his wife and children. For I do not know of a man who did not love other children more because he loved his own. I can still think of an American business leader blazing the trail in some far-off parts of the world, helping strange and distant people because they need help, and yet writing his daily, his weekly letter to his family. This will make him the greater man, but, whether it makes him the greater man or not, that is the way the American will always live, and nothing can divorce him from the soil where he was born and brought up, no matter how much he may roam. But roam he must. In the world of today, placed as he is, he has to become world conscious. His horizon has already expanded beyond recognition. Today, one of the most well-informed demographic publications on, say, my country and its neighbour, comes from Princeton - "The Population of India and Pakistan" - and I think that more and more of the American spirit of enquiry is turning its attention to various parts of the globe. It would interest you to look up, some day, the figures of one of your great institutions, the International Institute of Education, and see how many students passed through its hands both ways. I was once called upon to address the national convention of organizations interested in such exchanges and was surprised to find that in the U.S .A. alone they could be counted not in tens but in hundreds. And so I think that though you will never detach the whole of your heart away from home, there is a small part of your sympathies, your talent and your experience which you might dedicate to the rest of mankind.

People have asked me during the last two or three days: "The United Nations is represented by governments. What can we do as private individuals?" There are two answers to that. First, I do not know whether you know that the United Nations, unlike the League of Nations, does not ignore people. The United Nations Charter, like the American Constitution, begins with the words, "We, the People" of the United Nations, and it gives people's organizations, which, somewhat haughtily, it calls "nongovernmental organizations" (for everything is judged from the point of view of governments), a certain status with the Economic and Social Council (and you will find that about two hundred social and economic organizations have that status) where they either observe or have consultative status. Even a larger number enjoys accreditation to the Department of Public Information, which is a source, not merely of intelligence about the day-to-day happenings, but of economic studies, statistical studies, demographic year-books, studies undertaken at the behest of governments of economic and social conditions in order to be of use to business and other related interests. So that organizations like yours are in a position to take a very lively interest in the important activities of the United Nations.

Second, there is no government today which can ignore public opinion for long. Particularly the American government, because another mystique of the American life is embodied in that magical word "People" don't have to remind you of how the word "people" got its sanctity and conveyed its peculiar American meaning to the rest of the world. You know the Gettysburg address by heart, and so do many people who are not Americans. The word "people" has worked wonders in your life. It has, as you know, profoundly influenced governments. If influential and enterprising active and earnest groups of the people like the system of which, as I said, you represent nerve centres, cannot first of all think, secondly, formulate their views, and thirdly, communicate them in an insistent, urgent manner to their government, I do not know in which country in the world they can do so. The ideals of the United Nations need not, therefore, be merely the concern of some people in Washington. They could, in a very real sense, become the concern of all people whose ideal is the service of the community. And it is because of my firm belief, born of observation and experience, that no leadership in the world regards service to the community, regards expanding economy, regards the welfare of the customer as important as and closely linked to its own welfare as much as the American business community, has the same democratic ways of working, in its methods of ownership and in its methods of arriving at decisions; in other words, because ideologically, psychologically and methodologically, I do not believe that there is any group of influential people in the world who can exercise the same amount of beneficent influences on the affairs of the world as you can, that I have taken the liberty of engaging your attention and appealing to you in the name of coming generations - particularly your own, which will have a great deal of responsibility in the years to come, and which could only operate in one way, which is peculiarly American and fundamentally moral.

One word more and I shall have finished. You will have found, in the last few years, a great deal of friendly and sometimes serious chaffing of American methods as naive - especially by those who have great experience of world affairs and of diplomacy. Naive the American is, but this is not a crime. Foolish he is not, as long as he has the simple faith and simple wisdom of the uncorrupted. Many people ask, "Can't we get justice from the United Nations?" The answer is, "Not necessarily, for it is not yet a court of law." But it is heartening that they come to this forum expecting justice, for as long as a man expects justice, he is morally prepared to give it too. That may be naive, but it is far from being foolish. In the last ten years, there have been occasions when the best and the cleverest, and the most skillful diplomatic manoevres have been set at naught because in the last resort the Americans said, "However clever this may be, to us it seems wrong." And as long as you have the capacity, under the greatest stress, to speak out and say, "This is wrong", the world could be safe in your hands.