The How of Stakeholders

Now you know what a stakeholder is, and who some of your stakeholders are. I thought about considering objections, but I’m not really at the point where people start having major objections yet. It’s practically self-evident that the six groups I’ve talked about are stakeholders in your life, and you are in theirs.

Today, before taking a break from repeating the word “Stakeholders” for a few weeks, I’m going to talk about the how of it. That’s the hard part, after all. Heroes don’t just know who their stakeholders are, they know how to take care of them properly. But before getting into how heroes do it, we need to talk about how regular people do it, and how they should do it. There’s a short and somewhat unsatisfying answer.

It depends.

Scrooge McDuckIt depends on what your values are, and how you prioritize things. Someone who values compassion is sometimes going to consider their stakeholders in a different way than someone who values justice. Someone who values financial gain is going to do it differently from those two.

See, stakeholder theory can’t tell you how to arrange the interests of stakeholders in your decision. That’s not what it’s for. What it does is help you talk about and understand that decision, and push to make sure that you’re aware of all of the relevant factors, rather than making the decision blindly, or worse, in deliberate ignorance. Its incompleteness is one of its strengths, because that means it can help regardless of your system of values or its origin. It needs those values to guide it in how to consider stakeholders, but your values need it in order to recognize who stakeholders are, and their importance.

GandhiNow, when I say it depends on your values, don’t take that to mean that it’s entirely relative. When it comes to acting well, some values are better than others, and some values aren’t worth having at all. I’ve spent a few weeks talking about heroic values over at TPK already. here, I’ll just focus on one. Compassion. It makes a pretty good example, I think. Heroes are compassionate, after all, whether it’s Superman or Gandhi. they’re willing to put the interests of others above their own. If you’re in a position to put someone’s interests ahead of yours, then they’re a stakeholder in your decision. Compassion could move you to do that.

But now I’ve just pushed the question back a step. Instead of asking how our values guide us in thinking about stakeholders, now I also have to answer what makes certain values better than others. A lot of ink has been spilled over this, and I don’t know that I’m going to revolutionize the field of ethics with it, but I’m hoping to provide a reasonably satisfactory answer. It’ll take time though, so for right now, please grant it for the sake of argument.

When I come back to this in two weeks, I’m going to look at the four pieces of ethical advice I considered back in August, and show how stakeholder theory helps each of them. If you think any one of them is good advice, then you’re off to the races. After that, I’m also going to introduce my own piece of advice, the thing I use to guide my life, and show how it works better with your life and stakeholder theory than any of the others. In the meantime though, how do you make decisions when other people’s interests are at stake? What kinds of values guide you in thinking about them?

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