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  • Writer's picturePaul Cho

Exploring Friendliness in Company, Competition, and Capitalism: A Reflection Inspired by Richard Brodeur's Paintings

On Thursday, early in the afternoon, a company of four - my brother, mom, Esther, and I - gathered in the historic city of Fort Langley to dine together at a delightful Mediterranean-inspired restaurant named Sabà Bistro, celebrating our birthdays, both mine and my brother's, in the month of May.

The interior was pleasant with music, lights, and the warm spring breeze, making us feel as if we had indeed come to the world of Mediterranean. We ordered delicious meals, shared them, and talked about our lives, celebrating our stories and remembering our dad. We also looked forward to a day when we could have a meal together once again.

After a pleasant moment of sharing bread, we went for a walk together. As we strolled down the historic street of Fort Langley, a vintage shop caught our eyes. Inside, paintings of children playing hockey caught my attention. I pointed them out to Philip, my younger brother, saying, "Look at this painting. Kids are playing hockey." Philip, a big fan of the Premier League, one of the most competitive leagues in the world, responded, "Paul, what about it? The sport is all about competition, about winning the game." "Do you think so?" I replied.

As I continued looking at the delightful paintings of children playing, I asked the store manager, "What's the meaning of these paintings?" The older lady told me, "Well, young man, you may not be old enough to know who Richard Brodeur is. He is the man who led the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup in 1982. We all grew up watching him play. He is the one who painted these paintings, and the theme is friendliness and friendship!"

As we left the vintage store, these words kept me thinking: "competition," "friendliness." Do they have any relevance to each other? We continued walking towards Fort Langley National Historic Site and stopped at a local coffee shop. There, as we sat down and drank coffee, my brother asked me, "Paul, most arts don't make money. What intrigues you about them?" I told him, "Well, Philip, I believe every art has an intrinsic value that money can't measure or pay for." My brother asked, “But, Paul, let’s be realistic. We live in a capitalism-driven world, and money defines everything in the world we live in. Aren't you also a capitalist investing in companies?”

Over a cup of coffee, I shared with Philip about the project to which I was recently introduced, the Economics of Mutuality, through reading a book called Completing Capitalism. I told him about how the leaders at Mars Inc., the maker of M&Ms and much more, and Saïd Business School from Oxford University came together to redefine the purpose of a company from purely making profits, Friedman's understanding, to caring for the planet, places, and people, while at the same time generating sustainable profits for generations to come.

I shared with him, as the authors in 'Completing Capitalism' discuss, that financial capital alone cannot be the measure of a company's success, especially in a time of planetary crisis and human scarcity. Economics is really about dealing with scarce resources. I told him we need a more comprehensive and holistic model that complements and enhances the current model of capitalism.

That afternoon, after coming home, I found myself pondering these words, now three: "company," "competition," and "capitalism." As I pondered, I became curious, "So, did the Canucks win the 1982 Stanley Cup?" I discovered that in the 1982 Stanley Cup, the Vancouver Canucks lost four straight games to the New York Islanders, a complete defeat.

Yet, when I looked at the picture of the beautiful paintings of Richard Brodeur, there were no winners and losers. Kids were playing for the pure joy of playing. Some were falling, some were scoring, some were defending the nets. Some were wearing the Vancouver Canucks jersey; some were wearing other teams’ uniforms. Yet, they were not playing to win or lose, but purely for the joy of playing, learning from each other how to skate, how to improve their skills, and how to play better, a vibe of true joy and friendliness.

Upon further reading, I discovered that Richard Brodeur struggled with depression after his career, and that creating art saved him. For Richard, art was not purely for enjoyment, but a true healing for his soul. Looking into his art, I felt three words coming together. In the painting, the joyful company of kids was coming together to share the joy of playing hockey, engaging in friendly competition, not for the trophy of the Stanley Cup, but to encourage one another to play better and have fun.

I wondered if this is what capitalism is meant to be: companies (in accordance with their Latin etymology, 'sharing bread') engaging in friendly competition not for a zero-sum game, but for the mutual benefit of all, bringing transformation to the world we live in.

That night, viewing the paintings again, I envisioned a world where competition is not about outperforming one another, but about caring for one another to become better for the mutual benefit of all. A world where capitalism is not about hoarding in the hands of the few, but about putting its scarce resources to work to serve the wider economy in a way that restores and heals, pointing to the truest economics of a new world coming into our own. A world where there will be flourishing of life for the good of the world to the glory of God and city streets filled with boys and girls joyfully playing.

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