I was reading a book on economic sociology and thereby I realised that two important factors in that branch were social relations and interests and how they played a vital role in economics. It was a awakening moment for me, when i heard that a term like interest is very much studied and has such an influence. It is just casually used in our daily vocabulary, saying ‘My interests lie in that, I have so and so interest’ etc. There could be different types of interest like personal interest, religious interest, public interest and economic interests.
La Rochefoucauld would say, ‘Self–interest blinds some, but enlightens others.’ We could see the desire to get rid of suffering has lead Buddha to enlightenment and later he helped many. Charity is extolled in religious circles; so acts of charity also serves the self along with the others. This enlightenment needn’t be a spiritual one. We have innumerable examples of how selfishness or extreme self-interest creating havoc in the world. (Best examples being the dictators).
Another quote from Adam Smith says ‘that individual interests somehow furthers the general interest by an invisible hand’. This could be understood as a key ideology of capitalism, but critiqued by many others. The growing difference of inequality between the rich and the poor and the money concentrated in few hands, large number remaining in abject poverty critique this idea of Smith.
Though human beings may be called rational beings, their interests (not necessarily economic interests as economists predict) play a vital role in deciding their choices. When many of the interests of a person converges on a particular item, it becomes a real passion for that person.
If I use desire as a synonym for interest, I could also show the importance of desire in Ignatian Spirituality. Discernment is a tool used to find out what God wants from a person. James Martin, SJ would say that your deepest desires are God’s desires.
As a conclusion, the essential aspect is not divide it into public or private interests, but to see, to where it is directed. I see a very delicate balance in the area of self interest directed towards the greater good of all. Deepest desires does possess this quality. This gives greater meaning and sense to their lives. (I can’t prove it, but many achievers would attest to this). This balances self- interest and charity, individual and society, independence and dependence. This could be an alternative narrative to extreme capitalism and extreme socialism. This is a beautiful synergy of individual creativity and social inter-connectedness.