Knut Ims, & Laszlo Zsolnai ‘Self-realization in Business: Ibsen’s Peer Gynt.’ , in Heroes and Anti-heroes. European Literature and the Ethics of Leadership, eds. Rita Ghesquiere, and Knut Ims, Garant, Antwerp-Apeldoom, 2010. (This book may be available at: European SPES Forum)
The paper takes Henrik Ibsen’s dramatic poem Peer Gynt as a point of departure to discuss what does self-realization in business mean from a moral point of view. Does it mean to realize one’s faculties in a virtue ethics sense, performing excellent actions? Or does it mean to use one’s faculties in order to gain power, prestige and money? Methodologically we will take excerpts from the poem and try to illustrate some of its implications for modern-day business leadership. We believe that this anti-romantic poem may give interesting clues that might illuminate important aspects about the human condition in general and in business in particular.
The authors argue that the concept of the self – even stressed by Socrates with his motto: Know Thyself – is of vital interest. Especially we will explore Ibsen’s concept of the self, and try to interpret some of Ibsen’s most enigmatic sentences like To be one self, the self must die. It is often interpreted as a Christian life-norm. Dose it mean to sacrifice oneself for the Common Good? However, comparing this concept of the self with Buddhism, we also find support for denying of one’s self in Buddhist wisdom. The problem for Peer Gynt is that he has never been himself in the true sense. Throughout his life he has lived out his lower self. He was a troll, i.e. lived in a greedy selfish way.
We see Peer Gynt as a businessman at an age about 60, who reflects upon his life, and then discovers that his life-journey was without purpose and meaning. Finally he begins to pose existential questions like: What does it mean to be oneself? Who have I been in all of my life? We will discuss the implications of one’s life search for experiences in order to find one’s true and whole self. One of the aims of the paper is to stimulate business leaders to raise questions about their identity and purpose.