Bentoism is a guide to self-coherence. A bird’s eye view for people and organizations.
Bentoism is the belief that our self-interest isn’t solely defined by what we want and need right now. Our self-interest extends to the considerations of our future selves, the people who rely on us, and the next generation.
Bentoism was introduced in a book called This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World by Yancey Strickler that theorizes that the world operates according to a limited understanding of self-interest. We see Now Me as the only rational perspective. The other spaces are seen as emotional or nebulous when they’re seen at all.
Bentoism extends how we define self-interest. Its structure expands beyond the here and now. This is useful as a personal tool (the focus of this website) or as a way to identify new values and forms of growth (the long-term goal of Bentoism). A company like Patagonia, for example, is focused equally on the growth of a Future Us value like sustainability as they are the Now Me goal of profitability.
At the heart of Bentoism is a belief in a wider spectrum of value. Bentoism justifies new approaches to identifying, growing, and protecting value in new forms.
Bentoism is a philosophy-in-progress that builds on other ideas, among them:
Spheres of Justice by Michael Walzer, which argues that the greatest injustices occur when the wrong values rule outside their rightful domains. Galileo was imprisoned because the values of the Catholic church unjustly ruled beyond their domain, forcing the laws of science to bend to its orthodoxy. Violations like these (other examples include domination by wealth, royal blood, attractiveness, racial backgrounds, etc) are at the root of all tyranny and corruption. Walzer argues that society’s ultimate goal should be the end of domination.
Value in Ethics and Economics by Elizabeth Anderson builds on these ideas and makes the case for an “expressive” concept of value. “We don’t respond to what we value merely with desire or pleasure, but with love, admiration, honor, respect, affection, and awe as well. This allows us to see how goods can be plural, how they can differ in kind or quality: they differ not only in how much we should value them, but in how we should value them.” There isn’t one notion of value. There are many things to value and many ways to value them. Anderson goes on: “Expressive theories provide a coherent basis for self-understanding, accounting for the unity of the self, and making sense of ordinary intuitions about intrinsic value and norms of appropriate behavior and feeling.” Bentoism is an expressive value system.
French polymath Blaise Pascal: “There are different assemblies of the strong, the fair, the sensible, the pious, in which each man rules at home, not elsewhere. And sometimes they meet, and the strong and the fair foolishly fight as to who shall be master, for their mastery is of different kinds. They do not understand one another, and their fault is the desire to rule everywhere. Nothing can effect this, not even might, which is of no use in the kingdom of the wise."
This Could Be Our Future: A Manifesto for a More Generous World by Yancey Strickler is where Bentoism was first proposed. It includes Bentoism’s origin story:
One day I was sketching on paper when I had my eureka moment: drawing a hockey stick graph and seeing the great uncharted territory of self-interest that laid beyond for the first time. I thought about that other space I hadn’t noticed before. I drew dotted lines to delineate four quadrants.
Next to the picture I scribbled a description of what I’d drawn: Beyond near term orientation. That’s what the chart did, it took me outside my near term orientation.
I looked at my description: BEyond Near Term Orientation. It was an acronym for BENTO. The picture was a bento box.
My mind flashed back to the week before, when my wife showed me a book she was reading about the Japanese idea of ikigai, or life’s purpose. She highlighted a passage about how a bento box honors the Japanese dieting philosophy of hara hachi bu. This says the goal of a meal is to be 80% full. That way you’re still hungry for tomorrow.
A week later, staring at the chart, these ideas came together. Bentoism.