Our Work as Our Religion
For most if not virtually all of us spending our adult lives in some career, our work is our religion. This can be up for some debate of course, at least for those who like debate for the sake of debate, but not reasonable debate for more than about three or four minutes. Just pause and give thought to how much time you’ve spent during your career thinking about profits as compared to prophets. This observation isn’t a judgement, just an acknowledgment of our reality.
Let’s explore a piece of this reality and see if there isn’t a valuable lesson to glean for the marketplace and a move toward better capitalism. Spoiler alert – there is!
Image Credit: SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University
Religion in our post-modern era tends to be individualistic and centered on the importance of the person. This tends to be true whatever the faith tradition, more so for the majority who identify as Christians and the growing number who identify as “nones” (the religiously unaffiliated). One quick example of this religious individualism is the focus on one’s personal spiritual development or improvement rather than a focus on the broader community. Again, not a judgement, just an acknowledgment of our reality.
Visionary prophets, both ancient and current, don’t focus on the individual; from tribe to nation-state, they focus on the broader community. With a few notable exceptions, prophets rarely speak to the conscience of the individual. Rather, prophets speak to the conscience of the society–to the collective conscience. This is one way the prophet seeks to connects the conscience of the people to the conscience of the Divine.
Visionary prophets, as Richard Rohr has observed, are convinced that what is good for the people as a whole will also be right for the individual. Yes, although that's right that should sound backward to you because it’s the opposite of the rugged individualism most of us have been taught since we gummed baby food. But the reality is that it’s from a broader sense of community that the importance of the individual emerges. The community is the soil that nurtures the individual seed. I know this may sound contradictory but just think about your own experience - for better or worse.
The fact that we all step into a ready-made world with a family is an object lesson. We are born into some form of community that’s there to nurture the individual–all for better or worse. It’s our social constructs that our visionary prophets seek to nurture. The fact that we all also step into a ready-made world when we begin our careers is likewise an object lesson: we enter into some form of community that’s there to nurture the individual–also all for better or worse. It’s our economic constructs that our visionary business leaders seek to nurture.
Let’s acknowledge another reality, and that’s the fact that there are plenty of deceptive prophets out there, just as there are deceptive business leaders. We need to be able to identify both. A deceptive prophet, like a deceptive business leader, has the focus on him or herself. A visionary leader, like a visionary prophet, has the focus on community.
Conscious individuals create conscious communities, and conscious communities further create conscious individuals. Some of those individuals grow to be visionary prophets, and some grow to be visionary business leaders. The key to both these careers is the ability to step back from the dialogue of individualism and step into the dialogue of relationships. Those who are willing to be in relationship can learn how to relate to the other, not just to the self, and lead others in the same way, all for the betterment of everyone involved. This is where the skill set of empathy and compassion is most helpful.
Need a few examples of conscious individuals turn visionaries to get you thinking about becoming one yourself? Sure. Former lawyer Mahatma Gandhi; former lawyer Nelson Mandela; former scientist Angela Merkel; former farmer Jimmy Carter; former newscaster Oprah Winfrey; Vanguard founder and investor John Bogle; Desmond Tutu; former law professors Lynn Stout and Charity Scott; increasingly Sir Richard Branson of Virgin and Peter Stavros of KKR; and very likely many people you know personally who don’t have the same notoriety but do develop relationships and do develop community.
For our current and future visionary business leaders, there’s plenty to learn from the visionary prophets of our various faith traditions. Your journey will be to translate and implement to the marketplace the timelessness of relationships and community in which we're all inextricably bound. Better Capitalism and we are here to help you do that work, and invite you to contact us to discuss how we can be of specific help to you on the journey.
What about you? Share your story, question, comment, idea, disagreement -- yes, we welcome disagreement for the sake of mutual benefit! -- with us at blog@PartnershipEconomics.com. We will give a thoughtful response.
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