Religion, Spirituality, and Profits
"Religion in the Workplace" (Cover Story, Nov. 1) confuses spirituality with religion. Religions are formal systems and organized communities of faith and practice, with a strong sense of insiders and outsiders, a claim to true vs. false beliefs, sectarian sacred texts and ritual observances, and a sorry history of frequently murderous intolerance.
Spirituality is a universal quality of connection, purpose, integration, and awareness that transcends religions and exists apart from religions as well. Bringing religion to work and bringing greater spirituality to management and corporate policy are not the same thing. The former is a recipe for divisiveness and attempted "takeovers" similar to what the religious right has attempted in the political arena. The latter is a development full of promise for humane values in the workplace and the growth of corporate social responsibility.
Consulting & Training
El Cerrito, Calif.
The phrase, "by their deeds shall we know them" comes to mind. Are these self-professed spiritualist chief executive officers and employees any less likely than others to, respectively, lay workers off at the hint of an increased stock price or commute in a gas-guzzling, air-polluting sport-utility vehicle? If not, they haven't got a prayer.
East Lansing, Mich.
To lump together Internet time decision-making, teamwork-development programs of various types, and evangelical religion in the workplace is both a tremendous stretch and a terrifying prospect. There is a big difference between team-building exercises and religious-based business programs and decision-making, and they are not necessarily both part of a larger religious movement.
Certainly, the withering pace in today's workplace leaves many of us with needs for family and spiritual sustenance that work cannot provide. However, the thought of corporate-sponsored or approved religious programs, prayers, proselytizing, and (yikes!) spiritual "stealth bombers" is objectionable.
Of course, we all have choices as to where we want to work and can opt out of organizations whose philosophies we do not approve of. But work is not the place to bring personal issues, since they could and often do offend others. Your article stretched the point but was also disquieting in its implications.
Spirituality may be sweeping the business world, but aside from those efforts directly aimed at accommodating (or imposing) religious beliefs, it doesn't seem to have affected business practices much. What would Jesus--who said it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven--have thought of a system in which solid, profitable companies lay off thousands of workers because the notion of what constitutes an acceptable return on capital is constantly being ratcheted upward?
What would the Buddha, who was content to live as a wandering beggar, have thought of corporations that mine his wisdom for tips on how to improve productivity? What would pre-Columbian Indians--some of whom followed the custom of potlatch, by which a man was honored according to how much he gave away--have thought of executives with seven- to nine-figure stock options crowding into ersatz "sweat lodges" to achieve an insight that never seems to disturb their materialistic values? Save your preaching, boss. Corporate spirituality is bunk; show me the money instead.
To view spirituality as just another management tool is to trivialize this potentially transformative force. What would happen if corporations genuinely supported the universal moral messages the article cited? Employees would likely spend less time at work, as they reclaimed time for their families and communities. Consumer spending would likely decline, as more people turned away from unbridled, unsustainable consumption in favor of more fulfilling pursuits. Cooperation would replace competition as our primary means of relating to others.
In fact, a serious commitment to spirituality in the workplace would almost certainly lead to a reduction in corporate profits. But it would just as certainly lead to a more compassionate, joyful, and sustainable world.
Gary H. Forman
New YorkReturn to top