How love, compassion and spirituality became unfashionable in corporations

Business is associated with power and greed, spirituality is about the ability to let things go. Businesses or individuals can prosper only when these two come together. “We all breathe. But it’s only for a certain time that you can hold it inside. At one point you have to let go" --- Ravi Shankar

Business is associated with power and greed, spirituality is about the ability to let things go. Businesses or individuals can prosper only when these two come together. “We all breathe. But it’s only for a certain time that you can hold it inside. At one point you have to let go” — Ravi Shankar

Historically men dominated the business landscape, and still do today to an extent. Not surprisingly then male-oriented ideas and priorities – especially dispassionate left-side-brain factors – have tended to dominate business and organisations.

Conversely love, compassion and spirituality are generally perceived to be female traits. Men are less likely than women to demonstrate loving, compassionate, spiritual behaviour because of cultural and social expectations, especially when reinforced by the business traditions already mentioned.

Additionally, in some cases successful business people owe much of their success to a personal drive borne of insecurity – the motivation to fill a gap or want, which can manifest as relatively unloving, dispassionate behaviour. Some successful people seem to suppress their spirituality, and to actively resist love to the point that they cannot even discuss it.

Where unloving dispassionate behaviour exists in a business leader, whatever its cause, this unavoidably sets the tone for the whole organisation to be unloving and uncaring, and devoid of spiritual awareness. If this situation is replicated across very many large organisations, as arguably it has been during the 20th century, then inevitably business and work as a whole tends to be characterised in the same way – as unloving and uncaring, and certainly not spiritual.

I’m not saying that the western world is run by a load of emotionally insecure mentally dysfunctional ruthless men (although I bet we’ve all worked for at least one of them in our time), but arguably there are certain correlations between aggressive results-driven male behaviour, the short-term business success demanded by western economic systems, and the organisational and economic cultures that arose and endured from ‘successful’, dispassionate anti-spiritual (and mostly male) leadership.

I should also make the point that dispassionate results-driven behaviour is not the exclusive domain of men. Many successful women in business (and politics) have had to wear the trousers, if not full the battledress, to beat the men; at a man’s game, in a man’s world.

Let’s acknowledge also the reality that a methodology based on cold-hearted logic and dispassionate decision-making can produce very effective results, especially short-term, and where clinical leadership is required to overcome great challenge or difficulty. Moreover tyrants and bullies sometimes succeed. Some even achieve long-term success (according to their own definition of the word success). And arguably certain dispassionate methods, where people and environment are not affected, are a perfectly appropriate part of the business management mix.

However, unloving uncaring methods, which tend to predominate in organisations and to be passed on through successive leadership generations, are not the entire and only way to run a business or organisation.

Compounding the situation, the historical prevalence of dispassionate leadership, unloving ideas, and uncaring behaviour in organisations has tended to determine that reward systems and training and development methodologies have been correspondingly dispassionate, (staff and suppliers basically do as they are told after all), and so the whole selfish cycle reinforces itself.

Not surprisingly therefore, ideas about loving people, being compassionate and spirituality are unlikely to appear in many management training manuals or training courses. Nor are the principles of genuine tolerance and selfless giving, or the values of forgiveness, or of nurturing your own spirit, because after all we must love ourselves before we can unconditionally love everyone else, and what’s the point of loving yourself if the idea of loving anyone else is a totally alien concept in the conventional corporate world?

People who extol the virtues of love and spirituality in organisations have until recently largely been regarded as cranks – not because love and spirituality doesn’t work – but because organisations, and also the developed western economic world, have evolved to ignore and exclude the deepest of human feelings and needs. Which when you think about what we actually all are, and what we actually all need as people, is a bit strange and a bit daft.

Work and organisations in recent times have simply not aligned with some of humankind’s most basic needs – to be loved, and to find our own purpose and meaningful connections in life, which often brings us full circle to loving and helping others.

For a hundred years or more, millions upon millions of people who need love and spiritual meaning like they need food and drink, are denied these basic life requirements at a place that occupies the majority of their useful existence (their work), because love and spirituality (and all that these words represent) seemingly don’t feature on the corporate agenda.

 

however..

Yes. However. As we know, things are changing.

People are most certainly now seeking more meaning from their work and from their lives.

People in far flung exploited parts of the world now have a voice, a stage, and an audience, largely enabled by technology and the worldwide web.

Customers, informed by the increasing transparency and availability of information, are demanding that organisations behave more responsibly and sensitively.

Increasing numbers of people are fed up with the traditionally selfish character of corporations and organisations and the way they conduct themselves.

The growing transparency of corporate behaviour in the modern world is creating a new real accountability – for the organisations which hitherto have protected the self-interests of the few to the detriment of everyone and everything else.

Now, very many people – staff, customers, everyone – demand and expect change.

Leaders need now to care properly for people and the future of the planet, not just to make a profit and to extract personal gain.

And so businesses and corporations are beginning to realise that genuinely caring for people everywhere is actually quite a sensible thing to do.

It is now more than ever necessary for corporations to make room for love and spirituality – to care for people and the world – alongside the need to make a profit.

Love, compassion, and spirituality – consideration for people and the world we live in – whatever you choose to call it – is now a truly relevant ethos in business and organisations.

Written by: Charu Talwar (November 2006) and supervised by Dr Sudha Banth Panjab University, Chandigarh, India.

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