WHEN I MENTION the field of spirituality in business, I love to watch the reactions on people’s faces. Some people ask me, “What group are you with?” In one case, a woman with whom I was having a pleasant chat quickly ended the conversation. She later revealed that she thought that I was with some cult, and that I was about to move into, “Would you like to buy one of our publications?” One person said, “Oh, do you mean prayer breakfasts?” Others look at me blankly like I just committed blasphemy: joining the sacred and the profane.
So what is it I’m talking about, then, as “Spirituality in Business”? To begin with, I am not referring to religion. A religion is an organization which professes to provide spiritual experience to groups of people. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s beside the point here.
Spirituality, however, is more an individual matter; it does not rely on an external organization. Rather, spirituality is an experience of depth in life, it is living life with heart rather than just superficially. For some, spirituality involves a belief in a God. For others, it takes different forms. But in any case, spirituality is an experience that there is something more to life than just our narrow, ego-oriented view of it.
Spiritual people sometimes forget that it’s impossible to run an organization without structure and financial control. Business people sometimes forget that it’s impossible (or at best, grossly inefficient) to run a business without spirit.
People who have developed the spiritual side of their life typically have a quality of lightness, appreciation and humor. They bring a sense of “all-rightness” and optimism to life, even in the face of problems. They don’t take themselves too seriously. They are fully alive, and they radiate this aliveness to others.
Naturally, there is a clash between this point of view and the culture of many businesses. Business is often considered hard, mechanical, hierarchical, controlling, and determined primarily by financial considerations. Spiritual people have a much more humanistic approach. But the clash between these two points of view is a healthy one. Spiritual people sometimes forget that it’s impossible to run an organization without structure and financial control. Business people sometimes forget that it’s impossible (or at best, grossly inefficient) to run a business without spirit.
As I attend conferences around the country, I am amazed at the amount of interest in this field of spirituality in business. Much of the interest comes from people who have done personal spiritual work and are interested in bringing some part of that experience into the workplace. They are not content to hear the answer, “It can’t be done.” I expect that, in response, businesses will gradually start to stretch and shift. As a result, more and more businesses will start to achieve success in the financial and the more humanistic realms simultaneously.
About the author: James A. Ritscher is a management consultant and an active member of the Organizational Transformation network. He is also the coordinator for the new Spirit in Business Association. For information, contact him at James A. Ritscher Associates, 1060 Beacon St., Brookline MA 02146 or 617/277-1625. © 1985 lames A. Ritscher Living Business (IC#11)