The Spirit of Work

Does business have a spiritual component?

This blog was prompted by one of my regular readers (thanks, Sally!).  I had mentioned that true capitalism allows each of us to pursue those ways of making money that are consistent with our most deeply-held spiritual values.  This is also a theme in my book: Empty Nest Egg: Why You Must Start Your Own Business NOW (

Commerce and spirituality have always had a tense and uneasy relationship.  Most popular religious traditions have some version of the Christian admonition that it is easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for the rich to pass through the gates of heaven.  It is hard to get all fired up about making money if you believe Saint Peter may send you back in favor of the destitute.

I have always found it odd that so many religions advocate helping the poor but so few praise the wealth creators that make charity and benevolence possible.  One explanation may be that before the discovery of capitalism, wealth accumulation was largely divorced from wealth creation.  Political power and military might determined who became wealthy.  Only nobles in good standing with the monarch could own land, for example.  If one wanted to increase a country’s wealth, war, not economic production, was the method of choice.  The farmers and merchants who actually grew, made, and sold things received short shrift.


As political freedom spread across the globe, so did various forms of economic freedom.  Feudalism gave way to capitalism, though in fits and starts.  Holding property was eventually recognized as a right of all citizens, not just rulers.  Taxes have always been with us, but at one time were arguably reasonable.  In short, material values have progressively, if not always comfortably, been integrated into the everyday lives of everyday people.

The degree to which someone has integrated spiritual values into his/her job is all too apparent.  Think of the last time you walked into a retail store.  Was the person who waited on you friendly?  Grumpy?  How were they dressed?  Did they interact like a human being or like an automated voice-mail system?  Grumpiness and canned, impersonal answers reflect a deeper set of values–ones that probably carry over into that person’s non-work life.  One wonders if that person is stuck, unable to grow and prosper.  I often imagine what such folks’ friends must be like–a circle of cynics and ne’er-do-wells complaining constantly about their ill fortune relative to others.

A business, large or small, reflects even more deeply-held values.  From the impeccable service of a Marriott hotel to tips on what fish are hitting rendered by a bait-and-tackle storekeeper, an owner in many ways is the business.  Not only does the owner reflect these values; he/she profoundly influences the employees and the operations of the whole enterprise.

How one handles mundane matters at work indicates not only how one sees the everyday world, but deeper matters as well.  We don’t have to be religious, or even particularly “spiritual” to sense that our lives are unified and that the way we keep our house and do our jobs shares spiritual space with our reflections on life’s deepest meaning.  Acknowledging that fact can help move us from just surviving another day at work or running our business to the realm of the holy.

Next week: Helping others by making money yourself

–Terry writes this blog once a week.  Please comment freely–he loves to hear from readers as he meditates in a hut atop the Himalayas.  He also suggests you visit to learn how to start a business.


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