September 11, 2002

Earthly Rewards

Amid the uproar over questionable accounting practices and many business executives' behavior, the idea of bringing one's religious principles to work is appealing. Whether you seek to bring your faith-based values to the job or to your financial life, or simply want to see how the issue is addressed by some in the workplace, we have a suggestion.

Church on Sunday, Work on Monday: The Challenge of Fusing Christian Values with Business Life, by Laura Nash and Scotty McLennan (Jossey-Bass, 2001), looks at the dichotomy between people's faith-based behavior and beliefs versus their behavior and beliefs about business. The authors interviewed business people and clergy seeking attitudes about how to incorporate faith into the workplace, and have come up with some fascinating results.

The authors found that most people firmly separate religion from business within their lives, yet crave something more, something that will make their work lives meaningful and rewarding. Into this gap, point out the authors, have rushed a multitude of modern gurus of secular spirituality--people like Deepak Chopra and Stephen Covey, who offer guidance to people who want to bring their personal convictions to work and transform their labors into something more meaningful and valuable.

Nash and McLennan point out that clergy and businesspeople often do not speak the same language. Clergy tend to use language so abstract that it is unintelligible, or nearly so, to people not within the clerical ranks. Businesspeople have their own preoccupation with jargon, of course, so when the two linguistic systems collide, neither side understands the other. With the one side using "additive" language (that favored by businesspeople, who see capitalism as a positive force that can "add" to the quality of life for those within the system) and the other using "subtractive" language (the language of the clergy, who view the materialist, consumer society of today as something to be defeated rather than shaped and reformed), very little communication happens during the average encounter between the two groups.

For anyone interested in bringing a faith-based initiative to work, this book will offer valuable insights into why such drives often fail--and offer valuable suggestions on how to help them succeed instead.--Marlene Y. Satter

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