The spirituality of enterprise – 2

Irrespective of religious persuasion, man is essentially unsatisfied with pursuits that don’t have spiritual import or essence. When we are satisfied that there is an activity that distinguishes us from animals, we consider it normal. Animals don’t read books. So, when we read books we do it anywhere with no ceremonies involved. However, when there is an activity that seems to make us similar to animals, we simply build a ritual around it. Like animals, humans sleep, mate, eat, excrete procreate and die. However, each time we do any of those things, we try to draw a distinction between us and animals by the way we do them. We don’t eat from the floor. We sit at a dining table, serve our food in plates and eat with cutlery instead of our bare hands. Unlike us, animals don’t have designated places called toilets in which to ease themselves.

Economic activity is another way by which we distinguish ourselves from the animal kingdom and manifest our divine dimension. The human society frowns at the notion of seizing someone’s property by violence or any other untoward, criminal means. This is the reason why we have law enforcement agencies and other deterrent institutions to protect people’s right to own property. The commandment “Thou shalt not steal” is actually a recognition of an individual’s right to own property without feeling threatened. Buying that same property for a fair, agreed price from the rightful owner gladdens the heart of God.

It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word “cheyn” that translates God’s favor is the origin of the words “coin” and “gain”. The word is also the root of the Hebrew words for “store”, “shop” and “market”, signifying places where people interact and exchange value in a way that leaves everyone concerned satisfied and happier than they were before the exchange. The Hebrew word “ohmein” stands for a business person. It also means “man of faith” and is the root of the word “amen”! Faith drives religion and enterprise. An entrepreneur ventures into a business with no guarantees that he will succeed. He stakes his resources on something that probably has more potential to fail than succeed. But he understands the Law of Equivalent Advantage, which states that anything that has the possibility of moving you backward also has the potential to move you forward. So, he sticks his neck out for the latter possibility. Were he to trade on his doubts, he would not venture and he would not gain. Faith is a risk, and it is risky not to take risks.

Until the eighteenth century, Economics as a field of study was integrated into studies on religion and theology. Adam Smith, famous economist and author of the classic, The Wealth of Nations, and many economists in the eighteenth century were theologians and religious philosophers first before being economists. When some universities began to move their Economics studies to the sciences, they simply drove a wedge between true capitalism and the spiritual underpinnings that guide its conduct in enterprise.

Selfishness is antithetical to successful enterprise. No selfish man ever became highly successful. No one prospers as a hermit or living all alone on an isolated island. The life of a successful entrepreneur is driven by a passionate desire to meet the needs of others. The purpose of every enterprise is to make and keep customers by solving a significant problem for a significant number of people in a way that makes them gladly desire to reward you significantly. The expression “the customer is always right” is a product of the entrepreneur’s drive to make the customer’s needs his concern. Beyond the people in his market, the entrepreneur is deeply concerned about the welfare of his staff, his most valuable customers. In Jewish culture, it is frowned upon, no matter how much he is paid, to make an employee do what is regarded as meaningless work. Every assignment should leave the worker with a sense of having accomplished something from his contribution to an enterprise. When people are employed without a specific role to be played in an enterprise, they get frustrated very easily and lose their sense of worth in the establishment. Every one of us derives pleasure from knowing that we matter in the attainment of a noble outcome. Legitimate business is a spiritual transaction.

An understanding of God’s interest in business helps us recognize why atheism and business don’t flow together.  Secular humanism recognizes no human or godly authority. This should have naturally been a platform for unbridled wealth accumulation. However, the opposite is always the case. Enterprise hardly thrives in socialist environments where the state owns or controls all factors of wealth and the individual has to depend on the benevolence of the state and whoever is in power for whatever he gets.

When we understand the fact that God is deeply interested in enterprise, it dawns on us that the hours we spend at work should not be drudgery but a continuing dimension of our entire essence. Work is man’s platform to demonstrate a dimension of God that enables him (man) to significantly serve humanity and get rewarded for it through legitimate and fair payment for services rendered. With this realization, we can stop the idea of putting a dichotomy between our life at work and who we are. This therefore aligns our functions with our value system, knowing very well that the business we are engaged in cannot be separated from our very life and ethos. When business proceeds from purpose and God-consciousness, there would be little or no moral somersaults. Moral compromises in business would become as grave as moral morass in marriage!

Furthermore, a consciousness of the divine dimension to enterprise enhances the business person’s success in the marketplace. The work of creativity is man’s legitimate way of emulating God’s creative capacity. Nobody takes money to the marketplace to buy products that he does not believe would solve a specific problem for him. People don’t go into the market to buy products. Everyone is in the market to buy the product of a product, that is, what solves his nagging problem. When another person selflessly creates the solution to the problem, he will be rewarded on his own terms! Those who serve others in a way that no one else does will be rewarded in a way that no one else will.

The creation story in the Bible teaches us that where there is chaos, it creates room for creativity and order to demonstrate its value. Great business is driven on the wheels of advocacy. No matter how much you hate their faces, God Himself will always back those who are constantly thinking of human problems and how to bring solutions to them. Think of one highly successful person that you know who has not created significant and sustainable value to the human project for which he continues to be rewarded.

Religion or not, value creators are God’s true partners in the process of value creation which He set in motion at the onset of creation.

Socialism and atheism could never fathom that!

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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