A Bodey in Motion

Building momentum, one step at a time

Believe in the Dignity and Morality of Business

(This covers the first chapter from Rabbi Daniel Lapin‘s book Thou Shall Prosper. Each chapter is one part of a set of core principles that approach business and money as spiritual practices, referred to as the ‘Ten Commandments for Making Money.’ We’re covering the first ‘Commandment’ here. My plan is to go through all ten. You can find out more in this post discussing my thoughts on the book. All quotes, unless otherwise attributed, come from the book.)

Making money is much harder if, deep down, you suspect it to be a morally reprehensible activity.

It’s impossible to succeed and thrive if you believe the work you are doing is inherently immoral. Who we are and how we earn our living must be willingly woven together in our minds. Being one person at work and another in your social life with no connection between the two except the drive to and from your place of business will stunt your financial and spiritual health. If you have trouble with that statement, it’s probably because you believe one of these two myths:

1. You’re not in business for yourself. The truth is we’re all in business. We’re all self-employed. Some of us have chosen to limit our contracts to one client (by becoming an ’employee’) but we all have skills and abilities that make us mobile in the market-place. (e.g. A teacher who feels restricted in the education system today can become a specialized tutor tomorrow.) If you can no longer see the nobility and worthiness of those skills and abilities, then you likely see your current position as a trap that you can’t escape. Realizing you are truly in business for yourself releases that trap, and gets you back on the road to growth.

2. Activities that earn a profit aren’t moral, let alone spiritual. The truth is when you are engaging in a voluntary exchange of goods and services, each dollar bill you earn is a certificate of appreciation from your customer for the good or service you provide. Attending to the needs of others with honor and diligence is a moral action, despite there being a price tag attached. Also, if you’re an ’employee,’ try to remember that you’re still engaging in voluntary exchange. You voluntarily filled out the application, you voluntarily show up each day, and you can choose to quit at any moment. You are performing a moral action.

As for the spiritual aspect of profitable work…

“In the Hebrew language there is no word for spiritual. […] The assumption is that you are a fusion of two realms, and a human being occupies a totally unique place in the entire universe. How you handle your money. How you handle relationships. Sexuality. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Business. School. Work. Play. Recreation. Everything we do, we do as an integrated being. 100% physical. 100% spiritual.” [emphasis added]

– Rob Bell, Everything is Spiritual.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

– Colossians 3:17

… and remember Jesus’ Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Some have taken it as only applying to the handling of one’s spiritual gifts, but there is no doubt that the story can more directly apply to the activity of business pleasing the ‘Master.’ God has given us the ability to create and earn wealth, so it follows that in doing so we can engage our heart and spirit in a way that places us in His presence. An act of worship.

To wrap up, here are some quotes from the chapter that jumped out at me:

If feeling passion and pride for my work helps me talk enthusiastically about what I do, so does talking excitedly about my work increase the passion and pride I feel for it.

Rabbi Lapin makes these kinds of almost algebraic statements at several points throughout the text. It appeals to the math nerd in me, which is nice, but this has proven true in psychological studies as well. Emotion follows behavior as much as behavior follows emotion.

Ancient Jewish wisdom insists that approval of our friends is an important aid to a person’s business success; and likewise, people are stimulated and encouraged by their friends’ approval.

Deep within traditional Jewish culture lies the conviction that the only real way to achieve wealth is to attend diligently to the needs of others and to conduct oneself in an honorable and trustworthy fashion.

We must all understand that in a free, transparent, and honest marketplace, you cannot make the money in the first place without benefiting other people. If you subsequently choose to give money away, that is fine but it is not the justification for making money.

You must come to see that part of your goodness, part of the benefit you bring to others is your daily conduct in operating your business enterprise. Whether you work in forestry, pharmaceuticals, or other industries that incur the wrath of culture, whether you make widgets or run a small flower shop, you must understand the nobility inherent in going to work each day. The rule is that people seldom excel at any occupation that deep down they consider unworthy; and even if they are neutral about the morality of business, that neutrality is a weak reed on which to build success.

No matter what you do, the odds are that you are in business, and it is much tougher to succeed if, deep inside, you lack respect for the dignity and the morality of business. If the heads of Fortune 500 companies are being excoriated as immoral exploiters, so are you. The difference is only one of degree.

That’s my take on Rabbi Lapin’s First Commandment for Making Money. Keep looking here for my thoughts on the Second Commandment: Extend the Network of Your Connectedness to Many People. It should be up some time later this week. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts and questions about this chapter, whether you’ve read the book or not.

November 7, 2010 Posted by | Read and Reviewed, Work and Money | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

You Handle It, Honey

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Soon after we first got married, my wife and I started figuring out the roles and responsibilities for the little one bedroom apartment we called home. Which one of us would handle the cooking. Which one would do the daily cleaning. Who’d kill the bugs. Laundry. Litter-box. Etc., etc..

Now, it’s not like we sat down at the dinner table with a big yellow pad and planned all this out. Mostly, it just sort of happened, and that was fine…except I was seriously lousy at all of it.

Take housecleaning. I would get up at the crack of ten, and do what I considered to be a standard day of cleaning. After a long day of work, she would come home and clean everything again. At the time, we each tolerated different levels of “clean.” I didn’t care about a day and a half of dirty dishes in the sink, but she wanted them washed after every meal. So, we had to compromise.

I accepted my inadequacy, and she did the cleaning.

Back in those days, all I was really good for was killing bugs and emptying the litter-box once a week. I accepted that, begrudgingly (at least the cats were happy). After a few weeks of regular failure, though, I got up and out and started bringing home some kind of paycheck. That I did pretty well, and I’ve done consistently better at it ever since. Today, the kids and I can keep a reasonably clean house for a week when absolutely necessary, but their mother is still supremely better at it.

Another important thing I bailed out on in those early days of marriage? The household finances. I had payed the bills late a couple of months in a row and happily let her take them over. Completely abandoned our financial health to my new wife. It was wrong of me to do, and a horrible mistake.

There is a whole spectrum of possible consequences for not working with your spouse on your finances. If you aren’t willing to communicate openly about money, and if you can’t agree to your goals when it comes to your money, your relationship will, at best, fall short of its true potential. At best. Divorced couples in the United States routinely cite financial problems as the primary reason for the demise of their marriage. A little over two years ago, a Massachusetts woman committed suicide because the pressure of her family’s failing financial state became too much to bear and she saw no other way out. Her husband had no idea that they had been foreclosed on and the house was going to be auctioned that day.

I can’t judge him too harshly, because for twelve years I was just like him. Beyond the vaguest of numbers I couldn’t tell you where our money was going every month. That lack of involvement was a key component in our remaining in debt for so long. Abdicating your responsibility to manage your money well is tempting, especially when your spouse is allowing you to, but the cost for doing so is almost always too great.

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On the other side, you can’t become a budget tyrant either. Husbands and wives need to work together, and both should be able to come to the table as equals when determining how the money is spent. You are each different. A budget written and implemented by only one of you will only reflect half of the family’s insights, goals and needs. It will be incomplete, and have no real chance to succeed.

Finally, working together means you can’t keep your money separate. Genesis 2:24 reads “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Joining flesh means joining your lives, and money touches every part of life. Join your bank accounts. All the money earned by both spouses belongs to the family. There is no his money and her money, it’s our money, and we make a budget to agree on how our money is managed.

Those are the three big problems I’ve encountered (and lived through) when dealing with the concept of the family budget. Are there more? I’m sure of it, but get past these three and you’ll be well on your way to winning.

November 7, 2010 Posted by | Marriage and Family, Past and Future, Work and Money | , , , , , | 2 Comments