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.
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