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“The Good Company” Has to Know Its Competition
A paper written for the Sixth International Symposium on Catholic Social Thought and Management Education, which was organized around the theme of "The Good Company: Catholic Social Thought and Corporate Social Responsibility in Dialogue", and held at the Pontifica Universitΰ San Tommaso (the Angelicum) in Rome, Italy, in October 2006
Businesses presumably intend to do good with profit being part of the good they pursue. The source, however, of both what is successful as well as what is problematic in workplaces is usually people. Although dysfunctional employers and employees is a matter of degrees, I want to focus on the problematic in people that sees something more than their causing problems. The something more is somehow related to the present darkness that Ephesians is alluding to. Readers would have to examine their own experience in this regard but I want to comment in this article on a description by a professor of management who conducts seminars for senior executives. They sought advice again and again not about how to deal with difficult personalities within their workforces but with an occasional professional within their companies who was “dark and destructive” in his or her behavior and who “sucked the life juices” from the organization. More specifically, they described these individuals variously but in general as “manipulative, hyper-political, self-aggrandizing, caustic, destructive, obsessed with control, able to demoralize the unit, and diminish its ability to focus on the good of the organization and its clients.”(1)
One way of viewing this kind of person is in terms of socio-pathology and seeking answers from therapeutic insights and techniques. Another way of looking at this situation is theologically. If one’s view of the workplace is that it is “secular,” it is not likely to be seen as a place where the drama of salvation is going on in its immediate environs or in its workers. But the assumption of this essay is that it could also be seen to be where a battle is joined between God and the enemies of God. If one finds something dark there and is open to examining it in scriptural terms then one of Ignatius Loyola’s observations is a good place to start. His insight was that there is a concealment about the work that “the enemy of human nature” does that needs grace to become unconcealed, evident, exposed for what it is. So if the reader is open to finding something of the drama of salvation going on in their workplace where shadows can purport to be light and the light is never wholly out of the shadows, then this essay might stimulate their imagination and add to spiritual perception.
The New Testament is maddingly spare about what these principalities and powers are. Both the Pauline letters and the deutero-Pauline letters saw the world before Christ as operating under the condition of enslavement to “spirits” or “elements” or “powers” or “rulers” of this darkness that occlude perception of the reality of God’s love being poured out on the world (2). One can’t get far with the scholarship on this since it’s data is thin. Nor can one become very speculative about their ontological reality other than to know that Christ’s agenda was to put all of these principalities under his feet i.e. subdue them and subject them to his Lordship.(I Cor 15: 24-25) So, the better way to access their reality such as it is, is experientially, through the negatives that are experienced in workplace interactions which can be at times quite inexplicable (3). These negatives might come from any number of things like poor management, inadequate or inept structures or, in individuals, bias or an attitude or a deficiency of intelligence or of insufficient training or moral blindness. More traditionally one could consider the negatives as coming from sin, maybe even one of the seven capital sins -- pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. Any one of these or the sum total of these might serve as explanation for the causes of disorder in the workplace. But Paul, as indeed most of the scriptural authors, is saying there can be something more than these predictable perversities we are all subject to and pro-actively able to generate. Reductively, it would be the demonic personified that has an alienating effect on places and structures and on one another. It can begin with inexplicably dysfunctional people and end up embedded in the structures within which the rest of the workforce operates. The possibility of satisfaction and any degree of workplace solidarity are rendered remote by such a development.
But if this personified ‘dark thing’ and its agenda tries to stay concealed how can it be unconcealed or detected and exposed for what it is? Ignatius recommends we look at its telos, where is it heading or going or taking us, compared to the up-front agenda of Christ already mentioned. In the case of the dark thing it is unlikely to incite one directly to something evil but more likely it incites one to seek to succeed, achieve, attain independence, autonomy, and freedom from being socially responsible for the common good. Humans seldom intend evil as such but some “good” drives their actions even those that are or end up as wrong-doing. So, notwithstanding the intention to do good or produce what is of some value to others, it is advisable to look at the horizon within which individuals see themselves producing the goods and doing the services that constitute the business operation. If the horizon of their attention is wholly immanent in the sense of enclosed within one’s own powers, inevitably and eventually there will be disorder. I say this because of Paul’s insight into “flesh” and its propensity for autonomy; for him “flesh” is the self-governed human being who is not led by spirit/Spirit or the horizon that takes in the good of others. The man with the bumper crop of grain makes this more concrete.(Lk 12:16-21) His horizon was himself. My grain, my barns, my satisfaction, my future. He is not called evil when the Lord comes to signal the end of his life he is called a fool for the narrowness of the horizon within which he functioned. His life was not governed by sin but by flesh in the Pauline sense of the term. This parable depicts the successful strategy of “the enemy of our soul” as Ignatius calls Satan.
The “father of lies” is one of scripture’s names for the concealed sovereignty which flesh is heir to and subject to. This seems pregnant with implications. Though no advertence is desired by this deceiver and no formal allegiance is asked, the deception is effective insofar as flesh believes itself to be free, and remains totally unaware of its being under the influence of any dark hegemon. The deception, of course, takes place more easily within a culture that promotes independence, autonomy, freedom, individualism, achievement. So what’s wrong with these? Ignatius again: an incursion of light from beyond — Spirit for Paul — is needed to see the fix a culture and a person and hence a company can be in and how to extricate ourselves and our workplaces from it.
While the character of Satan or the devil or the prince of darkness receives some degree of description and attention in the New Testament, the ontological character of these principalities and powers don’t. Their reality operates in flesh and is embedded in the structures and cultures that are generated out of the human passion for autonomy. This is why they are practically invisible and are only peripherally commented on by the New Testament. They are enemies of Christ and have an agenda which is contrary to his. (I Cor 15:24-5). He gave signs of having the power to bring about their subjugation during his historical ministry especially in his exorcisms. He was then and still is stronger one who enters the strong man’s house and binds him. (Mk 3:27) His death and resurrection raised his work of binding these enemies of human nature to a cosmic level. It would be a much easier to detect them, of course, if these enemies of Christ showed their face but they can be so embedded in the modus operandi of people and the institutions of which they are a part that to be extricated and named for what they are takes grace to discern them and the contrary agenda that is being pursued by Christ.
It seems significant that these “principalities and powers” that are operating against the attainment of Christ’s sole Lordship can more easily flourish where their reality is disbelieved. One effect that the presence of grace has, it enables its carriers to make a difference in their institutions by being sensitive to the conflict between good and evil. They have a “nose” for what fits or doesn’t fit from within the horizon of their perceptions wherein God is operating.
Grace and Meaning:
The discernment of grace and the presence of its opposite, flesh (i.e. humanity without grace or Spirit, i.e. humanity susceptible to the passion for independence) can be helped by several of the insights that Bernard Lonergan brings to our understanding about our own understanding. One of these is about the different realms of meaning to which one needs to have access to be fully alive to the capacities of one’s consciousness. He is able to show how there are four such realms of meaning in persons who are fully alive to the different ways they learn - common sense meaning, transcendent meaning, interiority and theory. Why is awareness of these differentiated realms of meaning important? Because of the possibility that one overlooks his own consciousness and becomes “a truncated subject (who) not only does not know himself but also is unaware of his ignorance and so, in one way or another, concludes that what he does not know does not exist”(4). So if there is no experience of the realm of transcendent meaning in a person then both the reality of God and the enemies of God will seem to be either of no relevance or non-existent. It is because of the narrowness of the horizons from which they operate that workers are more likely to impact the workplace negatively. When one’s horizon lacks breadth and depth one becomes a one-armed paperhanger lacking access to the fuller panoply of meanings. There are degrees of dysfunctionality in all of us but ideally we can grow in awareness of ourselves and our impact on others. “It is only by close attention to the data of consciousness that one can discover insights, acts of understanding with the triple role of responding to inquiry, grasping intelligible form in sensible representations, and grounding the formation of concepts.”(ibid.)
We surely have a number of “concepts” of evil from our religious history from both Old and New Testament many accompanied by “sensible representations.” If we can stay with our experiences in the workplace before running to these concepts or sensible representations we might be able to identify with the aforementioned executives who at times found impossible, “evil” people in their companies. Social pathology aside, is it too far fetched to see some people as instances of success of the strategy of the evil one if Ignatius is right about how that works? Which one of us hasn’t been enticed by an irresponsible autonomy and experienced the negative consequences of it in ourselves and others? The resulting disorder is not first within the structures themselves but within the subjects who, in turn, shape the workplace structures. This is a different moral situation than a person being or intending evil; it is a theological situation of a person being deluded by a darkness that has many representations in the history of Christianity and the other faiths.
It is not au-courant in business literature to speak of evil but the myriad dysfunctionalities in business cultures have many terms. From the realm of meaning that is theory there is a helpful way of getting ahold of some of this dysfunctionality. It is Lonergan’s cognitive theory that, as was said above, would have employees and employers try to understand disorder in oneself or/and the structures within which one operates by increasing their attention to their own subjectivity and its operations. Again Lonergan is helpful in sorting out the key point here, namely the undifferentiated aspects of our consciousness which when differentiated can be put in terms of precepts: be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable and be responsible. Put negatively, every business loses by inattention at every level, by failures in intelligence and unsubstantiated decisions and by irresponsibility at the level of action. By going the route of attention to one’s own and one’s colleagues subjectivity and these operations of consciousness, Lonergan helps not only at the cognitional level of the business enterprise but also by going the route of subjective inquiry the presence of grace or its opposite is more likely to be discerned.
So far I have been chewing on the insight that the disorder operating in many businesses might be connected somehow to these principalities and powers but I have not come to a clear judgment about whether there is a connection between these. The “sensible representations” of the world of spirits, whether good and bad, are at a minimum symbolic and, therefore, should “give rise to thought,” as Paul Ricoeur suggests. The thought they have given rise to is that the grace of God has a much easier row to plough or more fertile soil for its seeds to be sown in if one attends more closely to the capacities within his or her consciousness than if he o’erleaps them to surmise about the demonic beings ‘out there.’ I find it reassuring that even the Ephesians text recommends that to withstand the attack of evil, howsoever it is conceived, one is told to “hold your ground and stand fast with your loins girded in truth” (Eph 6:14) This I interpret as a vote for attention to the data of consciousness and to the processes for coming to an objective judgment from authentic subjectivity i.e. to truth.
“Rulers of the Present Darkness”
Most believers believe that the self-communication of God is world wide but that it is only as perceivable as one has the grace to be aware of it. To narrow down this belief to God’s self communication to the world of business, we might ask whether the self communication of God should also be expected to take place in and through the personnel and structures of business? Another traditional belief is that the material and social resources that make business enterprises possible would not exist without the Creator having brought them into existence and continuing to be the ultimate reason they still exist either in their raw or in their produced state. Given these two beliefs, why is there such a lack of transparency between believers and the self-communicating God in their workplaces? Paul would have said that right up there at the top of the possible explanations for the lack of transparency are these principalities and powers. They cover over access to the light of God’s presence. Concretely, these principalities and powers darken or prevent insight into the sacramental character of the creata, human and infra-human, that are operating in the workplace. They narrow the horizon of the employed to the here and now. But all of the ways of explaining the obscurity of the divine to and in the workplace doesn’t call for giving evil a stature and status it doesn’t warrant. What if something like a non-mythic, intrinsic to human intentionality explanation would suffice - like thinking with a mind of flesh? Beside the works of the flesh already mentioned that Paul elaborates there are any number of additional ways that self regard can occlude the light that shines in the darkness like insecurity, indifference, laziness, distraction, inattention, bias etc. Undoubtedly, self regard obscures the true; insecurity makes trust difficult; indifference is shortsighted; even piety can be simplistic. In a word, acting from a self image of autonomous independence is a deception howsoever its cause is explained. Ignatius would explain it by the sensible representation of Lucifer as the agency operating in concealment below human agency which can be naive about being under any dark influence.
But assuming that the intentions of the employee or employer are to do good and their business intends to provide goods and services to the public can the specific insights as they are attained and acted on within the immediate processes of business be a response to the self-communication of God without an explicit advertence to God? I believe so. Reality can be attained by adverting to its Author but also by being responsible about the opportunities that are latent within what the Author has made available to human beings. To be a co-laborer with God is not a shabby status to be called to. But how does one know that such a status is warranted? By being attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsible to undertaking the tasks in the particular circumstances one is given to do. Can people be giving glory to God without even knowing they are? I believe so. Think of the opposite way of operating: one can be negligent and inauthentic by being inattentive, obtuse, unreasonable or irresponsible. If Irenaeus’ insight that “gloria Dei/vivens homo” is true then God is glorified by human beings becoming fully alive. Being fully alive as a human being should include being alive to the operations one’s consciousness is capable of as well as to the realms of meaning one can access. And conversely, God is proportionately less glorified if one is obtuse about either or both of these. Granted, these realms of meaning and operations of consciousness will seldom be explicitly or formally adverted to as such but their value is not thereby lessened. The point is that God is glorified by the self-transcendence that achieves objectivity about the la realidad for which one has responsibility and acts accordingly. God would not be glorified by a subject whose life is confined to pieties and negligent about the matters for which one has power to effect the common good and is negligent about it.
A large population in this world apparently see themselves as doing well without having any sense of the self-communication of God enabling whatever of goodness or integrity or productivity they think of their lives displaying. They are not affected by the gentle rain from heaven because they either don’t know of it or don’t acknowledge the need for it. The irony here is that the goodness of God keeps many spiritually naive because they think of their own goodness as self explanatory or their own natures as unfallen. It is an easy step to go from these attitudes to falling into the present darkness without knowing one is being encircled by it.
But there are shades of darkness. There is the darkness of sin. But more subtle and therefore more effective for the agenda of the prince of darkness to succeed is the darkness of inauthenticity, of wrong reasoning, of irresponsible thinking and normless choosing. Where this is unattended to, or not even perceived to be so, there is decline in the social circumstances where right thinking and choosing are needed — which is everywhere humans operate. A good company is as good as the solidarities it generates. And solidarities are more likely to develop where there are authentic subjects whose knowledge of themselves and the data is such that they are more likely to make objective judgments. The prince of darkness has a field day where the conditions for coming to objective judgments are ignored or not even suspected.
Doxology, the praise of God is an antidote to the darkness and an exercise that makes insight into oneself and the self-communication of God more likely. Paul: it is “through the Church (and the faiths, I would add) that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers.”(Eph 3:10) What is celebrated at Eucharist is not a cultic act isolated from the liturgy of the world of God’s self communication but a response to it. It is surely a misconstrual of the eucharist if it is seen to be a celebration in which the structures within which people live and work are to be prescinded from. The eucharist was meant to touch the world of business by opening the horizons of those participating in it to the realization of Jesus’ vision that “this bread is my flesh for the life of the world.” (Jn 6:51) Without this aerating horizon of worship the people and the structures they work in are much more likely to be unknowingly under the principalities and powers of this dark world .
In brief, I think the challenge to be a good company involves three theses a) that its personnel are able to see the whole universe and thus their own company’s space as sacred thus sacramental and a place of God; b) that its personnel appreciate right thinking and choosing and do their best to insure it; c) that the company see its real competition is internal, viz. with inauthentic, truncated subjectivity that is produced by ‘flesh.’