by Victor M. Parachin
One recent morning eight-year-old Mario was going door-to-door asking neighbors in South Central Los Angeles for canned food. Although the boy and his family struggle to survive, Mario, a third grader at 52nd Street Elementary school, was not begging for himself. He was proudly participating in a school program.
The program was initiated by teacher Jill McLaughlin. Shortly after starting her new job as a teacher in the depressed South Central Los Angeles area, McLaughlin quickly became aware that many of her students’ families lived in poverty and that even providing food was a challenge. Rather than ask outsiders to help meet the need, she organized a school wide food drive. Participating are some 40 inner city third, fourth, and fifth graders who collect canned and dry food for distribution to needy families. The result has been personally rewarding for teacher McLaughlin who says, “I saw the students get a sense of empowerment. They came to the realization that the community belongs to them.”
Jill McLaughlin knows how to bring a spiritual discipline to bear at her workplace. Rather than simply do her job teaching and then return to the comfort of her own home, she applied the spiritual discipline of compassion to the needs she discovered in her place of work.
When people hear the phrase “spiritual discipline” they often think about a tranquil retreat setting where one has ample time to pray, study, and reflect. Yet, spiritual disciplines must not be relegated to a few weekends a year or to an hour on Sunday morning. The disciplines of spirituality can and must be brought to bear at our places of work, places where most people spend 40 or more hours every week. Here are seven spiritual disciplines to apply in the workplace.
The Golden Rule
The place of work would be more harmonious and people would be more fulfilled if every worker applied the spiritual discipline of the Golden Rule: “Do for others what you want them to do for you” (Matthew 7:12, New Century Version). Simply paraphrased, the Golden Rule tells us, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” One who applied this spiritual discipline at his place of work was Marshall Field, the legendary founder of the Chicago department store that bears his name.
Field was once approached by a frightened but courageous youth who worked as a package wrapper in the shipping department. The young man pleaded with Field for an opportunity to do more important work. He explained he had asked his supervisor but had been turned down three times. The department store owner was impressed by the youth’s initiative and his desire to learn other aspects of retailing, so he investigated. “Why don’t you advance him?” he asked the supervisor. “Because he’s the best wrapper I have,” the man replied. “I need him and want him to stay on that job.”
Field, well known for his understanding ways of treating customers and employees, gave the boy his promotion. The young man’s name was Harry Selfridge. At 30 he became a partner in Field’s company. Later he went on to found the famous Selfridge Department Store in London, England.
Respect for Others
Treating other persons in the workplace with fairness and equality is another important spiritual discipline. We must exhibit an honest respect toward all others regardless of their race, religion, color, or ethnic origin. We must view each of our work colleagues as our neighbor. In biblical terms we are commanded, ”Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, NIV).
A man who exercises the spiritual discipline of respect toward others is S. Truett Cathy, founder and CEO of Chick-fil-A restaurants, which today number nearly 1,000 across 35 states. Born on March 14, 1921 in rural southern Georgia, Cathy grew up in the deeply segregated south. Yet, as he was developing his chain of restaurants, Cathy was willing to defy social conventions by employing African Americans. He did this long before the advent of civil rights. In 1948 he hired Eddie J. White, a 12-year-old African American youth. “You have to understand the times,” says White. “This was the time of segregation. But he was like a second father to me. He didn’t even think about it.”
White was the oldest of seven children in a poor family and he was planning to drop out of high school and work to help support the family. “That didn’t fly with Mr. Cathy,” he says. “He came and talked to my parents and arranged for me to be able to work and stay in school.” Later when Cathy learned that White would not go to his senior prom for lack of money, Cathy paid for White’s tuxedo and gave him spending money. “He also let me drive his spanking new Mercury,” White delightfully remembers.
Along with the spiritual discipline of respect for others we must also practice self-respect in our work. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might,” is the command of Scripture (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
The fact is that all work is honorable and by working we contribute to the common good. This truth is made clear in these words written by construction worker Peter Terzick. In the book Of Human Hands: He eloquently summarizes his work in construction this way:
I am a building tradesman . . .
My predecessors created the
Hanging Gardens of
and patiently put together
My successors will construct
platforms in space and
way stations on the stars.
I harness the rivers, bridge
the inlets, disembowel
and level the valleys to
make the nation strong
in war and prosperous
The mightiest skyscraper begins
with a stake I drive in the
ground and ends with the turn
of the owner’s key in a lock I
Praise and Thanksgiving
This discipline has been somewhat formalized through special days: Secretaries Day, Bosses Day, Labor Day, birthdays, annual performance reviews, and various anniversaries such as 25th, 30th, and 50th. However, there are many days in between when others need to be praised and thanked for their contribution. Praise is desirable, pleasing, warming, encouraging, energizing, empowering, and reassuring. Humans crave it and live on it like bread.
Many workers, supervisors, managers, and executives are guilty of not truly listening when others speak and share concerns. Listening is a serious responsibility that must be raised in the consciousness of today’s workers. A 19th century Jewish story tells of two Eastern European rabbis who were traveling together and ate a meal at an inn owned by a pious widow. While eating, one rabbi engaged in a long, detailed conversation with the rather talkative woman. The other Rabbi sat quietly and, when not eating, turned his attention to a holy text he was studying.
When they rose to leave, the widow refused to let the rabbis pay for the meal. Outside, the more welcoming of the two turned to his friend, commenting, “It seems to me that you are guilty of stealing a meal from that woman.” His friend looked up in astonishment. “She herself told us that we didn’t have to pay.” The first rabbi responded, “The woman didn’t want us to pay money, but the payment she wanted was that we listen and talk to her. This you didn’t do.”
In the workplace, the natural tendency to be on the receiving end—receiving a bonus, receiving an attractive salary, receiving a promotion—must be balanced by the spiritual discipline of serving. If someone in your workplace is suffering, reach out with compassion. If someone in your workplace has become chronically ill, offer practical aid. If someone in your workplace has been downsized, connect him to other potential job opportunities. If a family member of a work colleague has been diagnosed with a life threatening illness, do whatever you can to ease the heavy load your colleague will be carrying. “A person should be more concerned with spiritual than with material matters, but another person’s material welfare is his own spiritual concern,” declared Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883), a Jewish leader who emphasized ethical self-improvement.
Honesty and sincerity are much needed in today’s places of work. Duplicity, hypocrisy, and insincerity among colleagues are major sources of discouragement and disillusionment in the workplace. Charles Wang, past chairman of the multi-billion dollar corporation Computer Associates, said that integrity is essential for personal and professional success: “To be a successful person . . . you have to have integrity. Your word has to be everything you’ve got. You must have a moral compass. People will get a sense of you, and if you are not true . . . they’ll get a sense that you are sleazy.”
With a little thought and creativity, one can come up with other spiritual disciplines to apply in the workplace. None of them will disrupt the flow of work but each of them will enhance the quality of life in the workplace. By applying spiritual disciplines to the workplace, the environment is humanized and the soul is revitalized.
Victor Parachin is a freelance writer in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Are You Disciplined at Work?
Victor listed seven spiritual disciplines we can practice in the workplace:
The Golden Rule
Respect toward others
Praise and thanksgiving
• Which discipline(s) do you feel you are you currently practicing at your job?
• Which discipline(s) do you feel you need to work on the most at your job?
• How are you making a difference in the lives of others at your workplace?
• How are you finding ways to grow and develop spiritually at work?