We tend in our culture to stifle the spirit

Charles Taylor

Spirituality interconnects human responsibility with dimensions of life that transcend human control

Hendrik Hart

A gift of love is not an expenditure without return, but an expenditure without a controlled, manipulated, or contracted return

James Olthuis

Dare I use the word ‘love’ in the context of work and business? If it is not romantic love, which in any case can complicate things in the office, is there a place for love in how we relate to co-workers, how we deal with difficult situations and people, how we think about groups different to us, the social context we work and live in and how we prepare our minds for a day’s work? Is ‘love’ not for the church people, those who are still hippies at heart, the pacifists, the softies, the weak, the losers, the idealists and the emotional dreamers?

To have any chance of success in today’s world you need to be hard, uncompromising, on the attack, shrewd and skilful in manipulating those who stand in your way or can open a door to more power, money and influence. For most people that is more realistic and the obvious approach and mindset for success. That, they will say, is what they see works for the ambitious people who go places.

Even in these times of emancipated women professionals it is reason and its power tactics, not the heart and not the spirit, that takes centre stage. As Charles Taylor says, we tend in our culture to stifle the spirit. But do we really still believe that our calculated thoughts will have the last word on everything? How will we evaluate modern life centuries after Rene Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’. Clearly the development of science and autonomous thinking contributed immensely to our sense of freedom and to the reasonable comfort of modern life. However, is it not true that as human beings we know that there is more to life than using our minds? Is it not true that we experience poverty of a spiritual kind? As clever as we are and able to think freely and independently, we are reminded daily of the fact that we can’t control everything; that there are powers that transcend human reason and understanding; that life is still full of mystery.

At the same time we are aware that we know things in ways that transcend reason. We know more than what we think. Emotions, for instance, are vital and honourable ways of knowing. Feelings are indispensable thermometers, signals registering how we apprehend, situate, and motivate ourselves in engaging the world. We know by touch, by feel, by taste, by sight, by sounds, by smell, by symbols and by trust. Knowing by thinking is no better, no worse, than any of the other modalities. To know more fully, to know more meaningfully, we also need to be spiritually open. It is not reason that can answer our questions about what we may hope, what we can trust, how we know that life has meaning, what comfort there is in the face of despair.

With reason as our only sense-making tool to engage with the outer world, we look for logic order and try to fit everything into that order as we perceive it. As far as we are concerned, there is no reality outside of it. Life becomes a battlefield. It is always me versus anything different to, or obstructing me and my sense of order. And of course, if life is a battle then it comes down to who has the most power. It is then inevitable that life becomes violent – if not physically then emotionally and psychologically. Differences are seen as a threat to be denied, marginalised or annihilated. As James Olthuis says, reason untransformed by love can only totalise.

How does love make it different? In an economy of reciprocity and exchange, as is typical in business, things and people have instrumental value. They therefore can be substituted by things or people who meet the needs equally well. If seen through the eyes of love, the other person is never a mere instrument but different, incomparable and irreplaceable. As parents we discover that we express the ‘same’ love ‘differently’ to our different children because they are unique individuals. And so we are able to do with others we love. In those relationships of love we learn to appreciate differences and don’t see it as a threat. We see no need to let our minds control, order and manipulate the relationships. Instead of seeking power over those we love, we become aware of having power with them.

You might say that is OK for family and friends but love has no place driving to work and no place at the office, no place in the public domain, no place when reading the newspaper or watching television and no place when discussing political and other public figures in our social gatherings. If it was indeed the case, how would we be able to exhibit love’s characteristics as described in the Bible: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13)

If you believe in a loving God it makes sense to say ‘I am loved, therefore I am’ rather than ‘I think, therefore I am’. If you know God’s love, it is possible to love yourself and if you can love yourself, you can love others. Such love, not only at home but also at work, makes it possible to have mutual recognition, mutual empowerment and mutual freedom. Beginning with a vision of love means that domination and alienation need not be inevitable. Healing and transformation is possible even with all our differences.

Author : Dr Gerhard van Rensburg