Enriching ourselves with Spiritual Capital

Peter ten Hoopen

Speech given at the occasion of the presentation, under the auspices of de Baak Management Centrum VNO-NCW, of Spirituele Waarde, the Dutch translation of Spiritual Capital by Danah Zohar & Ian Marshall. Driebergen, nov 24, 2004.

First I would like to have a moment of your attention for a quote by a great spiritual leader, which in only two sentences encapsulates all I am going to say:

     As we humans consist of spirit and body, the spiritual and
     the material are two sides of the same coin. It is the combination
     of spirit and matter that makes us whole living beings, and it is that      wholeness which brings us true wealth.
Satya Narayan Goenka

Those of you who fully grasp the significance of these words may now feel free to go out for coffee, as I have little more to say, and will use many more words to do so.

Over the last few years I have had many discussions about business ethics, corporate social responsibility and sustainable development with board members and managers, professors and opinion-leaders. I have found two distinct groups with fundamentally divergent opinions: the realists and the optimists.
  • The realists say: human nature has always been good and evil in equal measure, and this will never change. Therefore, to improve business ethics, establish a new set of rules and make sure people respect them.
  • The optimists say: we humans are still developing as a species, and as Herman Hesse said, we are constantly struggling to transcend our reptilian, carnivorous, predatory nature, and we are making progress, slowly, but tangibly. Therefore, let's instill a new way of looking at business priorities that includes human well being, and promotes happiness.
I am sure that most of you here rank among the optimists, otherwise you wouldn't be here. But I hope we also have enough realists here, because they will force us to sharpen our concepts, hone our skills of conviction, and keep us motivated. Why should business leaders and managers be concerned about human happiness at all? Why should they be concerned about human happiness now, more than ever?
      Because over the last half century the human factor, the spiritual factor has become ever more important for the material success of our businesses.
      In their annual reports many companies now speak about the importance of 'human capital' for their operations. And though I am sure that many are just saying that because it is the popular thing to say, there is an underlying truth which is slowly starting to be recognized: for many types of organisations, human capital is their most important asset. Why is that so?
      In the time when we were still mostly making things, widgets, it didn't matter much how people felt, as long as they were pushing the right button at the right time. In fact, all through the industrial revolution most companies didn't give a hoot how people felt. Of course by the 1950s some enlightened companies started to pay attention, or at least lip-service to this matter, but alsmost everywhere humans always came second, after the smooth running of the machinery.
     But now, in this service economy, this knowledge economy, it matters greatly how people feel about their work. In fact, the true value of the transaction is determined by the spiritual state of the people involved. Take two managers in a business meeting. Or a client and a call-centre operator on line with each other. Or someone imparting insights during a seminar to a group of people… It matters greatly, how they feel during the interaction, and their spiritual state largely determines the true value created during the transaction.
     There is another reason why business leaders and managers should be concerned about human happiness. Humans are social beings. They feel for others, and want to feel part of a larger grouping. And in this time of globalisation, they increasingly feel at one with all people - wherever they may be. We don't want to feel part of an organisation that exploits people - wherever they may be. We want to feel proud of what we are doing, and proud of the organisation that we are part of. We cannot, as social beings, feel proud of an organisation with a rapacious attitude: grab as many resources as you can and turn them into gold, even if it takes poisoning our rivers, poisoning our bloodstreams, poisoning our hearts. We can, and do feel proud of organisations that we believe to be engaged in the sustainable creation of true value.
     That is why now, the opimists look up: suddenly it makes economic sense to respect human values, to promote spiritual well-being.

Let's be clear, this is not about ethics - although certainly, this kind of awareness promotes ethical behavior. This is about a new awareness, a higher level of consciousness, focusing not on material gain, but on well-being. It is born, not from the Newtonian, Friedmanian world of objective, measurable gain - but from the Einsteinian, Heisenbergian world of material and immaterial forces in an eternal dance of transformation, of sliding from one state into another, changing fundamentally, while remaining the same, a world of apparent individuality in universal connectedness, of unity in diversity.
      Now that we have mastered the material world, we are discovering the universal force that holds all matter together. The force that we call soul, or spirit, or god, or give no name whatever - and that is deeply entwined with the forces of love.
      In this journey of discovery we are guided by ancient voices, many of them from cultures other than our own. The reason is, that several cultures have made this discovery thousands of years ago. Let's face it, we are latecomers to civilisation. While we still roamed around in the forests and swamps of ancient Europe, killing each other for bearskins and wild boar chops, the Taoists in China and the Hindus and Buddhists in India already taught that 'thou shalt not live by boar steaks alone' and formulated a philosophy of material and spiritual unity that still inspires millions today. It is from them that many of us now take our cues.

Reading Danah Zohar's latest book, which we are presenting here today, makes clear that she too is taking her cues from this ancient philosophy, which in these parts we are only just starting to discover - and which seems so hard to reconcile with the philosophy of capitalism.
      Capitalism is predicated on the assumption of universal selfishness. But as Danah argues, and as social Darwinists have been arguing for decades, we all still carry the group gene of our hunting forefathers. If we want to survive as a group, we shall have to regain the solidarity, the loyalty, and the self-transcendence of our primal days as a species - the solidarity that we lost with the growth of our intellectual capacity, that uniquely self-serving instrument of calculation, cunning and scheming. The instrument that was so effectively exploited by the early organisers of capitalism, and still dominates our way of dealing with one another.
      We have to regain the feeling of brotherhood we once felt and the unity of purpose that made all us us go out for the benefit of the whole. If we succeed in this endeavour we shall have paradise regained. But maybe that is a little too optimistic. Let's just say that if we succeed in this endeavour we shall all be the richer for it.

Top pagina