CRE Perspective: Living beyond the Boundaries
McCoy, Bowen H., Real Estate Issues
There appears to be a growing interest in the field of religion, spirituality and business, as evidenced by recent stories in major magazines and several books. A Business Week story, "Religion in the Workplace," indicated that there are some 10,000 Bible study and prayer groups in workplaces, that meet regularly. The article further stated that 95 percent of Americans say they believe in God or a universal spirit, and 60 percent of those polled stated that they believe in the beneficial effect of spirituality in the workplace. A survey published by the New York Times Sunday magazine indicated that 81 percent of Americans surveyed believe in an afterlife; 72 percent absolutely believe in the religious practices they follow; but 75 percent believe their behavior at home is more indicative of who they really are than is their behavior at work. There is a perceived dichotomy between the "real" person and the person at work.
Yet, most people do not wish to compartmentalize their lives. Research performed by University of Southern California Marshall Graduate School of Business Professor Ira Mitroff indicates that organizations which identify themselves with spirituality have employees who: 1). are less fearful of their organizations and 2). less likely to compromise their basic beliefs and values in the workplace; 3). perceive their organizations as being significantly more profitable; and 4). report that they can bring significantly more of their complete selves to work, especially their creativity and intelligence. Many studies have indicated that what gives individuals the most meaning and purpose in their job is the ability to realize their full potential as a person.
In medieval society, (a.k.a., the Age of Faith), there was a strong connection between church and state, between faith and work. There was an order to society which was comforting in a world filled with superstition and mystery. In the post modern age, reason dominates all. We are suspicious of mystery, even of faith. While we may be willing to discuss spirituality at work with a stranger, we find it difficult to discuss our religious faith outside the boundaries of the church or synagogue. Ironically, in an age where 95 percent of Americans are said to believe in God or a universal spirit, the subject is taboo at work or in the classroom, even though research is showing that such faith brings great comfort to individuals in the workplace.
The dilemma, it seems, is how to break down the walls between the fields of religion, business, and ethics to the mutual benefit of all. They are formidable walls, reinforced by constitutional interpretation, political correctness, over specialization, and the like. If we cannot break the walls down, then we must learn how to straddle them and to become boundary people, attempting to deftly navigate our way through a life while staying true to our beliefs and to our vocation to be our best professionally. I know it is not always easy. In a successful career as an investment banker, I have tried to live out my faith in all the aspects of my life. I was Dr. Faust to some. To others I was perceived chiefly as a church elder, a seminary trustee and a teacher.
I have written several published articles on the field of business ethics. Comments come back to me from many sources. A philosopher said my articles were not scholarly enough. A business ethicist said I was too critical of the way business ethics is taught. A theologian said I was too worldly. A business person said I was too religious. A Christian said I was too universal. Being a boundary person is not easy; but how else can one respond to the dual calls to be authentic in work and in faith? In this paper I propose that we can live rich lives of faith, while being engaged in the world as successful business people. We can live with one foot in the spirit and one foot in the world. I believe most of us are designed to be boundary people, and we thus have instilled in us the hope that we can realize our full potential as people created in God's image. …