In Defense of Businesspersons

Tuesday, August 19, 2003



I haven't been posting very much over the past month or so, as anyone can see who is looking at the dates of each posting. Yet, so much has been happening in the Christian body worthy of commentary. I thought I would comment a bit on why I haven't been able to blog much.

Basically, I've been working too much at my paying job. I am putting in 12 hour days throughout the work-week, and working on weekends as well. This is odd for me. I've always strived to work hard at my job and to put in an honest day's work for an honest day's pay. I almost always put in some overtime, but I keep it to a minimum.

I avoid working too much overtime because I believe there are more important things in life than work, and I think most Christians agree. We work to live. We don't live to work. While idle hands may be the devil's workshop, there are plenty of wholesome activities that we should do to keep balance in our lives. We need time for prayer, family, Sabbath, exercise, proper sleep, recreation and volunteer activity. Lately, my life is out of balance.

I wanted to write a bit about what is throwing me out of balance, and what keeps me from writing these days. I choose this subject because it challenges some of the prejudices and assumptions of a handful of my fellow progressive Catholics who are adverse to the Puritan work ethic so prevalent in America.

I remember while I was in the seminary, my own sister, who works as a teacher with the mentally handicapped, criticized my brother, who works in corporate America. My brother tried to explain to her and I that his motivations were not materialistic, but I did not "get it" at the time. I am starting to "get it" now.

Before talking about the goodness of hard work, let me admit that I feel bad that the time I am spending at work is putting a strain on the time I spend with my wife. Lately, my work also interferes with my prayer life - I haven't made it to daily Mass in over a month. I haven't had time for regular exercise, and even my volunteer work teaching ESOL suffers. Plus, when I am under this kind of stress, I tend to smoke heavily, which is bad for my health. Then, there is all the time I haven't been writing when there is so much to write about in the Church.

Let me stray off topic for just a few seconds and offer a couple small examples of items I wished I had spent some time writing about in the past month:

The Episcopalians have ordained their first openly gay bishop and the Canadians consider legislation to recognize gay domestic partnerships. The Vatican has issued a statement regarding these events that dictates Catholic politicians are to oppose such measures. By now it should be obvious to any readers that I see the Holy Spirit at work here driving us all to re-consider our opinions about homosexuality. In my opinion, the Vatican's statement is the last dying breath of an erroneous view of human sexuality and morality, not unlike the opinion of bishops and popes who feared democracy, Galileo or abolitionists. I haven't had time to write on the subject when these events are certainly worthy of commentary.

War continues in Liberia in West Africa with the U.S. sending military support to depose another dictator. I am a believer in active non-violent resistance to evil, and oppose the use of pre-emptive military force in the war on terror or the enforcement of peace. Those who live by the sword are doomed to die by the sword. I haven't had time to write about the subject even though the events are certainly worthy of reflection.

Bishop Sean O 'Malley has been appointed to the Archdiocese of Boston. I know him, and believe he is a man of great integrity, deep prayer, and will be a good bishop for Boston. Though he is more conservative than I am, I respect and admire the way he lives the Franciscan ideals. I haven't had time to write about the subject, though it may deserve some comment.

My point is that there has been so much to write about and so little time to write....all because I am caught in the rat race of corporate America.

In my younger idealism, I confess that I sort of looked down on people who devoted too much of themselves to their job. I liked the quote that asks how many people want their gravestone epitaph to read "I wish I spent more time at the office". I smugly believed that people spend so much time at work because they were materialistic and driven by a consumerist mentality. For some people, this may be true...we need to be careful of the materialistic values that lead us to want to keep up with the Jone's next-door while missing out on more important values in life.

Yet, I'm rethinking my position of late and coming to understand a different point of view. I am not working so hard for money. It is true that I feel that I am not paid enough for what I am doing. Yet, the promise of a raise would not have motivated me to accept the responsibility I have right now. Nor is it status or power that motivates me.

What is motivating me to work so hard is a real threat of other people losing their jobs while unemployment still runs high!

Whether merely perception or reality, I feel that if I do not get this ship (my area of responsibility) turned around in a certain time frame, many people will be out of work. Of course, I am not doing this by myself. We have a team of people working long hours trying to resolve a crisis. My point is that we are all motivated by the same principles. We are all gravely concerned about the state of the company, and our account.

I am beginning to realize that there are many people like myself in corporate America. The weird thing is that if we succeed, we likely will get raises, promotions, or both. To all observers, it will appear that I sold my soul to the devil. Only I and the handful of people working with me know the real truth. We are working our a**es off to save around 200 jobs.

I now realize that many business people, whether small business owners, or executives in larger corporations, managers, lawyers, doctors, and so forth...many of us are not motivated solely by money and materialism. While our actions may always be open to critique, I am challenging the assumption of motive that some people project on those who work long and hard hours. Sometimes our motives are not what people presume.

Yes, we all want a fair wage when we work so hard (after all, we have families that suffer along with us), but the money is not what motivates us. What I am learning motivates many business people is job creation, mentoring others, sustaining those jobs, seeing people succeed in the system...and we work long hours because there are things that need to be done to make all of this happen.

I think back to my days in the Franciscans and how often Friars spoke of consermerism and the threat of work-aholism with a sort of near disdain. The Vatican also speaks of American capitalism and consumerism as though it is basically disordered. At times I do question whether the whole system is not designed to make us wage slaves.

On the other hand, even in a perfect heaven, we will hopefully have some work to do to keep from getting bored. Christ even promises that some will have a sort of royal role in heaven, sitting as princes and judges - having responsibility!

I do seek to restore balance to my life and realize that the pace I have been going for the last few months is unsustainable.

However, I am inviting those who look on business people with this same sort of rash judgment that I once felt myself to re-consider their position. Realize that people who lead companies, accounts, or corporations are often working not only for themselves, but many are working to do what needs to be done to save jobs and promote and develop their people. Furthermore, our customers and the whole economy benefits when productivity and efficiency are achieved.

I am not trying to say that corporate America is beyond critique or that materialism and consermerism do not exist. Enron and World-Com proved that capitalism has its faults, and I still believe the war in Iraq was economically driven rather than being a moral enterprise. We need more reflection on business ethics and business morality.

Nevertheless, I am suggesting that many people work hard and even succeed in business precisely because they are sacrificing themselves for the sakes of others....I see it everyday in my co-workers who working on this project with me.

Isn't self sacrifice for others precisely what Christ taught!

There is a spiritual value to hard work when it is done for the sake of others. We all know this, but we seldom hear about it in Catholic churches. The Protestants may overemphasize the work ethic, but that's no excuse for us to react as though work has no inherent value.

This is a topic that I do not hear or read about much in the Catholic Church. Our traditional piety sometimes seems to invite an escapism from the world, and celibate male priests who do not support families often do not know how to speak to the value of labor in a meaningful way. I am pleased that we speak of other values than work, and that we acknowledge the need for sabbath and nurturing family and the spiritual life. Yet, we do not have enough voices exploring the sense of spiritual meaning found in work.

Progressive Christians can and should learn to speak positively the morality and spirituality of working hard in certain circumstances. I invite others to reflect on the spiritual value of your labor.

Peace and Blessings!

Readers may contact me at


posted by Jcecil3 3:17 PM

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