If you are an average healthy, able-bodied North American you will spend at least half of all the waking hours in your life at work (which, for most of us, is a separate place and community from what we call “home”). You will spend the majority of the remaining available hours engaging the marketplace in some way. Given that level of involvement, it’s remarkable how negative our outlook often is of work, business and the marketplace.
Work continues to receive a bad rap. The world of business is often characterized as a cold, calculating, sometimes cutthroat place where relationships are exploitative and largely dysfunctional. We might be tempted to think that, at its best, doing business should be nothing more than money changing hands.
Terms like “work/life balance” indicate a prevalent notion that there is no life at work. Rather life is something we escape to after work. Similarly, a saying like “living for the weekend” would indicate that we view work as an unfortunate but necessary detour on our way to our real life. And if we’re fortunate enough to not be suffering through feelings of drudgery, perhaps we’re still at a loss as to the meaning of it all.
In the Christian community especially – how many Christ followers haven’t had an inferiority complex about their work; as if church ministry was somehow a better or more faithful endeavour than whatever it is that they put their mind to from 8 AM to 5 PM each day? How many console themselves with the idea that the work they do provides funds for ministry which is where the “real meaningful” work in our world is done?
A necessary evil?
But is that really true? Is ministry the only way to really obey the Great Commandment and Great Commission? Is business only a necessary evil in the process?
Consider what James K.A. Smith, editor of Comment magazine once wrote.
When we spend our money, we are not just consuming commercial goods, we are also fostering and perpetuating ways of being human. To be a patron is to be a selector, an evaluator, and a progenitor of certain forms of cultural life. You didn’t realize that you exercised such power did you? Our entire lives, including the purchases we make and the businesses we patronize, tell a story.
If we are impacting culture – if we are telling a story – as patrons, then wouldn’t we be doing the very same as producers? Our businesses are also an opportunity to impact the world around us. Consider the influence we can have in our business life with:
- our employees, customers, contractors and suppliers,
- the entrepreneurs we encourage
- the business leaders we meet
- the organizations we build,
- the products we develop,
- the work we produce,
- the services we deliver,
- the way we serve our customers and
- the way we cooperate with each other at work.
All of this too, reflects what it is to be human. All of this too is “ministry.” Our work is a prime opportunity for us to create beauty. Not a superficial surface beauty but the kind of beauty that flows out of love. The kind of beauty that reveals something “other.”
Business is an opportunity for beauty
Makato Fujimura, founder of the International Arts Movement, says:
Human beings cannot live for a long time in a place bereft of beauty. We hunger for beauty if we are robbed of it. True beauty nurtures our deepest longings.
Our time spent at work and in the marketplace has an impact. All the time and all the resources available to us on the job and all the activities we engage in offer us an amazing opportunity to meet not just people’s physical needs but also their deepest needs and influences our understanding of what is to be human in the process.
In our pragmatism, beauty and art have been exiled to the peripheral realities of our culture and our business environments.
So we can approach work as something to be endured. Or we can see it as an opportunity to encourage something beautiful. Love transforms our businesses from cold, hard utilitarian structures into powerful catalysts for human flourishing.
Our leadership – creativity – innovation – organization – resources and the power we’re each given, everything in the world of business tells a story. When love for God and neighbour is the driving force in our life – including our businesses – the story that that tells addresses our fellow man’s deepest longings.
Because when love drives our business, “business is beautiful.”
Jason Bouwman is the founder of Compass Creative (CompassCreative.ca).
Questions for further study
- How do you view your business? Do you see it as beautiful or a necessary evil? Why?
- Discuss your perspective of business with a friend or colleague. What is their feedback to you on your perspective of how you view your business?
- What steps can you take to help you and others see that, by design, business can be beautiful?