By Marc Gafni
Note: Marc Gafni recently participated as a guest scholar at the Conscious Business Conclave at Esalen. Here is an excerpt from Marc’s reflections on the urgent priority of articulating a narrative of Conscious Business. In Marc’s words, there is no World Spirituality that does not include the spirituality of the workplace.
The world of business is becoming one of the great cathedrals of spirit. Businesses are becoming places in which meaning can be created, in which mutuality begins to happen, in which intimacy and trust become core values, in which the expression of one’s unique self as part of a larger context becomes a reality.
Capitalism is the force that has lifted humanity out of poverty through voluntary exchange. Communism tried to life people out of poverty through coercion, but wound up killing 17 million collective farmers in the Ukraine and countless millions elsewhere. Business has lifted more people out of poverty than any other force in history. That is so shocking and so powerful that it makes you sit up in your chair and say “Oh my God! Could it be that evil corporations are actually responsible for lifting more people out of poverty than any other single force in the history of consciousness and the history of the planet?”
What does it mean to lift people out of poverty? It means babies not dying, it means mouths being fed, it means girls going to school and getting educated, it means a response to slavery that never existed in the world before. It means that all the values of the great traditions get enacted on two levels: by ending the physical oppression of poverty and by opening a gateway for human being to be able to experience genuine growth with spiritual, emotional and personal evolution.
We need to bow deeply to business, which initially did all this unconsciously. Lifting people out of poverty was never the conscious intention of business; it was the by-product of a business well enacted. Now business is awakening to itself and becoming conscious. It is recognizing that it is a force with enormous power and responsibility. By becoming conscious, it can do what it does even better, creating a tide that lifts all boats. It can create more community, more mutuality, and paradoxically, more profit, by engaging everyone in the system. That is exciting!
Business and the Great Traditions
Business is the force in the world that is actually accomplishing the goals of all the great traditions. What a paradox! Every major value of the great traditions is fulfilled in business: intimacy, trust, a shared vision, cooperation, collaboration, friendship, and ultimately love. After all, what is love at its core? It is the movement of evolution to higher and higher levels of mutuality, recognition, union and embrace.
The core principle of capitalism is the expression of mutuality between people – the voluntary exchange of value. That mutuality is the cultural force of transformation and healing that is lifting people out of poverty in a way that the great traditions were never able to do. Business enables large bodies of people in voluntary mutuality to work together for a higher purpose, which is to create the prosperity that enables people to live, to love their children, to create a context to grow morally, spiritually and socially.
The great traditions, which are beautiful and from which we have received so much, thought in terms of charity, which is a one way gift from the haves to the have-nots. That was essentially the technology of the great traditions. Business moves us beyond the arbitrary split between the haves and the have-nots, between giving and receiving. Business understands a deep truth of evolutionary mysticism, which is that giving and receiving are one; at their core, they are the same. Business enables a mutuality in which the giver is receiving and the receiver is giving; there is no split between giving and receiving. That deep momentous leap in consciousness has created the most potent force of social transformation in history.
Evolving the Narrative
Narratives are the stories that infuse our life with meaning. The narrative of business matters greatly, not only to the business community, but to virtually every human being. The majority of people on planet earth are working in some form of business. But the dominant narrative about business is that it is greedy, exploitative, manipulative and corrupt. Since that is the story being told, the majority of human beings on the planet experience themselves as furthering and supporting exploitation, greed, corruption and manipulation. When people experience themselves that way, they actually begin to become that way. They think, “I’ve sold out. This is what I am. Isn’t it a shame that I didn’t open a soup kitchen? Isn’t it a shame that I didn’t become a volunteer worker in Sudan?”
But the true narrative is that by participating in business, they are creating prosperity through productivity and lifting people out of poverty. They are creating stable conditions for families to be raised, they are helping build communities that can create schools, they are creating places for people to exchange value and meaning and relationships and intimacy and trust. When people realize that they are part of the largest force for positive social transformation in history, their self-perception changes.
We must awake to the reality that business has the ability to change the self-perception and the self-narrative story for most of the human beings on the planet. We thought that was the role of psychology, but it’s not. Psychology can only deal with the broken pieces of people living in a society which pathologizes their core activity, which is business. We must change the essential narrative of business to make it an accurate reflection of the transformative impact of business, its true identity as the great healer. This is not a kind of Shangri-La vision; it is an accurate narrative of conscious business which should become internalized by the majority of citizens of the planet who are engaging in business. It is a huge and dramatic paradigm shift that actually shifts the very source code of our self-understanding.