By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Gospel for Business? And for Everything Else We Want? Why Not?

No, this post is not another tawdry distortion of the Gospel into some kind of bogus get-rich-quick, prosperity "gospel." Rather, I want to recall to my readers this verse from Matthew 10:39 ("Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it," ESV), and then ask you to read this Wall Street Journal review of a book with the title Obliquity (as in "oblique" or indirect) written by a Mr. Kay, formerly of the business school at Oxford University.

Here is an excerpt from the book review:
Mr. Kay begins with a provocative, profound and counterintuitive insight: When it comes to major goals, whether in life or in business, one can pursue them best by deliberately not pursuing them.
Happiness is one of those goals. Mr. Kay quotes John Stuart Mill, who framed what has come to be known as the happiness paradox: "Those only are happy . . . who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness." Or, as Hawthorne said: "Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you."
Source link (emphasis added).

Kay cites examples of businessmen who decided to focus on quality and customer service, instead of narrowly on share price and ended up, after all is said and done, yes, with a higher share price. I recall C.S. Lewis repeating the same insight: aim for friendship explicitly, and you will likely not find it--but aim to simply be yourself and enjoy what you like, and you will end up finding friends who enjoy the very same thing. I also recall Lewis writing in The Four Loves of the danger of focusing on a lower love instead of seeking the higher love, agape, which will then usher in the lesser loves into their appropriate and fruitful place in your life. In fact, Lewis liked to note that a focus on the lower loves can end up distorting them into unpleasant and oppressive experiences.

Clearly, the Gospel verse quoted above is talking about forsaking--for the sake of Jesus-- an ego-driven focus on getting things or possessing people. You cannot get around that explicitly Christocentric dimension to the verse. When we enter the trenches of our lives, whether in commerce or in personal relationships, we have to decide: do we pursue what is good for our customers and for our friends for the sake of their very own good, or do we focus narrowly on what we wish to extract from them--whether money or affection or some personal pleasure. If we focus on the good of the other, we end up getting everything else thrown in (to borrow a Lewis-sounding phrase).