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The Gift of Work -> Chapter 5: Not a Trivial Pursuit

thought-leadersWe have become a culture of “preventative ethics.”

That’s my term for what Bill Heatley identifies as ethics that confines itself to avoiding either litigation or offending people. There’s a problem with defining or limiting anything to what it is not.

gift-of-work1I hear the grieving of what has been lost in terms of moral vocabulary, social mores, and behavioral standards. Being the veritable pragmatist that I am, though, I want to move immediately to thinking through creative options for facing this current reality, however tragic, and creating, developing and experimenting with alternatives for maturing into a working community that is, in fact, characterized by love, goodness and justice.

It might be more effective to have our working communities back into their ethics. If it’s not going to work to begin with the concept and move to the practice, then let’s talk together about our practices. Teams would discuss and agree upon what behaviors they would like their working relationships and administrative processes to consist, and if anyone wanted later to apply conceptual labels to those practices, many of us would hope those labels will be, “loving,” “just,” “beneficial,” “edifying,” “healthy,” “ennobling,” etc.

I wonder what sort of ethics would emerge from such an egalitarian, diverse, and straight-forward discussion.

A second component of this chapter that struck me related to developing a personal discipline of bringing God into our awareness little by little. Step by step. Inch by inch. Moment by moment.

While physically it seems like we are separated by the space between us, we are in fact quite connected by the very real, however imperceptible, atoms that fill that “space.” God is present, available and participating everywhere and all of the time. But how do we improve our capacity to recognize him, experience him and collaborate with him?

Do you remember those prints that were so popular in the ’90’s that at first glance looked like a colorful, abstract design? Upon closer look, no… upon a less close look, in fact an almost unfocused look, a quite distinct and detailed three-dimensional scene would emerge.

dolphinsThe image was there all along. It was our capacity to see it that needed developing. Similarly with God’s reign, activity, and role, we often do not have the capacity to “see” him, even though he is assuredly involved.

Steps. Small steps. Any sort of step at all will be a step closer to being able to discern God’s presence. But until you find a way to begin taking steps, it is futile to wish that God were more accessible.

How do you discuss with co-workers how you want to go about working together? What practices help you enhance your awareness of God while immersed in work?

What was your main take-away from this chapter?

Each Friday I post my reflections from one chapter of The Gift of Work by Bill Heatley. If you are just joining the discussion now, welcome! Catch up on the entire series here.

3 Responses to “The Gift of Work -> Chapter 5: Not a Trivial Pursuit”

  1. T.E. Brown Says:

    Organizations will always tend toward articulating ethics as liability avoidance. This is because organizations are not persons, and only persons can embody genuine concern for the well being of others.

    Organizations can implement policies that obey laws made with the well being of persons in mind. But it is the individuals within the organizations that must bring out the fulfillment of true ethics. Another way of putting this is to say that the law may be enforced in letter, but not in spirit. We need individuals to bring out the spirit of law, just as we need the letter of just law enforced in our various contexts.

    People of faith serve a vital role within organizations by going “the extra mile” beyond the letter of the law — past mere avoidance of liability — to seek the best for individuals and society.

  2. Karl Edwards Says:

    I’m experiencing a situation right now where the “letter of the law” is being enacted by people in a bureaucratic, cut and paste, no-judgment, uncaring manner. The intent of the policies involved is to protect, but instead staggering levels of harm are being done. In addition, nobody within the organization is concerned (maybe not even aware) that the outcome of their choices and processes is so completely contrary to their purpose.

    Your distinction between the role of the organization and the role of the individuals within the organization is both tangible and insightful. You’ve provided a practical take-away for people to engage with their company policies and inject the judgment and care that only a human person can provide.

    Thank you!

  3. T.E. Brown Says:

    Thanks, Karl. I found Bill Heatley’s discussion of true ethics vs mere liability avoidance particularly helpful in Chapter 5. It gets to the heart of character vs outcome: if all we want to do is to produce a particular outcome, it doesn’t matter what our character is. Just avoid getting sued! But if we are about building character, in the ultimate light of the Holy One, then we must always go beyond simply staying out of trouble to becoming the sort of persons who foster the true well being of others and organizations.

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