“The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” This joke has been attributed to a variety of comedians over the years. And the thing about comedy is that there’s always an element of truth to it.
A rat race is a pointless pursuit in business that consists of working harder, to make more money, in order to buy more things, with the prize at the finish line of finally being happy. The “secret” is that there is no finish line, just a promise of happiness around each corner in the form of an increase in personal or professional status, the next promotion, a bigger house, spouse version 2.0 or 3.0.
Billions of advertising dollars are spent annually to ensure we stay engaged in the rat race, yet more and more people are profoundly unhappy and lonely while having worked hard to attain every material good and every earthly desire. So, what is missing?
Love is missing. When was the last time you ever felt truly loved or even remotely cared for by an organization, either as an employee or customer? If you lead a company, does your company truly love its employees, customers, vendors and stakeholders?
If you are running hard and are in the thick of your own rat race, you may think I’m completely out of my mind. What’s love got to do with the rat race of business? Isn’t love just a second-hand emotion? Unfortunately, Tina Turner had it wrong. Love is not an emotion but a decision, a willful desire for the good of another. Most professionals think that love doesn’t belong to the utilitarian equation of business.
Love is at the center of the epic battle of wills that rages in our soul. It’s a daily tug of war between the willful desire for the good of self and God’s will for our lives, including our work lives. It’s a battle between the heart and mind, mission and money, sainthood and sin.
In case you are wondering, the short answer to “What is God’s will for us?” is holiness. The standard operating procedure for achieving holiness is to love God, and also to love your employees, customers, and vendors (Mark 12:30-31). While the original text says “neighbor,” your employees, customers, and vendors are your neighbors.
Love was the collateral damage when our lives of faith and business got divorced. It removed any concern for the human person, for others, as they are not factored into business decisions other than as assets to be used and disposed of as the situation demands.
The creed that drives Wall Street is “Ever increasing profits while mitigating risk.” When push comes to shove, money is always prioritized over people. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has stated repeatedly that leaders should prioritize people over money. Most Catholics don’t appreciate how pragmatic the Church is about business and profits. Buried deep in encyclicals from Pope Leo the XIII on is the role and importance of business and profit. The Church does have concerns when leaders shift the human person (employees in this case) from being the subject or center of work, according to social teaching of the Catholic Church, to merely an object, an object that is measured equally in value to other objects like a plant or piece of equipment to be replaced or disposed of as needed. Do we Catholic business owners see the difference?
The Church defines business as a community of persons. Yet, if we knew that and believed it, we Catholic business leaders would be creating and leading cutting-edge business-social movements like the B-Corp and Conscious Capitalism with Catholic social teaching (aka love) at the core.
These movements, which have seen great strides and popularity in the business world over the past few years, were started by secular business leaders. Their overarching mission Is to advance the human person which is both needed and noble and I dare say sounds Catholic-like. In fact, the B-Corp standards line up nicely with the basic tenants of Catholic social teaching, save some of the limiting language secularists use with the focus on the employee flourishing and protection of the environment.
Yet for a Catholic, these movements don’t go far enough. There is no reference to God with B-Corp, Conscious Capitalism or ESG, but it begs the question: Can we really love and serve humanity without a higher calling? Fyodor Dostoevsky answers directly that “You cannot replace the absence of God with love for humanity, because people will ask immediately, ‘Why do I have to love humanity?’” which recalls the internal battle to serve self rather than others.
I think the work being done by the B-Corp and Conscious Capitalism movements is great, but eventually people will ask — and are already asking — how do we get out of the rat race?
The answer is love. God pushes us to agape love — his immeasurable and unconditional love for us. We are commanded to do the same in the business world.
When love isn’t included in our work, we aren’t following Christ’s commandments. Business is reduced to a simple utilitarian equation when making a decision: What act will produce the greatest utility?
Instead, our question should be: How does this decision honor or demonstrate love for God and neighbor (employee, customer, vendor, shareholder)?