Summary: There is a growing interest in the spiritual dimension in the workplace. For example, Daniel Pink, a best seller in business books, advocates we take spirituality seriously, and there are many others opening up discussion of the spiritual dimension in the workplace. This article will offer an exploration of a Biblical passage in relation to Joint Problem Solving, thereby raising awareness that there is more to human behaviour in the workplace than a clinical and ‘scientific’ application of the behavioural sciences devoid of a reference to God or a spiritual dimension in our lives.
What evidence is there for spiritual experience?
An interesting reference in Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, is to the work of Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist who conducted experiments with a device that has been called “God helmet” which stimulated the right hemisphere of the brain with a weak field of electromagnetic radiation. “Most of those who have strapped on the apparatus report feeling either the presence of God or a oneness with the universe, …”. Daniel Pink concludes that human beings have a natural desire to find meaning in their lives beyond the material. Clinical research for evidence of a spontaneous miracle in the life of mother Teresa of Calcutta before she could be made a saint in the Catholic Church, is an instance of avoiding the risk of assumption and wishful thinking. One could go on to examine the authenticity of miracles and supernatural events throughout human history. Yet, even if the majority of these alleged miracles are no more than wishful thinking, or are manufactured to generate a sensation, there is sufficient evidence that there is more going on in human experience than can be explained and “managed” through the behavioural sciences alone. And I speak as a dedicated student of human and organization behaviour and a registered industrial psychologist.
A biblical perspective on organization behaviour
There are many verses in the Christian Bible that point to meaning or purpose in our lives beyond what we can see, touch, smell, hear and taste – or work out rationally. In any event, our brains can’t adequately cope with more than 4% of the 15000 x 100 billion synaptic connections firing away in our heads. Within the limits of this two-page article, I will offer one spiritual perspective for your consideration. To do this, I will examine the following 60 AD passage from the apostle Paul in relation to Joint Problem Solving, which is the underlying theme of all these monthly articles written over the past four years. Here it is:
Instead, speaking the truth in love we will in all things grow up into Him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him, the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work. Ephesians 4: 15-16
I have a very dear friend who seems convinced that this kind of statement is either ‘pie in the sky’ or a strategy to avoid facing up to the reality of death. He believes that we conjure up notions of God and immortality to escape our fears of facing the thought that when we are dead, there is nothing left of us. I cannot produce a scientific argument in opposition to what he says, and I don’t want to. Why? Because I don’t think faith in God, which generates statements such as this one from Ephesians, can be understood through rational argument and empirical evidence alone. Yet this injunction from Paul has the most meaningful things to say about Joint Problem Solving. Let me unpack it as best I can.
Speaking: This is about two-way communication between people because it is also receiving from others. We know how difficult and rare effective listening is. Listening to the whole person – their needs, their feelings, their priorities, their values, and not just the surface of the words they use – is essential yet not easy.
Love and in truth: As practicing psychologists, we need to examine everything we see, hear, read, say and write against the profound values of compassion, empathy, consideration of others, and at the same time, not let go of the truth in what we see, hear, read, say and write. A simple exercise on problem analysis, done many times in my own work, demonstrates how easily the facts are crowded out by assumption and prejudice. And how easily our desire to be right and accurate overrides our sensitivity to others.
Grow up: This is about the ongoing process of “growth” from birth to death. We are growing all the time, not just physically and emotionally, but spiritually. Organizations are changing and growing either towards meaningful and worthwhile goals or away from such goals. Even age doesn’t stop this process of change and/or growth.
To the head, that is, Christ: Some may want to see God in the trees, the birds, the sunrise or the sea. Or in some mystical force in the universe. Christians believe – and I share this belief – that God himself in his love and concern for the wayward human race, joined this earthly life in Jesus Christ for a brief thirty years to teach us and, above all, to demonstrate the power of his love for human beings, so that we have something more substantial than just an idea and distant notion of God. We see his love, power, righteousness and truth demonstrated and lived out in a human being. God Emmanuel. By some wonderful and mysterious power and reality beyond our scientific and rational comprehension, this spiritual reality and being we call “God” ventured into the physical world, our world, and became God with us in the flesh. He also demonstrated that physical death, as we understand it through our precious but limited senses and rationality, is not the end of life. There is other life and other reality beyond our comprehension. For some, this will be just “too much to swallow”. This is perfectly OK. We are not intended to swallow it. It is not intended for rational comprehension. We have to suspend our rational disciplines and dependencies and come to terms with a new truth, beyond scientific truth: that we don’t know everything that IS in this incomprehensible-beyond-bounds universe of reality. Even if we go in the other direction – getting smaller rather than bigger – physical scientists can’t see and examine infinitely small particles beyond the size of the nucleus of a cell.
From him: This is central. As soon as we get too clever and believe that our scientific methods and rationality, and our search for empirical evidence, is the only source of truth, we lose our humility and jeopardize our journey towards truth in our own scientific endeavours, and also towards the “ultimate truth” which is God.
Held together by every supporting ligament: As an industrial psychologist this phrase gives me ongoing encouragement to be constantly aware that we humans live, love and work in a “body” – corporate – with one another. Hence Joint Problem Solving is not just a useful behavioural notion dreamt up by psychologists. It is, in essence, about “every supporting ligament”. If we lose the notion of support and encouragement, we no longer have a healthy organization. Organizations and teams and groups of people living and working together are held together by every supporting member. This phrase may not be clinically accurate, but it sparks off a spiritual sentiment which has more meaning and life than text books on the subject.
Builds itself up in love: Unfortunately, “love” has lost its deeper meanings of “filia” and “agape”. The word has been commercialized so much that if I were to encourage work colleagues to “love” each other they would either burst out laughing or think I had lost touch with reality. In its true meaning, the word “love” conjures up the sense of encouragement, respect, empathy, sensitivity, compassion and consideration of others. One behavioural scientist, Schutz, has offered a team-building framework of Inclusion-control-affection.
As each part does its work: Joint Problem Solving is not soppy sentimentality. Each part needs to know the work he/she/they is/are required to do and take responsibility for it. Defining job objectives, defining the work to be done and illustrating how one job has to be integrated with other jobs is also a central ingredient to getting this organic creature we call an organization to deliver the desired results and be productive.
So What – at home, at work and on the sports field?
I leave it to you, the reader, to answer this question.
27th September, 2016
 Daniel Pink, A Whole New Mind, , Penguin Group, 2006, Pgs. 219-214