between-our-steps-08-08-18-doubleSometimes, we modern people don't give the ancients credit. Reading the bible, we see references to demon possession or spiritual rulers that inhabit institutions, and we dismiss these passages. We might enjoy horror movies or shows about supernatural beings, but we don't believe they exist in our world.

As a result, we miss the message that there is a spiritual dimension to corporate life. We gloss over the spiritual effect of the values that are imbedded in the decisions organizations make.

People talk about toxic workplaces. There are offices where a habit of negativity has become commonplace. It is hard to feel good about any work because nasty gossip is endemic. Teamwork is hard because people are always arguing or trying to get ahead of each other. There isn't a demon inhabiting the office, but there is a negative spirituality.

Another work setting pressures people to put in impossibly long hours or has a narrow focus that ignores family. Some reward achievement without noticing who gets pushed aside. The workplace becomes individualistic and self-centred.

A government can be mean-spirited or humane. Decisions can be made in a way that takes vulnerable people into consideration or, using the justification of saving tax dollars, people on the margins are ignored.

Every institution is guided by values and goals. The choice of what to count as important gives a spiritual character to the institution.

In the biblical writings, after these spiritual effects are described, there is a confidence that another spirit can be chosen, that other values are stronger. Despite the spiritual power around us, we are not helpless.

But we often feel helpless to change the atmosphere. In biblical times, a demon might be blamed for what people felt couldn't be changed. That is not our modern justification, but there are excuses we use that put responsibility outside of us.

"It's always been done that way" is a favorite. There is a habit that we are used to. We don't even notice the habit because we're accustomed to it. When someone new does things in a different way, we blame them for being odd. We try to enforce conformity. But if we recognize that habits are arbitrary, we can choose the value of respect and move to a pattern that works for everyone.

"It's how they were brought up" is another explanation for how "some people behave." There are values that each society assumes, that are taught to our children and youth. But we can notice when those values push us to ignore environmental consequences and choose a different way.

We are told that "government has to be responsible" meaning we have to be financially responsible. Being responsible can, however, mean attending to those who are hurt, those who suffer, those who are pushed to the margins. It can mean taking responsibility for the long-term consequences of a decision. It can mean attending to the environmental consequences.

Our current provincial government promised to put money back in the pockets of the people. To do that they had to cut spending. Their question was where to cut. The question the people of the province need to ask is who are the cuts taking into consideration? Which responsibilities are taken into account?

I am only going to comment on one cut: ending the development of new curriculum that addresses Aboriginal history. Putting this curriculum in place was a recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The goal was to build respect and understanding. The spiritual values are justice, peace, and reconciliation.

When we say "we don't have funding for this" money is valued over respect. There will be spiritual cost to this decision, because it fuels isolation and resentment. Spiritual costs should not be ignored, because these create social costs. Aboriginal people will continue to feel marginalized, and non-Aboriginal people remain ignorant of their own history and the history of those who cared for this land before. And social costs bring financial costs.

The ancients saw that actions embody values and thereby take on a spiritual dimension. The institutions of society gain a power beyond the individual actions. The ancients also told us that we are not helpless when this happens. "The devil made me do it" doesn't fly as an excuse. Neither do any of our favorite excuses let us walk away from the consequences of our value choices.
Cathy Hird lives near Walter's Falls.

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