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Employment and Spirituality

by John-Brian Paprock © 1997

Given the opportunity one evening, an average person with average aspirations asked a wise and spiritual person, "What is the spiritual part of life
The wise and spiritual person responded, in the expected peaceful and soothing voice, "I am afraid you are mistaken. There is no spiritual part of life."
After a stunned silence, "I have paid attention to spiritual people all my life. I have read the sacred scriptures of my faith. How can it be that there is no spiritual part of life?"
The wise and spiritual person said, with the expected knowing grin, "It is all spiritual."

In American society, even with "freedom of religion" and "separation of church and state" built into the governmental constitution, it is rare to meet those that live their whole lives spiritually. Yet, all faith traditions advocate the incorporation of spiritual practices into everyday life. This issue of "spirituality vs. society" is reflected in places of employment. At work, there are two prevailing misconceptions:

1. Unless dedicated to a religious group, corporations and other work environments must be "religious free zones."

2. Employees must separate their personal from their professional life.

Madison and Dane County have some of the most stringent anti-discrimination laws in the country. When hiring, employers are required, by law, to hire qualified individuals regardless of race, sex, sexuality, appearance, age, or creed. Creed refers to a personal belief system, whether or not it is religious or theistic. This makes interview and application questions about one's beliefs, UNLESS DIRECTLY RELATED TO JOB PERFORMANCE, illegal. Although it can be obvious, discrimination based upon belief systems is hard to prove and even harder to win. Many employers act as though the only way to be sure of compliance is to create "religious free zones" at work. This is rationalized by those employees who are not doing the work assigned in the manner proper to industry standards, using their alleged beliefs as justification for their behavior. Examples of this would be the employee who brings the bible to work to "save" fellow employees, or the employee who takes excessive breaks and claims they are taken for "meditation and prayer" according to a unique religious doctrine.

The reality is that there are no "religious free zones" in America, according to recent studies and statistics (gathered from a variety of sources). Nearly 90 per cent of Americans believe in a Supreme Deity or God. More than two thirds consider themselves members of a major religion. Nearly half of Americans attend a religious service at least once a week. Over 70 percent pray daily. Half of those, more than twice a day. Other studies demonstrate the value of prayer and meditation for improved health and performance.

Although clearly unavoidable, employer acceptance and encouragement still needs to careful. Employers must take special measures to not endorse any particular religious (or spiritual) belief, especially being careful not to show favoritism based upon religious or spiritual belief. Religious and spiritual beliefs are often intermingled with cultural practices. With growing minority and international communities, it could become easy to discriminate. Employers, especially human resource personnel, would benefit from a basic understanding of different religious and spiritual systems. This would be particularly insightful to the growing diversity of the area. Much of which has non-Christian beliefs.

A related debate is the religious day off. Good Friday has had recent public debate. Here again, employer's human resources could find progressive alternatives that are not discriminatory nor anti-religious. Those that have ventured into progressive alternatives are rare. In the meantime, a few employees have found creative solutions that allow them the ability to be spiritual at work and not require special privileges. In other words, they have "transcended" the second misconception: employees must separate their personal from their professional life.

Typically, an adult person gives about one third of each day to the grindstone of work. Over time, this easily becomes a third of one's life! To take the time to be spiritual can seem overwhelming at times, but all faith traditions emphasize the application and integration of spiritual lessons. Incorporating the spiritual life into everyday life is not the exclusive work of clergy and monastics.

"Schooling, career counselors, books, experts, the mixed signals that we get from a worldly, fluctuating society can only give us a torturous jumble of misleading, conflicting advice without the cultivation and use of our spiritual resources or inner wisdom," writes Marsha Sinetar in To Build the Life You Want, Create the Work You love (1995).

Spirituality does not really take time, rather it is being who one is. If a person has engaged a spiritual life, then it is personal integrity that brings spirituality wherever the person is. Whether through prayer or a prayerful consciousness or through meditation or a meditative consciousness or through cultural practices, work stations and offices can become personal "sacred space." Mundane routines and obligations can become rituals and blessings. Obstacles and problems can become opportunities of spirit. All of life becomes an integrated adventure. Spirituality becomes the whole of life, not an extra-curricular hobby reserved for the weekend.



[Originally appeared in Now Hiring, Madison, Wisconsin - April 1997.]

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