character, Leadership, purpose, Reflection

Salvation through Cleaning

The morning’s Globe and Mail offers some strange advice in its business section this morning.  “Clean Home, Clear Corporate Minds”  shows how far an MBA can take you from the real world and it makes me so glad I never thought of pursuing one. The article starts with the experience of a business executive who takes a break from her regular duties to travel to Montreal from San Fransciso to scrub floors, wipe desktops – and horror of horrors, clean toilets. This experience produces an “aha” moment of oneness with the universe and sends her back to Califormia productive and raring to go.

Well duh.  Had she ever thought of doing cleaning at home? Probably not.  Of course working for Zenith Cleaning as a volunteer meant she had to don a uniform and actually enter a restaurant wearing it. (I wondered if the uniform involved denim and whether she had exchanged it for her own jeans costing $200 and up. – but maybe not)  The experience of wondering if people would reject her on the basis of how she looked made her feel humble and suddenly there was an epiphany. Cleaning was a way to mindfulness.

The company founder and CEO agrees that “cleaning is as much a spiritual service as a physical act” – and has created a side business ” inviting executives to come to Montreal and work alongside his professional cleaning crews” and join them as “pilgrims”..  I guess the feckless executives could save their companies money by doing the same tasks on their own turf – but apparently they need training in using unnamed cleaning tools – (sponges? dustcloths?) – as well as operating vacuums and mops.  Sounds as though these guys and gals don’t get home much to watch the hired help – or perhaps spouses.

The article goes on to note that promoting mindfulness in the workplace is not limited to Zenith Cleaning but is also followed by Google, Apple, Deutsche Bank and General Mills – who “bring in speakers, including Buddhist monks”  – though the purpose is to improve productivity as much as relieving stress or quieting minds.  Meditation and yoga are also encouraged. An associate professor of strategy and leadership at McGill’s business school notes that people are looking for “deeper purpose beyond profit in their lives and their work”. Spirituality without religion rules. Zenith Cleaning’s founder notes that he had a conversion.  “I think I would be in investment banking and doing something very normal –

Stop right there.  Investment banking isn’t something very normal at all. If that’s what he learned at the business school that invites him back every year to speak, he’s been badly served by the thousands of dollars he’s spent on his own education. That kind of world view is one of the things that makes us so completely messed up.

But it’s telling that all this language – purpose, pilgrims, caring, meditation, humilty, spiritual awakening – have all been co-opted from the world of religions – along with the favorite business buzz-word, “mission”.   We are confusing two worlds that are pretty much opposed. Did the business schools ever think of inviting anyone from the faith tradtion that formed the basis of capitalism at its inception?  The space they are trying to fill shows the world of post Christendom does have needs that are not being met in a very effective way.

but it’s also a pretty firm indictment of communities of faith in their inabiity to compete with the religion of business with their new dogma  apostles and disciples. No one even thought of asking them.  I spent the past weekend with Phyllis Tickle – a self-described “uppity woman” who travels the world with some interesting insights as to where Christendom in particular is headed. She says it’s in the middle of one of its every five hundred year rummage sales and no one is quite sure where it will land. It may be down but its history shows this pattern of coming back changed but not out.   Nevertheless, religions – and Christendom in particular –  better speed up their determination to recapture the ownership of some of this language and thinking by owning it with more insights than we are seeing from the business schools.

 

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