The Spiritual Entrepreneur: Sell-Out or Agent of Healing and Transformation?

The Spiritual Entrepreneur: Sell-Out or Agent of Healing and Transformation?
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I once took a graduate course six years ago at the Harvard business school focused on "Innovative Ventures." The class had some really smart and congenial people, and, to put it baldly, everyone was basically learning to exploit the capitalistic system with verve, creativity, research agility, and refined strategies.

These bright graduate students were passionate about their products and, as I recall from a few conversations, many of them would justify working in an admittedly problematic consumerist market driven system by claiming that their products could have a positive impact on society from within the belly of the beast, so to speak (be it a health supplement or a revolutionary technology platform). Despite the many limits and problems of such justifications which I won't get into here, I would sympathize with these entrepreneurs and see the possibility that their innovations could contribute to the greater social good.

But, when I think about spiritual entrepreneurs in the health, spirituality, and wellness world, the whole situation is rather strange and curious. Here, in the Oprah-Chopra inspired marketplace, it's no longer products or technological platforms that one attempts to implement and make scalable, but one's own techniques, thoughts, charismatic presence, and relational skills. What's more, is that many of these entrepreneurs -- in the name of abundance and their own positive sense of self-worth -- charge exorbitant fees (that "naturally" increase as they succeed) which only the more wealthy folks in society can afford. Further, they seek to expand their clientele as if such success itself were an indicator of their own authenticity and truly positive impact. While there are products and platforms that accompany the spiritual entrepreneur -- and these are what draw clientele in -- it's the person, his or her message, techniques and charismatic presence that are essentially on sale, offering all kinds of promises and tokens for health and fullness...

It goes without saying that many of these spiritual teachers, coaches, and self-help gurus are struggling earnestly and negotiating as best as they can how to bring their skills and passion to the world as independent contractors. I understand their ordeal and the inevitable compromises they must make, and I realize that there are a lot of grey areas and that situations need to be examined on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, I find the spiritual teacher -- and especially the aspiring moral spiritual leaders -- who justify and celebrate entrepreneurship to be a strange and perplexing issue. What do you think?

Does it seem right or sensible to stand behind the axiom that -- the greater your skills, charisma and ability to help individuals, the more clientele, spotlight and money you deserve? As I see it, the main issues aren't so much about becoming hugely popular and successful. It's more about the basic principles and ethical issues regarding how we navigate the fine lines between the commodification of spiritual gifts, moral leadership and self-help teachings, on the one hand, and the reception of truly valuable, powerful and uplifting goods and people in service to the good life, on the other hand.

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