Why Business Needs To Learn The Language Of Love

As Pope Francis tours the United States, we should take a step back and consider this thought.
Anthony Lee via Getty Images

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other" doesn't make any sense.

Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi - 13th century

Why is it that business finds it so hard to speak the language of love?

This is a question we should all be asking ourselves as Pope Francis tours America to spread his message of our shared humanity.

Many of us are so lost in our hectic work schedules, set within the broader frame of a world moving ever faster, that we can easily forget the purpose of our lives.

This is a terrible shame. The core of the problem is that we have developed a corporate culture that is based largely on fear -- that unless we are number one, then we are failing, and that at any moment defeat can be snatched from the jaws of victory.

No wonder then that business is dominated by the language of war: wiping out the opposition, fighting for market share and so on.

Warfare, as we know, carries a terrible toll. Striving to be at the top of the pile can often lead to a loss of values. Volkswagen is learning this to its great cost. Just two months after it overtook Toyota to become the world’s biggest automaker, it finds it has lost its way.

Its U.S. chief executive, Michael Horn, said as much yesterday when admitting the company had illegally rigged emissions tests. “Our company was dishonest,” he said. “This kind of behavior is totally inconsistent with our qualities.”

What Pope Francis is offering us is the opportunity to come back to ourselves and recognize that the damage we are wreaking on society and the environment is the result of seeing ourselves as isolated individuals rather than as members of a common shared global society.

He reminds us that our fixation with winning leads, on the opposite side of the equation, to others losing. Just look at the chasm between the rich and poor, between the developed and the developing nations.

Speaking earlier this summer, he warned that “behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea called ‘the dung of the devil.’ An unfettered pursuit of money rules. The service of the common good is left behind. Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.”

The Pope's message is starting to resonate in business circles. Unilever CEO Paul Polman, for example, points out repeatedly that a business cannot succeed in a society that is failing.

To go beyond the duality of what the poet Rumi describes as wrongdoing and rightdoing, we need to come back to what is most important in our lives, which is what it means to love and be loved.

As my colleague Arianna Huffington pointed out at a gathering of business leaders yesterday, eulogies at funerals never talk about whether someone increased market share or raised profits. They talk about care and compassion, being a good friend and making a positive difference in the world.

Rather than focus solely on the negative news of Volkswagen’s unravelling, we should also look with gratitude to companies that are resisting the trap of putting profit maximization above all else.

One example is Kickstarter, which has transformed the way creative projects are financed. It this week announced it has chosen to protect itself from the temptation of ever greater wealth by dropping the "Inc." from its name and reincorporating as a public benefit corporation.

Many people falsely judge love as having no place at work, that it represents weakness. But love is the strongest power we can muster. It means we will produce goods and services that make the world a better place; it means that our businesses will be managed in a responsible way for the long term; it means treating people and the planet with respect; it means that we will be able to look our children in the eye without feeling the need to look away.

Of course it is true that business is tough and it is competitive and it is getting ever more complex. But we should remember that when everything seems to be changing, it is even more important to know what needs to remain steady.

We have created an economic system that can seem like an impregnable fortress against which we appear to be powerless. But every thought we have and every action we take either reinforces it or helps to start breaking down its high walls.

Love has been and will always be at the root of all the joy in our lives. For the sake of everyone, don’t leave it at home when you set off for work tomorrow morning.