by Bernardo M.Villegas
Prominent Vatican journalist Robert Moynihan hit the nail on the head when he called the recent Apostolic Exhortation on the Family of Pope Francis “a love letter to the world.” Entitled in Latin Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), the Letter defines what love is, what the role of each person in the family should be and how the family should be in the world, and in the Church. As Moynihan writes: “In a time — our time — when the family seems under attack in so many ways, when there are such temptations to break up families, this text is like a powerful medicine, a heart-felt appeal from Pope Francis, to each of us to keep going, to keep together, to keep loving…” After I read the most powerful Chapter 4 of the document, I am convinced that there is much advice of the Pope that can be applied to a business enterprise if we take into account that every business is like a family, a community of free and responsible persons who have gotten together to achieve a common mission in which the various stakeholders commit themselves to seek the good of one another, which is another way of saying to “love one another.” If we focus on the essence of love as seeking the good of another (even if emotions do not accompany this desire), then we can say that every business should also be a community of love.
But first, what is the Pope’s advice to members of the family, starting with the father and mother? His Holiness points out that first and foremost, the grace of the sacrament of marriage is intended before all else to perfect the couple’s love. He then takes off from the lyrical passage of Saint Paul about true love: “Love is patient, love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1Corinthians 13: 4-7).” Patience is extremely important in seeking the good of someone else because it makes one Godlike in being “slow to anger.” The impatient person easily hurts a loved one because of outbursts of anger during which unkind words are easily uttered. Patience is the quality of one who does not act on impulse and avoids hurting the feelings of others. A patient person emulates God’s restraint, who always leaves open the possibility of repentance, while insisting on his power, as revealed in His acts of mercy.
The Pope emphasizes that being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us. Impatience stems from our thinking that relationships or people ought to be perfect, or when we put ourselves at the center and expect things to turn out always our way. This attitude makes us impatient, everything makes us react aggressively. Unless we cultivate the virtue of patience, we will always rationalize our angry reactions. We end up incapable of living together, antisocial, unable to control our temper. Our families will become battlegrounds. There will be constant bickerings between the spouses. Patience takes root in us when we recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are with their strengths and weaknesses. The patient man allows others to hold him back, to unsettle his plans, to annoy him by the way they act or think, or if others are not everything he wants them to be. Love always requires deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like. Married couples can always weather the ordinary storms of disagreements and daily frictions if they have the virtue of patience.
In the community of persons that make up a business enterprise, it is also necessary for the big boss to live the virtue of patience if his organization is to foster an environment that is sufficiently attractive for the best workers to want to remain. Constant outbursts of anger and impatience are a sure formula for a high attrition rate. Impatience with the imperfections of subordinates or co-workers does not help in improving individual behaviors in the organization. Patience leads to the very important practice of fraternal correction through which erroneous behavior is corrected in a calm and charitable manner, without any attempt to humiliate the person being corrected. In fact, as in the relationships between spouses or between parents and children, “love is at the service of others.” As Pope Francis comments, St. Paul wanted to make it clear that “patience” is not a completely passive attitude, but one accompanied by activity, by a dynamic and creative interaction with others. Love is always oriented towards action. It always tends to benefit and help others. It is always ready to be of assistance. It is more than a feeling. Pope Francis quotes St. Ignatius Loyola who said, “Love is shown more by deeds than by words.” Especially within the family, love shows its fruitfulness and allows us to experience the happiness of giving, the nobility and grandeur of spending ourselves unstintingly, without asking to be repaid, but for the pleasure of giving and serving. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had a term for this in his encyclical Caritas en Veritate (Love in Truth). He called it gratuitousness, giving without expecting anything in return. This is the greatest happiness within a family when completely selfless love is felt and manifested.
Conventional wisdom about motivations of business people may give the impression that gratuitous love has no place in a business enterprise in which the maximization of profit or pleasure is supposed to be the overriding purpose of all the stakeholders. Redefining business as a community of persons committed to a common mission of self-development and service to society will give room for love to flourish among the owners, managers, rank-and-file, suppliers and the immediate community in which the business operates. There is room for each one seeking the good of others in the community independently of the economic benefits. It is only when the persons making up the business community can seek the welfare of the other stakeholders without always expecting anything in return can the long-term existence of a business be assured. For example, it is of the highest importance that the managers in a company seek the welfare of the families of their workers as a good in itself, without necessarily relating it to the profitability of the company.
Then the Pope elaborates on the expression “Love is not jealous.” This means that love has no room for feeling bad about another person’s good fortune. Envy is a form of sadness provoked by another’s successes, a feeling that clearly shows that we are not concerned about the happiness of others but only with our own well-being. As the Pope clarifies: “Whereas love makes us rise above ourselves, envy closes us in on ourselves. True love values the other person’s achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat. It frees us from the sour taste of envy.” Peace within a family would be unsettled if the spouses — especially in these times of “professionalitis” — compete with one another for professional prestige. The success of one could provoke the envy of the other, even if such feeling is hidden. The same can occur in what is known as “sibling rivalry” in which brothers or sisters try to compete with one another in some areas of excellence (sports, studies, social standing, etc.) and become envious of the successes of one or the other of their siblings. This unhealthy family climate is exacerbated if parents have the habit of making comparisons. If parents truly love their children, they should respect the individuality and uniqueness of each and should avoid all comparisons that could humiliate those who are inferior.
Within the community of persons that constitute a business, the same principle of the uniqueness of each has to apply. As Pope Francis wrote, “Love inspires a sincere esteem of every human being and the recognition of his or her own right to happiness. I love this person, and I see him or her with the eyes of God, who gives us everything ‘for our enjoyment.’ As a result, I feel a deep sense of happiness and peace. This same deeply rooted love also leads me to reject the injustice whereby some possess too much and others too little. It moves me to find ways of helping society’s outcasts to find a modicum of joy. That is not envy, but the desire for equality.” These considerations obviously apply to the duty of management to give preferential option to the lowest ranks of their workers who are the least paid and are literally struggling to keep body and soul together. True love for the rank and file would motivate management to strictly pay a “just family wage” or the “threshold family income” that takes into account the needs of the entire family and not only the individual worker. In the booming, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector, authentic love for the workers would motivate the managers to exhaust all the means to protect their workers from psychological maladies or moral turpitude as a result of working during unholy hours. Owners and managers of these firms should not just shrug off the high frequencies of drug addiction, mental disturbances or sexually transmitted diseases among their workers as “part of the game.”
A “bright and cheerful home”, using a phrase of St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, can only be achieved if each member of the household is always thinking of what he can do for the others, instead of being obsessed with one’s own personal comfort, pleasure, or happiness. A clear sign of selfishness within the family is arrogance, constantly speaking about oneself, always wanting to be the center of attention. “Love is not boastful” wrote St. Paul. Not to be boastful means that we do not become “puffed up” before others. It means not showing off and having a real sense of reality (humility is truth). Some think that they are important because they are more knowledgeable than others; they want to lord it over them. Yet what really makes a person important is a love that understands, shows concern, and embraces the weak. In the best-selling book The Way, St. Josemaria Escriva wrote “Love more than in giving is in understanding.” Pope Francis has been constantly preaching that it is important for Christians to show their love by the way they treat family members who are less knowledgeable about the faith, weak or less sure in their convictions. It is unfortunate that the opposite occurs frequently: The supposedly mature believers within a family become unbearably arrogant. In family life the logic of domination and competition about who is the most intelligent or powerful destroys love.
The same atmosphere of mutual understanding should prevail within a business entity. The more intelligent should help those who are slow to understand. The stronger should come to the aid of the weaker. This requirement of love within the organization should be balanced with the need to create a competitive spirit among the employees as they are challenged to make the fullest use of their talents. But a healthy competitive spirit does not have to lead to a disrespect for the dignity of the others in the same way that in some sports like football, given the right values nurtured by the coach or manager among the players, competition is still very compatible with the fullest respect for the dignity of each player, whether in one’s own team or in the opposing team. The admonition of St. Peter applies both to the family and to a business entity: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”
In contrast with the brutal sincerity that is encouraged within families of some societies, in which children are encouraged to show disrespect for their parents, true love is more in keeping with the Filipino or Asian sensitivity to the feelings of others. This is captured in the statement “Love is not rude.” Love is not impolite; neither is it harsh. We have to shout this to the four winds to counteract the bad example of some leaders who think that foul language and offensive jokes are signs of strong leadership. As Pope Francis writes: “Love abhors making others suffer. Courtesy ‘is a school of sensitivity and disinterestedness’ which requires a person ‘to develop his or her mind and feelings, learning how to listen, to speak and at certain times, to keep quiet.” Every human being is bound to live agreeably with those around him. Genuine love is incompatible with a negative attitude that readily points to other people’s shortcomings while overlooking one’s own. Those who love are capable of speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation, and encouragement. Every good business enterprise should enshrine in its corporate culture this loving kindness among its employees. It is the only way to build bonds, cultivate relationships, create new networks of integration and knit a strong social fabric — characteristics of a well functioning human resource base. It would be a pity if we should lose what foreign employers and other observers appreciate in Filipino workers: The tender and loving care that they are able to render to other human beings, especially their clients or customers.