How Can Corporations Become Healing Forces in the World?
By Raj Sisodia & Michael Gelb
What if there was a company whose CEO said, "Let's pay our people as much as possible"? What if that same company showed up to help communities in distress before FEMA and the Red Cross when there was a disaster? What if your company treated your spouse, your children, your parents, and even your pets, as stakeholders, and made it a priority to ensure that you can be present for them? What if there was a company that not only reduced its environmental footprint to zero, but actually made a net positive contribution to its ecosystem? What if there are companies that gladly hire some of the 70 million Americans with criminal records and give them what most of them never had – a first chance, an opportunity to build a happy life, raise a family and become productive, tax paying citizens?
And what if these businesses, which prioritize the welfare of all their stakeholders, and help heal their employees, customers, and communities, are more profitable and prosperous than their industry peers?
Such businesses, and many others like them, do exist, and more are evolving every day as the movement of mindful, compassionate leadership gains momentum. This movement begins with a challenge to the traditional idea that business is primarily about making money by exploiting a need or gap in the marketplace.
What is a Healing Organization?
A Healing Organization is primarily about alleviating suffering and elevating joy by serving the needs of all stakeholders, including employees, customers, communities, and the environment.
Can you imagine a world in which business makes human flourishing its first priority?
Imagine what that would mean for the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing of people at work—and for their children, families, and communities.
Imagine the consequences for the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land and seascapes that support our lives.
As more businesses embrace the path of healing, we believe that the walls separating labor and management will start to crumble as all realize that creative collaboration yields more fulfillment and wealth for all parties. We believe that our political divides will begin to ease as the values that unite us—liberty, prosperity, dignity, fairness, and love—come to life in our workplaces.
The time for healing is now. Now is the time to redefine success so that it includes and promotes the values and traits that we cherish.
We are at an inflection point. The era of focusing exclusively on shareholder return is no longer sustainable. The idea that it’s acceptable to exploit people and planet and then make up for it later with charity is no longer viable. It’s time to transform the world of business and make it about love and healing instead of fear and survival.
The Role of Business
Business pervades our lives. More than governments, non-profits or religious institutions, business is the dominant force in contemporary life for better and for worse. In free societies, most of our needs are fulfilled by corporations and small businesses. Most people are employed by private enterprises. The ways in which these organizations operate has a huge impact on every aspect of our lives: our material well-being, our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, our ability to be present and function well as parents, spouses, community members, and citizens.
For the most part, businesses have succeeded in meeting our material needs and elevating our collective flourishing. Over the past 200 years, almost every indicator of human well-being has risen sharply in concert with the spread of free-market capitalism. We live longer, are more educated, produce, and consume more, and enjoy more leisure time than our ancestors. We have access to miraculous technologies that allow us to access people and learn anything in just a few keystrokes. And we are living in the most peaceful and prosperous time in history. This is all enabled by the dynamism and innovation that are the hallmarks of the capitalist system.
Many people are thriving. There’s more freedom for entrepreneurs to generate wealth in creative and useful ways. Yet, even as we progress in so many ways, we allow drastic, unnecessary suffering to continue, and business plays a huge role in causing it. The pandemics of obesity, opioid addiction, alcoholism, depression, anxiety, gun violence, and the corruption of our planetary ecosystem, are all exacerbated by the way business is conducted.
The Continuing Suffering
The need for this change is acute because circumstances are still extremely harsh for the majority of people. Although global life expectancy has risen dramatically, 15,000 children under the age of five still die every day from preventable causes.[i] And, although, according to data compiled by the World Bank, more than one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty (defined as $1.90 per person per day) since 1990, half the world’s population still live on less than $5.50 a day. Life for nearly half of humanity remains a daily struggle for survival.[ii]
But suffering doesn’t disappear with rising prosperity. For example, the towns of Aspen, Colorado and Palo Alto, California are two of the most prosperous communities in the United States, indeed in the world. Yet, they also have rates of depression, addiction, and suicide that far exceed the US average. Aspen’s rate is three times the US average, while Palo Alto has the highest teen suicide rate in the country.[iii]
Whatever one’s level of income, when meaning and purpose are absent, when we feel dehumanized and objectified, then we experience emotional and spiritual suffering.
The Root of the Problem
The objectification of humans by business was partly a consequence of the materialist paradigm of the modern scientific era that started about 300 years ago. It created a view of the universe as a clockwork machine in which separate objects behave in predictable ways based upon fixed laws in time and space. This view has been overturned by contemporary science, which is validating Leonardo da Vinci’s observation that “Everything is connected to everything else.”
Contemporary organizational structures are even more influenced by misinterpretations of evolutionary biology than they are by outdated conceptions of physics. Misinterpretations of Darwin have generated a narrative about human society that is rooted in a zero-sum, survivalist mindset. In his classic work The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin only mentioned the phrase “survival of the fittest” twice; he mentioned the word “love” 95 times.[iv] Darwin believed that empathy is our strongest instinct and the reason why we human beings have succeeded the way we have. In a sense, we are born to be our brother’s keeper; cooperation is essential to our thriving as a species.
The mindset that humans are motivated primarily by feelings of scarcity, separation and competition formed the basis of behavioral psychology and the dominant views of contemporary economics. Economist, banker and social entrepreneur Muhamad Yunus was awarded a Nobel Prize for challenging these assumptions. He states,
“Indifference to other human beings is deeply embedded in the conceptual framework of economics... We need to design a theory keeping in mind the true human being, not a distorted and miniaturized version. A true human being is selfless, caring, sharing, trusting, community-building, friendly - and at the same time, the reverse of all these virtues.”[v]
In other words, how do we design organizations and organizational systems that serve the “true human being?” How do we create companies that promote our selfless, pro-social nature while liberating us from distortion and miniaturization?
Business is poised to play the critical role in reorienting the magnet of the soul to the polestars of truth, beauty, and goodness and in the process drive the innovation that can heal many of our greatest social, economic, environmental, and political challenges. For this to happen, individual business leaders must experience an awakening of their conscience and choose to operate from love.
What Do We Mean By Healing?
Webster’s Dictionary defines healing as “to make free from injury or disease: to make sound or whole; to make well again: to restore to health; and to cause an undesirable condition to be overcome.” The word healing shares its etymology with the words whole and holy. Whole means complete, unhurt, healthy, and undamaged. Holy means consecrated, sacred, godly, that which cannot be transgressed or violated.
Most human beings are wounded, and their psyches are fragmented. They yearn to become more whole as they progress through life. What if the workplace could help fulfill that yearning? There are many organizations that are doing just that: healing employees, customers, communities, and society while outperforming their peers financially.
It is not the work itself that is the cause of suffering; it is the way in which we work, the way we organize, manage, and lead. The exact same work can be a source of suffering and stress, or it can lead to fulfillment and flourishing – not only for employees, but for their families as well.
It doesn't matter what kind of work you do; you can have a healing impact. But, if you do not consciously choose to be part of the healing, you will be part of the hurting.
The first step in healing is bearing witness and being present with the reality that business often causes a great deal of unnecessary suffering. As James Baldwin said,
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”[vi]
When we become aware of the ways in which we are causing suffering and empathize with those who are hurting, we can apply creative thinking to find a better way to do business.
Business Driven By Our Core Impulses
In Non-Zero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Robert Wright cautions,
"God knows greed won't vanish. Neither will hatred or chauvinism. Human nature is a stubborn thing. But it isn't beyond control. Even if our core impulses can’t be banished, they can be tempered and redirected."[vii]
Our core impulses also include love and compassion. There is no greater power or source of strength in the world than love. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said,
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”[viii]
Never has the opportunity for positive impact been greater or more urgently required.
The choice is ours.
The premise of a Healing Organization is simple:
When we understand and meet people’s real needs, we help to heal them, while healing ourselves and generating abundance. When, instead, we uncover and prey on their cravings, desires and addictions, we hurt them, and ultimately, we hurt ourselves, our children, and our planet.
Inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the United Nations adopted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Article 1 states:
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."
Imagine what would happen to our world if we transformed our way of thinking about business so that it was based on a spirit of brotherhood that elevated reason and conscience and promoted freedom and equality.
The time for Healing is NOW.
Now is the time to redefine success so that it includes and promotes the values and traits that we cherish. For this to happen we must all share stories of healing business and celebrate real heroes rather than glorifying predators.
Former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt observed:
"Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough."
Nor does a business.
Former U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy offered a perspective that lives on fifty years after his assassination:
"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
We invite you to become part of the movement to change the world of business and make it about love and healing instead of fear and survival. If you’d like to be part of this movement, begin by taking The Healing Organization Oath.
Place your left hand on your heart and raise your right hand and proclaim.
Primum non nocere (First do no harm)
I will operate my business in a way that causes no harm to others or to the Earth.
Malus eradicare (Root out evil)
I will never enable or collude with abuse or exploitation. I will be an everyday hero who stands up for fairness, truth, beauty, integrity, and basic goodness.
Amor vincit omnia (Love conquers all)
I will operate from love. I will measure success by the fulfillment, abundance, and joy I generate for others.
Then cultivate and practice healing leadership in your own life. Do business with companies that embrace healing and avoid those that cause suffering.
[i] Emi Suzuki and Haruna Kashiwase, “New Child Mortality Estimates show that 15,000 Children Died Every Day in 2016,” The World Bank Data Blog, October 19, 2017, https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendatanew-child-mortality-estimates-show-15000-children-died-every-day-2016.
[ii] Alexa Lardieri, “World Bank: Half the World Lives on Less Than $5.50 a Day,” U.S. News & World Report, October 17, 2018, https://www.usnews.com/news/economy/articles/2018-10-17/world-bank-half-the-world-lives-on-less-than -550-a-day.
[iii] https://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/2017/03/03/cdc-releases-final-youth-suicide-report; https://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/adventure-blog/2016/05/16/why-are-ski-towns-suicides-happening-at-such-an-alarming-rate/
[vii] Robert Wright (1999), Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, Pantheon.
Adapted from: The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World by Raj Sisodia and Michael J. Gelb. Published by HarperCollins Leadership, September 17, 2019.
Michael J. Gelb is a pioneering practitioner and thought leader in the fields of creative thinking, executive coaching and conscious leadership. He is the author of 17 books including How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci, The Art of Connection, The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World, and Mastering the Art of Public Speaking. Michael is also a Senior Fellow at the The Center for Humanistic Management and serves as a member of the Leading People and Organizations Advisory Board at the Fordham University Gabelli School of Business.
Raj Sisodia is Distinguished University Professor of Conscious Enterprise and Chairman of the Conscious Enterprise Center at Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico. He is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Conscious Capitalism Inc. Raj is the author of fifteen books including Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business, Everybody Matters, Firms of Endearment: How World Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose, and The Healing Organization: Awakening the Conscience of Business to Help Save the World.