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No one wants business as usual


I attended a meeting of a group of businesspeople in Chicago about 10 days after the World Trade Center tragedy, and we all shared where we were and how we felt as the events unfolded on Sept. 11 and the days following. I also maintain an e-mail discussion group of about 800 people, and we have been reflecting on the same thing. The “bottom line,” to use a business expression, is that no one wants to return to “business as usual,” to use another.

The point that people are making, I think, is that if there is going to be resurrection after these deaths we must all redouble our effort to make the world a better place, more like the way we imagine God would have things, closer to what Jesus called the kingdom of God “on earth as it is in heaven.” The question is how we are going to do this.

Perhaps the model for how to make the world a better place has been provided by the firefighters, police officers, rescue workers and medical professionals who responded to the immediate crisis with work that shone with courage and competence. They have shown us how holy work can be. But these are not the only workers who have risen to the challenge. We have all observed countless cases of people doing extraordinary, highly spiritual work. I’m talking about everyone who responded to the crisis by rolling up sleeves and saying, “What can I do to help? What can I do to make things better?”

As a nation, we will never forget the image of Howard Lutnick, the CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, describing through his tears on television how his company lost 700 people in the World Trade Center destruction and yet his remaining employees voted to work through the night to open their company the next day -- not to make more money but to allow the international money markets to operate and to provide income for the families of their fellow employees who had died.

The list of those who did sacred work over the last few weeks is long: airline and other transportation workers, reporters and commentators, mothers and fathers, government officials, providers of food and drink, entertainers and athletes, bankers and brokers, teachers, ministers of all kinds, funeral directors, counselors, maintenance and utility workers -- really, the list goes on and on.

Certainly, there are stories of people who took advantage of the situation in their workplaces, but they are so few and so universally disdained that they almost don’t matter.

What does matter is the vision of what the world might be like if we could sustain the spirit in the workplace that we experienced during this unspeakable horror. What if we could somehow continue to operate the way we have for the past weeks -- in business, in government, in the arts, in sports, on our farms, in our factories, at our offices, while and wherever we are working? Would that not be a world that is a lot closer to the reign of God?

Certainly there are going to be military “solutions” to the current situation. But when these are over -- and they will have to be over at some point -- there will be no real “solution” until we can find a way to make the world a much better place than it was before Sept. 11. The only way to do that is for all of us to work at a much higher, holier level.

How do we get there? The same way we get to Carnegie Hall, I suspect: practice, practice, practice. We need a new way to think about both our spiritual lives and our work lives. In fact, we need to see them both as one life -- one in which we are the same person at work as we are at home, in our neighborhood and in our churches. We need to see our work as an extension of our spiritual lives, as the way that we get up off our knees and go out and do what needs to be done.

We have to understand that our work is merely our prayer in action -- everyday and for everyone.

Gregory F. Pierce is the co-publisher of ACTA Publications and the author of Spirituality@Work: 10 Ways to Balance Your Life On-the-Job. To join his e-mail discussion group, send a message to SpirtualityWork@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, October 12, 2001