Saturday, May 24, 2014

Gratitude and Grace at Work

I've written about grace and positive psychology before. But just to review, grace in antiquity was not only the initial gift of the giver, but also included the response of the receiver (gratitude). New Testament scholar David deSilva explains,
The Three Graces in Botticelli's Primavera

The fact that one and the same word can be used to speak of a beneficent act and the response to a beneficent act suggests implicitly what many moralists from the Greek and Roman cultures stated explicitly: "grace" must be met with "grace," favor must always give birth to favor, gift must always be met with gratitude. An image that captured this ethos for the ancients was three goddesses, the three "Graces," dancing hand-in-hand in a circle. Seneca's explanation of the image is most revealing: 

Some would have it appear that there is one for bestowing a benefit, one for receiving it, and a third for returning it; others hold that there are three classes of benefactors -those who receive benefits, those who return them, those who receive and return them at the same time....Why do the sisters hand in hand dance in a ring which returns upon itself? For the reason that a benefit passing in its course from hand to hand returns nevertheless to the giver; the beauty of the whole is destroyed if the course in anywhere broken, and it has most beauty if it is continuous and maintains an uninterrupted succession....Their faces are cheerful, as are ordinarily the faces of those who bestow or receive benefits. They are young because the memory of benefits ought not to grow old. They are maidens because benefits are pure and holy and undefiled in the eyes of all; [their robes] are transparent because benefits desire to be seen (Ben. 1.3.2-5; LCL, emphasis mine). 

From this, and many other ancient witnesses, we learn that there is no such thing as an isolated act of "grace." An act of favor and its manifestation (the gift) initiate a circle dance in which the recipients of favor and gifts must "return the favor," that is, give again to the giver (both in terms of a generous disposition and in terms of some gift, whether material or otherwise). Only a gift requited is a gift well and nobly received. To fail to return favor for favor is, in effect, to break off the dance and destroy the beauty of the gracious act.[1]

This is the context in which the New Testament authors wrote. Grace was meant to be met with gratitude. And it is the recognition of grace and the gratefulness for it that can allow us to flourish.

According to the Greater Good Science Center (University of California, Berkeley),

survey of 2,000 Americans released earlier this year by the John Templeton Foundation [showed that] people are less likely to feel or express gratitude at work than anyplace else. And they’re not thankful for their current jobs, ranking them dead last in a list of things they’re grateful for. It’s not that people don’t crave gratitude at work, both giving and receiving. Ninety-three percent agreed that grateful bosses are more likely to succeed, and only 18 percent thought that gratitude made bosses “weak.” Most reported that hearing “thank you” at work made them feel good and motivated. But here comes the messed-up, mysterious, and interesting part: Almost all respondents reported that saying “thank you” to colleagues “makes me feel happier and more fulfilled”—but on a given day, only 10 percent acted on that impulse. A stunning 60 percent said they “either never express gratitude at work or do so perhaps once a year.” In short, Americans actively suppress gratitude on the job, even to the point of robbing themselves of happiness.

Apparently, the place of employment has been deemed off-limits to the workings of grace and the virtue of gratitude. I highly doubt this barrier to gratitude is inherent in the organizations themselves, but has more to do with the slight cultural stigma toward business as "profane" or "unholy." As Michael Porter has pointed out, businesses have (often) bought into what society thinks about them. Yet, we should remember the medieval folklore behind Enoch's theosis. Relying on his teacher, the kabbalist Rabbi Isaac of Acre (1250-1340) described it as follows:

He said that he received a tradition that Enoch was an ushkaf, that is, he sewed together shoes, and with every incision and incision that he made using the stitching awl he blessed God with a whole heart and perfect intent, extending the blessing to the emanated Metatron.  Never did he forget during even so much as a single incision to bless, but would always do so, until because of so much love he was not, for God took him and he merited being called Metatron and his virtue is very great indeed

It was Enoch's love and gratitude toward God in the midst of his vocation that led to his exaltation. As a pious cobbler, he bound the lower physical world with the upper spiritual world together with every stitch, collapsing the distance between the holy and profane. 
When it comes to the workplace, Charles D. Kern--Professor of Applied Behavioral Science at Pepperdine University's Graziadio School of Business and Management--has written,

Grateful behavior can facilitate positive interpersonal and community relationships that may in turn influence other key outcomes. Effectively applied in the workplace, for instance, gratitude may positively impact such factors as job satisfaction, loyalty, and citizenship behavior, while reducing employee turnover and increasing organizational profitability and productivity. In addition to the external benefits of gratitude accruing to recipients and their organizations, research surrounding gratitude identifies several positive impacts that await individuals who express gratitude to others. In turn, these personal benefits may also work to the advantage of organizations.

...By increasing optimism and adaptability, improving health, decreasing stress, and perhaps lengthening lives, can gratitude also play a role in sustaining the health and survival of organizations? It would certainly be good news if these personal benefits of gratitude could in turn increase organizational citizenship behavior in particular, since empirical evidence indicates that citizenship actions within organizations positively influence a number of key organizational outcomes. These positive organizational outcomes include improved work group productivity, enhanced sales team performance, profitability, and operational efficiencies.

Gratitude doesn't just belong in church or in the act of prayer. It belongs at work and in the performance of one's job. 


1. David A. deSilva, "Patronage and Reciprocity: The Context of Grace in the New Testament," Ashland Theological Journal 31 (1999): 39-40.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

WWE - Tragic Optimism in Mormonism

Steel Magnolias is a favorite of my mother's--along with Big Business and Overboard--and one of the most consistent sources for her movie quotes (my family tends to communicate in movie quotes). It also features one of the best examples of what not to say to someone grieving. Following the funeral for the daughter she lost to diabetes-related kidney failure, M'Lynn (Sally Field) is joined by several of her friends at the grave site. Annelle (Darryl Hannah), the newest and most awkward of the group, says, "Miss M'Lynn, it should make you feel a lot better that Shelby is with her King...We should all be rejoicin'!" Irritated (and rightfully so), M'Lynn snaps back, "Well, you go on ahead! I'm sorry if I don't feel like it, I guess I'm a little selfish. I'd rather have her here." A little taken back and perhaps a bit embarrassed, Annelle replies,

Miss M'Lynn, I don't mean to upset you by sayin' that. It's just that when somethin' like this happens, I pray very hard to make heads or tails of it. And I think that in Shelby's case, she just wanted to take care of that little baby, and of you, of everybody she knew. And her poor little body was just worn out. It just wouldn't let her do all the things she wanted to. So she went on to a place where she could be a guardian angel. She will always be young, she will always be beautiful. And I personally feel much safer knowin' that she's up there on my side. It may sound real simple and stupid and...well maybe I am, but, that's how I get through things like this.

There are a lot of I's in this paragraph. Anelle is focused on her good intentions ("I don't mean to upset you...") rather than the way M'Lynn feels. She is worried about herself making sense of it and feeling better about it rather than grieving with M'Lynn. She is worried about herself "getting through things like this" instead of M'Lynn getting through it. M'Lynn's eventual response is a charitable one, but it is followed by the famous breakdown scene.

Personally, I would rather take a swipe at Anelle for missing the point of mourning with those that mourn and comforting those that stand in need of comfort. Tragedy is not only a part of life, but plays a major role in scripture and Mormon history. Even though there are reasons for optimism, I fear we sometimes put on a fake smile and provide cheap rhetoric instead of truly engaging the good, bad, and ugly of the world. Mormons needs a fresh sense of what Viktor Frankl called "tragic optimism." This is the topic of one of my more recent Worlds Without End posts. When tragedy strikes, I hope that we can have enough sense to avoid the whole "all is well in Zion because we have the great Plan of Happiness." Instead, maybe we should do what Christ actually did: 

"Jesus wept" (John 11:35).

Monday, May 12, 2014

WWE - "The Hope of Zion: From Qumran to Utah"

And I just can't see no humor
About your way of life
And I think I can do more for you
With this here fork and knife
Eat the rich

- Aerosmith, "Eat the Rich," Get a Grip (Geffen, 1993)

Zion as a reality plays a major role in my Mormon paradigm. If all things taught in Mormonism are "appendages" to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (as Joseph Smith taught),[1] then Zion is the social outcome of the Atonement: a community at-one. Hence, my excitement for philosopher Joseph Spencer's forthcoming book For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope and my latest post at Worlds Without End. In it, I briefly look at the way various Jewish writings and groups interpreted the covenant found in Deuteronomy 6. The consecration of wealth pops up in various texts, indicating its importance to the covenant. I think it goes well with my previous post about reorienting the purpose of business and the use of its resources.


1. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 121.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reorienting the Purpose of Business

Newel K. Whitney & Co. store, which played a major role in the United Firm

"While Latter-day Saints may not typically think of Joseph Smith as an energetic businessman or an assertive entrepreneur, multiple business interests captured his attention beginning shortly after the Church was organized."[1] Smith "operated his businesses under the principles of  consecration and stewardship and coordinated his enterprises through a business management company he named the United Firm."[2] I was reminded of this while watching competitive strategy expert and Harvard professor Michael E. Porter's TED talk "Why Business Can Be Good a Solving Social Problems." Porter recognizes the necessity of tapping into corporations' resources. He is convinced of the potential of businesses engaging social problems: the very social problems that are meant to be addressed by Mormonism and the Judeo-Christian tradition generally (e.g. poverty, inequality). "But in order to get this solution working," Porter says, "we have to now change how business sees itself, and this is thankfully underway. Businesses got trapped into the conventional wisdom that they shouldn't worry about social problems, that this was sort of something on the side, that somebody else was doing." 

The recognition that the earliest revelations on consecration in Mormonism revolved around a business organization (with a board of managers to boot) can and should have an impact on how Mormons think about and do business. Porter believes businesses need to adapt

shared value: addressing a social issue with a business model...Shared value is capitalism, but it's a higher kind of capitalism. It's a capitalism as it was ultimately meant to be, meeting important needs, not incrementally competing for trivial differences in product attributes and market share. Shared value is when we can create social value and economic value simultaneously. It's finding those opportunities that will unleash the greatest possibility we have to actually address these social problems because we can scale. We can address shared value at multiple levels.

Only by reorienting the purpose of our business, focusing on what Peter Drucker called "the meaningful Outside," can Porter's vision be fulfilled. And that vision can play a part in a different one; one that requires there to be "no poor among them" (Moses 7:18).


1. Max H. Parkin, "Joseph Smith and the United Firm: The Growth and Decline of the Church's First Master Plan of Business and Finance, Ohio and Missouri, 1832-1834," BYU Studies 46:3 (2007): 5.

2. Ibid.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

WWE - Review of 'Authoring the Old Testament'

A couple months ago, I was asked to write a review of David Bokovoy's new book Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis - Deuteronomy for Worlds Without End. This quote from my review (used by Greg Kofford Books) sums up my feelings well: "Authoring the Old Testament is not only a work of scholarship, but one of passion. And it is brimming with charity toward his readers...David and Greg Kofford Books have done Latter-day Saints a great service with this publication. I hope to see its influence in future Sunday School, Institute, and Seminary classes Church wide." It's an important book for Latter-day Saints and an informative one for any student of the Old Testament and Mormonism. You can see an interview with David on the book in the video above. The video below is a lecture he gave at Benchmark Books promoting it.