Saving the Corporate Soul

"Think about how much of our lives we spend at work," the executive of a New York publishing house said wistfully to me. "Then consider how ambivalent—and perhaps a bit ashamed—most of us feel about the corporations that employ us. I know that I want my life to count for something more."

He is not alone. Corporate workers from the mailroom to the highest executive office express dissatisfaction with their work. They feel crushed by widespread greed, selfishness, and quest for profit at any cost. Apart from their homes, people spend more time on the job than anywhere else. With that kind of personal stake they want to be a part of something that matters and contribute to a greater good.

What is it about the corporation that makes joining it feel like we're making a bargain with Mephisto for our soul?

Nearly 50 years ago, my father launched his professional career in the corporate world, joining General Electric in a management training program. He then made a horizontal move to Union Carbide and finally fled the corporate world altogether a few years later to start a family-owned retail business. My dad had no specific conflict with the corporation, and, now in retirement, he wrestles with the what-ifs had he stayed and patiently climbed his way up the corporate ladder. At the time, however, my dad deplored the feeling that he was becoming just another number in an impersonal organization, a cog in the machine.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2003
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