In a few days it will be Christmas 2021. Typically, it is not just a time to relax and refresh, but also to reflect and strengthen.
This year is actually different. As religious leaders advocate, Christmas should be celebrated in memory of the poor who have been hard hit by Covid-19.
They emphasize the need to focus on a spiritual Christmas celebration and encourage everyone to share the joy of Christmas with those who have been deprived of joy and happiness due to the pandemic. Today’s column reflects on such realities.
Despite the overly commercial coverage of Christmas, the true serenity associated with spirituality still matters. As someone boldly said the other day, Christmas is certainly not Santa’s birthday. I think it is high time to be brilliant at the basics to respond to the call to be spiritual. It overcomes traditional religious boundaries. In essence, Christmas invites us to awaken towards spirituality.
Let’s take a look at what spirituality is from a management perspective. It includes a term for many beliefs and practices that aim to develop one’s inner workings. It’s associated with a sense of connectedness. In other words, it is the vital principle that gives physical organisms the breadth of life.
A time to live, a time to believe
A time of trust, not deception
Love and laughter and joy forever
Ours to take away, just follow Master.
The above is an excerpt from an ordinary Christmas carol we hear, “Mistletoe and Wine”. It was popularized as a single by Cliff Richard. We have observed how many companies have committed themselves to innovatively organizing virtual Christmas carols in the past few weeks due to Covid-19 restrictions.
It’s not just an annual ritual, but a deeper organizational endeavor to strengthen employee engagement.
Attending Christmas carols is a demonstration of unity, solidarity and teamwork as a group of professional colleagues. In return, it also helps those in need in society.
The essence here is synergy in action that leaves differences aside. This has a clear relation to what management scientists refer to as “spiritual intelligence”.
Focus on spiritual intelligence
The central point here is intelligence. As we discussed a while ago, intelligence comes from the Latin verb “intellegere”, which means “to understand”. It is an umbrella term used to describe a quality of mind that encompasses many related skills, such as the ability to think, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, understand ideas, use language, and the like to learn.
We know for sure that intelligence is not just about reading, writing and arithmetic. It goes way beyond that. Emotional intelligence has become very popular to demonstrate the power of harnessing positive emotions. The newest addition to the list is Spiritual Intelligence.
What is Spiritual Intelligence? All of the great religious leaders have demonstrated this well. It is what has always been available in guides in all walks of life.
It’s what was repackaged by Dana Zohar, a quantum physicist, in the late 1990s. Interestingly, her work ushered in an era in which a whole new focus on spirituality and intelligence began.
As Zoar vividly describes, spirituality means “knowing” who you are, and spiritual intelligence means “knowing” who you are and living life with that awareness. You have always been who you are, and in truth you can never be anything else than you are, but it requires “recognition”, that is, that moment when you “see it”, when you “understand it” and then “ be it”.
Spirituality is different from being religious. You can visit any religious place in the world, but if you don’t demonstrate values in your actions, you are not yet spiritual. To be spiritual is essentially about maintaining three connections. They can be referred to as a connection to yourself, to others, and to the universe (higher being).
Components of Spiritual Intelligence
Based on the work of Zohar and Marshall (1997), the following have been highlighted as key components.
Self-consciousness: To know what I believe in and value and what motivates me deeply. Thich Nhat Hanh, a respected Vietnamese monk, once said: “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor ”.
Spontaneity: Live in the moment and respond to it.
Be vision and value-oriented: Act according to principles and deep convictions and live accordingly.
Holism: Recognizing larger patterns, relationships, and connections; have a sense of belonging.
Compassion: With the quality of “compassion” and deep empathy.
Celebration of diversity: Appreciating other people for their differences, not in spite of them.
Field independence: Stand against the crowd and have your own convictions.
Humility: To feel like you are a player in a bigger drama, to know your true place in the world.
Tendency to ask the basic “why” Questions: Understand things and have to get to the bottom.
Possibility to frame: Withdraw from a situation or problem and see the big picture; See problems in a bigger context.
Positive handling of adversity: Learn and grow from mistakes, setbacks and suffering.
Sense of appeal: Feeling called to serve, to give back.
After discussing the components of spiritual intelligence, it will be interesting to see how they relate to values.
Values as the core
Jim Collins’ bestselling book “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” concludes that truly great companies are visionary and value-driven. In his next book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t”, Jim Collins researched 11 companies that made the transition from good companies to “big” companies on par with the companies in “Built to Last” An important result was that every company had what they call “Level 5 Leadership” or, to put it simply, leadership at the highest level.
The logical connection here is that great leaders appear to display most or all of the qualities described by the Zohar as spiritual intelligence. Great leaders showed deep personal humility and a strong belief that, despite all difficulties, they and their company would win in the end.
Spiritual intelligence as fivefold abilities
Robert Emmons (2000) highlights five key skills in spiritual intelligence. They are as follows:
1. Ability to transcend the physical and material.
This refers to the mental action of thinking beyond what is seen. It involves a deep level of thinking.
2. Ability to experience heightened states of consciousness.
This is essentially mindfulness. An area in which conscious breathing can be very important.
3. Ability to sanctify everyday experiences.
Put simply, this refers to accepting things as they are and not as they should be. It makes you positive and constructive.
4. Ability to use spiritual resources to solve problems.
It means relying on your “built-in wisdom” or trusting your gut instinct to tackle problems that don’t have priority.
5. Ability to be virtuous.
This is about ethical behavior in demonstrating values.
The common thread that cuts all of the above seems to be connectivity. The importance of this is very evident in the times of the pandemic we are going through.
Practical implications of SI
SI is measured by the SQ (Spiritual Quotient), which is in its early development. While this is a conceptually rich area, its practical dimensions should also be given due emphasis. There are still a few problems to be resolved. The unavailability of a uniform method for measuring characteristics should be emphasized. It is also difficult to measure by conventional means. The solution would be to introduce a competency-based SI assessment tool. The Spiritual Intelligence Self Report Inventory (SISRI) is one such great effort.
Spirituality should be reflected in action. Four Zen-like principles that are simple as ideas and yet as deep as actions illuminate this.
Who comes is the right one.
Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
Whenever it starts, the time is right.
When it’s over, it’s over.
By practicing spiritual intelligence, the seven sins in the world as identified by Mahatma Gandhi can be overcome, at least where an individual has some influence.
• Wealth without work, • Enjoyment before conscience, • Knowledge without character, • Trade without morality, • Science without humanity, • Adoration without sacrifice, • Politics without principles
Instead of pointing the finger at others, a constructive-critical look at yourself would be a good starting point.
Spirituality for Christmas
Spiritual intelligence should be seen more in practice than in preaching. It applies equally to managing directors and public administrations. It reminds me of one of my precious childhood memories of visiting a remarkable personality and now I know that he was very spiritually intelligent.
My parents and I visited Rev Mercelline Jayakody who was in the old Catholic Church in Pilapitiya, Kelaniya. His room had a beautiful view of the Kelani River. Perhaps he would have been influenced to write many Sinhala Christmas carols that combine the natural beauty of Sri Lanka with the birth of Christ. When he wrote:
“Dina Dina Wehi Kalu Barawenawa, Maweli Ganga Diya Borawenewa, Naththaa Kath Beda Gen Enawa, Wehibara Uduvapaye”
(Christmas comes with lots of presents in rainy December when the waters of Mahaweli turn cloudy).
Keep it up
Let me conclude with what Rev. Ms. Mercelline Jayakody, aptly celebrated as the Priest of the Temple (Pansale Piyatuma), wrote in Sinhala, highlighting the social reality of Christmas. My translation of this is as follows:
My Christmas is …
When poor is full
When ragged towels are no more
When your hands are comforted
When sin “goes” into church.
It’s about being human. That is exactly what we need to practice in the midst of a planetary pandemic. Let us be human and not “human doing” or “human downfall”. There is no better time than this week, just after Christmas, to reflect on ourselves and share refreshing stories. Let this inner journey be a really meaningful one.