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Tugging the Entrepreneur Homeward

During the holiday season, business people are routinely excoriated for being greedy and not doing enough for society. In the model of Scrooge before his conversion, they are said to be selfish when they should be looking out for others. Yet in my pastoral experience, I have found this to be untrue. For several years, I have conducted seminars for entrepreneurs, some of whom run America’s largest companies, to help them reconcile their faith with their business life. And what I have learned about these people belies the stereotype.

Consistently successful business people are not self-consumed. In fact, their personal attention, and indeed the whole of their lives, tends to be oriented toward the service of others. Successful entrepreneurs are acutely, and often excessively, interested in the needs and desires of others. This attitude accounts for their success. But it is also their biggest failing in a season that requires attention to family first.

If anything, entrepreneurs tend to be too focused on helping others–through new and improved products and lower prices–and on their responsibilities to stockholders and employees. This entrepreneurial passion is great for the rest of us: we get better products, secure jobs and benefits, and a healthier economy. But it poses hazards for the private lives of the entrepreneurs. Their personal failures are often due to not allowing enough time for spiritual development and family.

One of the many glories of the Christmas season, with all of its religious and cultural meaning, is that it tugs us homeward. My Christmas advice to entrepreneurs: Give in to the allure of home. As you think of resolutions for the New Year, reflect on the fundamental priorities of faith and family that often take a backseat to the concerns of the outside world.

It is a moral, spiritual, and indeed a psychological obligation that everyone engage in prayer and develop their private life. It is a duty that no social responsibility should be allowed to push aside. Besides, a proper ordering of responsibilities ultimately helps a business career. Time spent in internal contemplation and with family is the basis of effective social action.

It is true that consumers need service, the company needs good management, and stockholders require effectiveness. But other matters are even more important. Spouses need loving attention and children need encouragement, advice, and discipline. Families need husbands and wives who spend relaxed hours and days cultivating internal happiness and cohesion. One gentleman remarked at one of our retreats: “I suppose no one on his deathbed looks back and says ‘I should have spent more time at the office.’”

Family rituals should not be limited to the holidays. But these intimate hours can remind us of what we need more of year round. We have to be realistic. Leisure cannot take up the bulk of our hours, because each of us has a vocation to work. But prayer, family, and leisure must have exalted places in our lives. Let this sacred season help us fulfill our fundamental roles first: as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters.

Entrepreneurs should be confident that their work is socially beneficial. Business has done more to feed, clothe, and shelter people than all the soup kitchens and homeless shelters combined. No one in America is as socially conscious as our most successful entrepreneurs. Yet this group needs to be reminded that no social vision can substitute the cultivation of the individual soul or the experience of love offered by those who are closest to us.