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Spiritual Values at Work
By Karen Louise Booth
April 27, 1998
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Part of the MPR News project Religion in Everyday Life

Americans are searching for greater spiritual meaning - even at a time when church attendance is declining. That's because more and more people are finding new ways of spiritual exploration through non-traditional practices such as meditation, environmentalism, and even work. Here is what one person is doing to find a greater meaning in the work he does: advertising.

IF KEVIN LYNCH HAD TO PUT GOD ON A BILLBOARD, he has a slogan ready to go.

Lynch: She is loving, compassionate, forgiving, understanding, and approachable.
Lynch is CEO of Lynch, Jarvis, Jones, an advertising agency based in Minneapolis. He says he once led the "fast life" in the field of advertising, but all of that changed when he started to seek deeper meaning in his work. The company only takes on projects that elevate advertising to what he says is a "higher ground." Lynch calls a lot of advertising socially toxic, personally shallow, and spiritually meaningless. He says many advertisers encourage attitudes and behaviors that harm people.
Lynch: The system of capitalism, which is built on consumption, has sold people a dream that is: when they reach a point financially and materially, when they can seize that dream, they get the cotton candy, and they bite into it, and they see that there's nothing there, and it's not nutritious, and they get kinda mad about that. They find happiness comes from within, and good relationships, and spiritualism.
Lynch says he burned out after too much shallow, meaningless work. So, he created his own firm to use the power of advertising to promote positive social change. Ads like this one:
Music, singing:You're the one. Man's voice: You're the one who's too smart to fight. Because you've seen it start with a push, with a shove, with one angry word. Singing You're the one. Man:And you've seen how it ends, with heartbroken mamas, with fatherless babies crying in their beds at night. Singing You're the one. Man: You're the one. So you've learned to use your head instead of your fist, and you've learned to walk away, but you walk away in style. Singing: Make the peace. Child: Make the peace. Man: You're the one who can make the peace. Make the peace.
This kind of work lends personal meaning to Lynch's professional life. He seeks to balance his priorities which are: God, family, and work.
Lynch: Generally in the society the world of business really tries to drive a wedge between those three things. You're supposed to leave your values at the door when you go to work, and you're supposed to make work more important than your family. The basic system does not create harmony between those things.
Lynch, like many of the baby boom generation, wants to carry his personal values into the workplace - but he understands it's not a priority for all of his employees.

Margaret Lulic, a Minneapolis author and business consultant, says Lynch is part of a larger trend. She works with a number of companies trying to create a new workplace dynamic because many professionals are looking for spiritual meaning on the job:

Lulic: As many of us are aging and we're no longer that youthful generation, of course new questions come up about vision, values, virtue - How do you do good and make money? How do you lead a balanced life? All of those are really spiritual issues because our spiritual life is about everything that's intangible. And, it's love, it's care, relationships, nurturing, safety and peace ... it's all those kinds of things.
But Lulic says the quest for greater meaning is not just up to the individual worker. Employers have a role in this, too.
Lulic: What do you really believe the people that work for you are about? Are they replaceable cogs in the machine? Are they dispensable? Or, are they somehow sacred? So it's really a shift in number one, what you think about the people who work in a place what you're sense of responsibility is to them. It's also a different shift in what you think about your customers. Do you think of your customers as people to be had? To try to create wants they don't really have? And to get as much as you can from them or do think about them as important people you want to serve?
Lulic says while babyboomers are leading the drive to seek greater meaning through work, she sees people in their 20s and early 30s searching, too. As the children of babyboomers, they've experienced first-hand the consequences of parents who chose work over family. Lulic says in order to lure this new generation into the workplace, business and industry will have to change - to create a more satisfying work environment.