I am the type of person who thinks when if I hear something once, it may be a random event. When I hear something three or more times, I see a pattern and think, This is something I should pay attention to and explore further.
A couple of years ago I went out to dinner with my wife, my physician, his wife and their daughter. It turns out that their daughter is also a physician. She is doing her residency is pediatrics at Yale University but was home that weekend. We talked about why she chose Yale and she said that it was the only program that would allow her to pursue spirituality along with pediatrics. A doctor talking about spirituality? Doctors are about facts, not feelings. I didn’t pursue what I saw as a contradiction any further.
About six months later, I attended an event at Teachers College, Columbia University (where I went to graduate school) called Academic Festival. One of the speakers was Lisa Miller, Ph.D., the director of the clinical psychology program at Teachers College. Her topic was the research she was doing in the area of spirituality.
I went back to Academic Festival this year. The keynote speaker was the actress and philanthropist Goldie Hawn, who spoke about her work in the public schools in the area of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about focus, meditation, living in the moment and awakening to experiences around you. There was also a session that day on spirituality by Miller. She referenced her new book, "The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving." It was at this point that I began to accept that my higher power was trying to get me to pay attention.
I was a little skeptical when Miller starting talking about her work in the public schools. I was thinking, Haven’t we spent the last 20 years trying to separate church and state? How is it that school superintendents are asking Lisa to come in and talk to their faculties about spirituality? Miller made it clear that she is not advocating one form of religion, although at least part of this idea of spirituality is the foundation of most religions.
She did go on to advocate for the idea of spiritual multilingualism. This means being knowledgeable and versatile in more than one religion. This struck a chord with me based on my work with international employees. An employee who you send to a foreign country learns a tremendous amount about another culture and how to do business. But it is when an employee goes to a second or third country that he or she really become valuable to a company. That person can go into any new country and know there are things he or she doesn’t know but will figure out. So the parallel to spiritual multilingualism is the ability to see and understand the similarities and differences between and among different religions and apply those ideas to one’s own life.
Miller’s book in some chapters is somewhat academic and research based, and in other chapters is very practical and easy to understand. It is the research that gives this subject credibility. Miller talks about the first decade of a child’s life as a time when a spiritual foundation is established. Miller does say from the onset that spirituality is innate and a part of each of us. The parent’s role is to model and to set the table for their children.
In the second decade of life, children are going through adolescence. They are forming their own identities. Miller calls it individuation. Part of this individuation is where the front and back of the brain become connected or integrated. She describes the back of the brain as the “experiencing brain” and the front of the brain as the “interpreting brain.” The degree of integration between the front and back brains is important. People with greater integration would end up with a thicker cortex. A thicker cortex would indicate a higher level of spirituality. A lower level of spirituality is linked to depression and other maladies. Spirituality and depression appear as two sides of the same coin, according to Miller. This integration of the front and back of the brain is where the head and heart connect.
So what are the implications of this information, particularly for businesses? I think we are at the beginning or at least in the middle of something, and we don’t have all the answers. Is spirituality something that business should see as helpful and even provide resources to support it? I think so. Would a training program on spirituality help new managers better understand how to discuss difficult subjects with their subordinates? Maybe. In my company’s individual assessment work, we look at a job candidate against a set of job requirements. Is spirituality a proxy for other competencies we see as important for a manager to be effective? It is a least worth further investigation.
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