An Integral Approach to management and human development based on the spiritual vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother with an emphasis on its application to various domains of knowledge and life.
The present paradigm on management of diversity in global business is not very much interested in integrating diversity or in creating unity in diversity. The main aim of corporate diversity management strategies is to harness the diversity for sustaining or enhancing organizational effectiveness. This is an absolutely legitimate aim for business. However there can also be deeper and broader perspectives on diversity management, which can be pursued simultaneously with the present paradigm in a mutually complementing manner. One of them could be the evolutionary paradigm which views the multi-national and multi-cultural global business as a representative slice of humanity and an evolutionary laboratory for forging the psychological and spiritual unity of mankind. The aim of this evolutionary approach is to forge an inner fraternity of consciousness, which embraces and harmonizes diversity in a creative spiritual synthesis, which according to this view, is one of the ultimate goals of human and terrestrial evolution. This article examines the issue of diversity management in global business in this psychological, spiritual and evolutionary perspective.
global cultural synthesis; our common spiritual heritage; spiritual dimension of values; a path of inner synthesis; cross-cultural understanding; gender balance and equity; towards psychological balance.
At present there is a growing volume of literature on cross-cultural management and work-force diversity. But the aim of most of the diversity studies and programmes is some form of an external synthesis with an eye on enhancing productivity. What is not recognised fully is that a global business organisation represents the cultural diversity of humanity as a whole and therefore can be an evolutionary laboratory for forging a rich and diversified human unity. But for achieving such a diversified unity on a stable and sustained basis it has to be based on an in an inner psychological and spiritual unity or in other words, unity of consciousness. This inner unity is extremely difficult to achieve at the political level. But the task is less difficult within the smaller and more concentrated space of a global business organisation. Every attempt in this direction, its successes as well as its failures, can be a source of learning for achieving a similar unity in a larger scale at the political or international level. This article presents a conceptual and strategic framework for integrating work-force diversity in an organisation on the foundations of inner unity of consciousness.
Towards a Global Cultural Synthesis
There is at present a growing consensus among management thinkers that the cultural, ethnic and individual diversity in the work force should not be suppressed but has to be creatively harnessed for a better realization of organizational goals. Initially it was assumed this diversity would meltdown into a homogenous mass. But the companies have found by hard experience this “melting-pot” approach doesn’t work, because people are not willing to let go their cultural identities. (Thomas R, 2001) This recognition has triggered an evolution in diversity-management perspectives from “everyone’s the same”, to “acknowledging differences”, and finally to “valuing differences” as a positive source of innovation and creativity. For example Honeywell strives to create an environment that values individual differences, removes barriers to equal opportunity and empowers employees to develop their talents fully. Honeywell management also encourages the various ethnic and cultural groups to form advisory councils to identify and resolve common problem. Some of the advisory councils formed by Honeywell employees are American Asian Council, American Indian Council, Women’s Council, and Black American Council. (Stephen Robins, 2001) The main goal of diversity of management is to harness or assimilate the diversity in such a way that there is not only no loss of productivity but also a creative or positive plus emerging from the diversity. As Roosevelt Thomas explains: “The goal is to manage diversity in such a way as to get from a diverse work-force the same productivity we once got from a homogenous work-force” and also “icing the cake, the unexpected upside the diversity can bring.” (Thomas R, 2001)
In this article, we present an approach, which will help global business to take the next step in the evolution of diversity-management. This approach aims at a psychological and spiritual integration of the work-force diversity at the deeper levels of consciousness. From a pragmatic perspective this inner integration of the diversity will lead to the highest level of synergy among the work force, which is bound to have its positive impact on the bottom line. However in this approach we look beyond the pragmatic dimension towards long-term evolutionary goals. We perceive the rich cultural diversity in global business as a representative and evolutionary laboratory for forging the spiritual unity of mankind in a global cultural synthesis.
The Universal Dimension
The key to the synthesis lies in awakening every individual to our common spiritual heritage which transcends the religious, national, cultural or ethnic diversity. Here we have to stress on the ideals discovered by the highest wisdom of humanity in its progressive evolution, like for example truth, beauty, goodness, harmony, liberty, equality, fraternity, perfection, progress, unity, interdependence and wholeness of life, oneness of all existence, and ultimately the source of all these higher ideals, the Divine. These are the intrinsic qualities of the inner spiritual nature of Man and the World and therefore our common moral and spiritual heritage. In term of behavior, conduct and values, these higher ideals may take the following forms:
This is the universal spiritual message of all religions and advanced cultures of the world. None of us, whatever may be our specific identities, can object to these ideals because they are self-evident to the intuition of our higher nature. Among modern management thinkers Stephen Cowey emphasized strongly on these universal principles. ‘Personally I believe’ states this well-known leadership guru ‘that the source of the principles that give your life its integrity and its power and its meaning, all of them link upto the Divine. To be a spiritual based leader is to have these universal principles integrated in your inner life and outer action’. Elaborating further on the nature of these universal principles, Cowey says: ‘The principles I am referring to are the basic universal principles that pertain to all human relationship and organizations, for instance, fairness, justice, honesty, integrity and trust. They are self-evident, self-validating. These principles are like natural laws and operate regardless whether we decide to obey them or not —– and they provide rock-solid direction to our lives and our organizations.’ (Cowey, S, 2001) Similarly, another well-known management guru, Gary Hamel, wrote in Harvard Business Review:
‘The goals of management are usually described in words like “efficiency,” “advantage,” “value,” “superiority,” “focus,” and “differentiation.” Important as these objectives are, they lack the power to rouse human hearts. To create organizations that are almost human in their capacity to adapt, innovate, and engage, management pioneers must find ways to infuse mundane business activities with deeper, soul-stirring ideals, such as honor, truth, love, justice, and beauty. These timeless virtues have long inspired human beings to extraordinary accomplishment and can no longer be relegated to the fringes of management.’ (Hamel, G, 2009)
The Spiritual Dimension of Values
However we have to distinguish between the nature of these eternal verities in the spiritual consciousness of the soul and their reflection in the mental consciousness. (1) In the spiritual consciousness they are concrete, experiential realities or forces of consciousness, in perfect unity and harmony with each other, felt in the very substance of our being, as concretely as we feel our body. Let us take for example the ideal of unity. In the mass-mind the ideal evokes a vague sense of association, coming together, friendship, camaraderie. In a modern scientific mind it may kindle the perception of ecological connectedness, interdependence and wholeness. In the conception of the ancient Indian philosophers the ideal of unity means to feel all existence as part of the indivisible and universal unity of our own highest spiritual self. In the scientific as well as the philosophical mind, this ideal of unity may be a little more clear than the mass-mind, but still abstract. But in the spiritual consciousness of the soul, the ideal of unity is no longer a concept, idea or a feeling but a concrete, experiential reality, as concrete as the experience of our own body. Here is a vivid description of this spiritual experience of unity from a modern seer:
‘On that first day while I was in that state and more conscious of the things around me, I had the first most extraordinary experience. There was a man mending the road, that man was myself; the pickaxe he held was myself; the very stone he was breaking was a part of me; the tender blade of grass was my very being and the tree beside the man was myself. I almost could feel and think like the road mender—-The birds, the dust and the very noise were a part of me. Just then there was a car passing by at some distance, I was the driver, the engine and the tyres; as the car went further away from me, I was going away from myself. I was in everything or rather everything was in me; inanimate and animate, the mountain, the worm and all breathing things.’ (Popul. J, 1991)
This is the nature of spiritual consciousness of the soul. And in this higher consciousness not only the ideal of unity, all higher values and ideals like truth, beauty and goodness becomes concrete experiential realities felt in the very substance of the soul. As Sri Aurobindo, another seer of modern India describes the nature of the spiritual substance of the soul.
This spiritual stuff is immaculate and luminous and because it is perfectly luminous, it is immediately, intimately, directly aware of the truth of being and truth of nature. It is deeply conscious of truth and good and beauty because truth and good and beauty are akin to its own native character, forms of something that is inherent in its own substance.’ (Sri Aurobindo, 1972)
But in the mental consciousness these ideals are felt as abstractions or sentiments, which are further converted by the human mind into various standards of conduct, dharma’s, as they are called in Indian thought. But since our human mind is an imperfect and divisive instrument of knowledge, these universal values of the spirit are not perceived in its integral or total truth. Only some aspects or fragments of them are caught and converted into partial and mutually exclusive philosophies and systems like socialism, democracy, communism and many others. For a global cultural synthesis we need a new intuitive approach through a progressive opening of our consciousness to the spiritual self in us.
The Path of Inner Synthesis
The key to this synthesis lies in the inner dimension. As we have indicated earlier, the universal values discovered by the intuition of the higher mind of humanity are the eternal attributes of the Spirit in humans. So they can be known, experienced and realized concretely in their highest truth, unity and synthesis only in the spiritual consciousness of the human soul. In the mental level, we can have only a broken reflection of them, with the totality of their truth cut into parts and pieces in conflict with each other. In the spiritual consciousness all these values are in perfect harmony and unity. But in the mental level they are in conflict. For example the ideal of love is quite often in conflict with the ideal of justice. Similarly those communities, which emphasizes on individual liberty are unable to achieve equality and weak in fraternity, and others, which stresses on equity and fraternity tends to suppress individual liberty.
So this global synthesis cannot be securely achieved at the mental level with the rational intelligence and the vital ego in man working upon a mental ideal and trying to organize it in the outer life. This doesn’t mean such attempts are not helpful. Every positive and constructive attempt towards ideals, which are in harmony with the higher nature in man, however imperfect, or partial it may be, even if it fails miserably, helps in the higher evolution of humanity. They are part of the education of the stumbling and half-blind human race. But for the enduring and sustainable realization of these universal values, we have to arrive at some form of an intuitive and experiential synthesis of these values at the inner levels of our being. From the point of view of managing work-force diversity, the main task is three fold:
When all these three factors become living forces in the corporate culture, then the variations created by individual uniqueness or cultural diversity not only cease to be a source of conflict, but become positive factors which enhances the efficiency, creativity, quality and richness of the corporate life.
The inner realization of values and their outer actualization are not mutually exclusive factors. They can proceed simultaneously. The inner realization requires a system of experiential education, which can concretize abstract ideals in the consciousness of people. This education will help each individual to enter into the inner depth of her being and come into some form of direct contact with her spiritual self or soul or live in a deeper part of her which is under the direct influence of her soul or else open her thinking and pragmatic mind in a receptive silence to the spiritual consciousness of the soul. Here comes the importance of the Indian science of yoga, which can provide the principles and methodology for evolving such an experiential education.
The outer actualization of the synthesis requires creating an outer environment favourable to the inner realization of the synthesis and its outer expression in the outer life. This requires the capacity for outer organization, which the modern corporate world has in abundance. However, an intuitive spiritual synthesis in the conceptive mind may require a similar or corresponding intuition in the pragmatic mind to implement and organize it effectively in the outer life. The conceptive intuition provides the broad, comprehensive, holistic and universal vision or the “helicopter view” of the synthesis. The pragmatic intuition provides the flexibility to implement the vision or synthesis progressively, taking into consideration the changing realities of life like the current and mobile needs of the situation, circumstance, geography, people and the stage of evolution of the individual or collectivity.
Here again we are not stressing on this intuitive synthesis in a dogmatic or exclusive manner denying or belittling the rational approach through the thinking mind. Until the suprarational intuition is well established in the consciousness of the individual and the governing organ of the collectivity, use of reason cannot be dispensed with. And stretching the rational mind to its utmost potential or limits is one of the methods for arriving at the suprarational intuition. Moreover as we have indicated elsewhere, mental effort towards a mutual understanding of cultures and every sincere attempt towards arriving at a social synthesis through the rational, emotional or pragmatic intelligence based on the highest values of the collective wisdom of humanity, prepares the mental and vital atmosphere for an eventual intuitive-spiritual synthesis.
The Cultural Dimension
The second factor is the cultural or ethnic dimension. Every nation or group, in the course of its historical evolution, develops its own unique and distinct temperament. Here also we have to distinguish between the outer superficial aspects of custom, behavior and sensibilities at the fringe or surface level and the deeper or more enduring elements of the mental, psychological, ethical, aesthetic and spiritual temperament of the culture or group.
A major defect of the present approach to cross-cultural training is that a too heavy emphasis is laid on outer behavior and etiquette. It is very much necessary to be sensitive to the cultural norms of the host country, and avoid behaviors which are offensive to the cultural sensibilities of a nation. But at the same time, we must also be matured enough not to judge an individual or culture by the outer behavioral patterns. For example if an American executive talks to an Indian manger with hands in his hips calling him by first name, it is not necessarily a sign of arrogance or sense of superiority as the Indians tend to think. Similarly, the corrupt behavior of government officials and politicians in India is not an indication of the deeper spirit of Indian culture, nor the grossly materialistic version of the American dream displayed in the US media, the true reflection of the soul of the American nation. So we must learn to relate with people and culture at a deeper level and with a broader outlook and understanding.
We may make some broad generalization, which are applicable in the mass but without converting them into rigid prototypes. Western culture in general laid a predominant emphasis on the outer progress, action, behavior and values. On the other hand Asiatic cultures in general laid a primary stress on the inner realities and values. Let us take as an illustrative example the cultural temperament of India.
The ancient Indian culture placed a greater value on the mental and spiritual achievements than on worldly success at the material or vital level. As Sri Aurobindo points out, in the value-systems of Indian culture, ‘spiritual man greater than the thinker, thinker greater than the man of action’. (Sri Aurobindo, 1972) As a result, Indians in general have a strong religious instinct and a spontaneous reverence for spiritual personalities. The ancient Indian ethical temperament gave a much higher importance to the ethical quality or inner condition or state from which an action proceeds than the nobility of the outer behavior or action. As a result, Indians in general are more sensitive to the inner feelings of others than the outer behavior. A spiritual master of modern India narrates an interesting and illustrative example. An Indian, X, was in conversation with Y who belongs to a different culture. Y was very polite and courteous in his speech and behavior, but X was indignant because he was able to instinctively sense the inner feeling of Y which was not as pleasant as his outer behavior. (The Mother, 1980)
The mental temperament of the Indian psyche was shaped by four values. The first one is the recognition of spiritual intuition as the highest form or faculty of knowledge in spiritual as well as secular life and the subordination of reason to a suprarational intuition; second, is the tendency to view every field of knowledge or human activity in a spiritual and cosmic perspective; third, with the advent of the school of logic and grammar, the capacity for exact and precise logical thinking. And the result of it is that an archetypal and well-developed Indian mind is either predominantly intuitive with a capacity for holistic and long-term thinking and building the “big-picture” or for precise logical or mathematical thinking like for example in writing software or accountancy. The vital temperament of the Indian was molded by the values of balance or harmony between the spiritual and secular aims but with an emphasis on the spiritual dimensions of life; a greater stress on communal liberty rather than on individual liberty; cultural liberty for experimentation and innovation in religion, philosophy and spirituality; human society as a framework of learning and experience for the inner spiritual progress of the individual towards his spiritual aim; incremental social progress based on some stable and enduring traditional values; and finally in the later ages a hierarchical social structure hardening into the caste system. The spiritual temperament of India is molded by the values of the omnipresent Divine Unity, indwelling divinity and many paths to the Divine. So the Indian religious mind doesn’t look for the divinity in the sky or in some remote heaven, but sees the divinity within, in the depth of its heart and in everything and everywhere.
We have outlined the cultural temperament of India in some detail to indicate the type of thinking required for understanding the deeper, inner and enduring elements of a culture. However, as we have indicated earlier, the characteristics of the cultural temperament should not be made into a rigid stereotype. Not every Indian may conform to this description of the Indian psyche because, cultural temperament is not entirely a part of individual psychology but more predominantly a part of collective psychology present as a dormant or manifest potential in the collective consciousness of the group or a nation. And not all Indians, in their outer personality, may be receptive to the cultural consciousness of India. Moreover, with the advent of the modern age or industrial revolution, and with the more recent spread of economic and corporate globalization, the values of the modern west especially the corporate west, has permeated the cultural landscape of the East, casting its powerful stamp and influence on the Asiatic mind. So it will not be easy to find a pure and ideal Indian temperament in contemporary India, except perhaps in some great spiritual personalities, or to a much lesser extent in rural India. Even in rural India, most of the people are either too much preoccupied with material survival to come into contact with the deeper and higher mind and soul of India or if they belong to the educated and more affluent sections of the society, more or less westernized. (2)
However the other side of the truth is that no one who is born or brought up in India can escape entirely from the cultural or civilizational consciousness of India. So every Indian will have some of the Indian cultural temperament and genius in the subconscious or subliminal parts of his inner being. This dormant element can be made conscious, manifest and active when the individual or collectivity belonging to India or of Indian origin or has an affinity to India, makes a conscious effort to recover the civilizational mind and genius of India through study, scholarship, contemplation, and creative thought or action. This principle applies to all nations and cultures. For example in the history of the West, the recovery of ancient and classical Greek thought was one of the shaping factors behind the era of Enlightenment, which is the historical source of modern secular and scientific culture of the West.
But for evolving a global cultural synthesis, each cultural group has to understand not only the deeper and enduring roots of its own culture but also that of other cultures. When this is done with sufficient creative insight we will find that most of the major national or civilizational clusters complement and do not contradict each other in terms of their temperament and genius. Let us take for example the temperament and genius of modern American culture made of individualism, openness to new ideas, love for change, capacity for outer organization, and the urge for adventure, free experimentation, innovation and exploration in the outer material, economic, social and political life. We can see here the Indian genius for inner progress and perfection complements the American genius for progress and perfection in the outer material life. Both are needed for the integral perfection of human life.
There are many way for arriving at this mutual understanding of cultures in the corporate world. Cross-cultural scholarship, studies and research are perhaps the most effective method. Each ethnic, national and religious group within the organization has to be given sufficient encouragement and opportunities to study, understand and reflect on the deeper and inner roots and genius of their culture, interact with other groups to discover similarities and synergies, and think-out their practical implications for enriching the corporate life. The company intranet and the house journal can be of great help in expressing and forging this cross-cultural understanding. Those members of the organization who show a genuine interest in delving deep into the roots of their culture or religion, or in understanding other nations, cultures or religion to which they do not belong may be given sabbatical leave to pursue their studies.
Gender Balance and Equity
The other important part of this synthesis is related to gender and equity. Here, synthesis means harmony, balance and equity in the distribution of the psychological and social energies of the community, which is also essential for the social sustainability of the group. Since the dawn of human civilization, except perhaps in a few civilizations or in a some epochs of history, the Male psyche and its hard masculine values of power, aggression, authority, hierarchy, control, subjugation, rationalism, individualism, self-assertion, had more or less dominated the inner and outer life of the race. The time has come to restore the balance through an increasing manifestation of the “soft” or feminine values like beauty, harmony, grace, balance, compassion, ecological and social sensitivity, equity and a more non-hierarchical, participative and inclusive leadership.
Outwardly this has to be done by a progressive empowerment and participation of women in every section of the society. This is already happening in the corporate world and this trend has to be pursued to its logical conclusion, which means a conscious attempt to achieve a 50-50 balance of Men and Woman in the work-force, especially in the managerial and leadership cadres. Many progressive organisations all over the world, like for example, Infosys and Mahindra & Mahindra in India are making a conscious effort to arrive at this ratio.
However this outer balance is not enough to eliminate or minimize discrimination. There must be an inner change in attitude and a sincere inner acceptance of the need for equality and balance. Without this inner change, discrimination will persist in subtle and less conscious forms. The well known Jeans firm, Levi Strauss discovered this obstacle to achieve diversity when a small group of woman and minority managers asked for a private meeting with the CEO Robert Hass and expressed their grievances. The performance of Levi Strauss in diversity was excellent in terms of numbers. But the managers who met Haas felt that there were invisible barriers keeping woman and minorities from advancing in the organisations. After a long heated and painful discussion and debate in a retreat, the top management of Levi Strauss came to the conclusion that equality and diversity is, “not a matter of numbers but of attitude and that considerable unconscious discrimination still exited at the company something needed to be done.” (Haas, R, 1999) This example from Levi Strauss shows that to achieve genuine equality and diversity there must be a strong emphasis in the education and training programmes and policy directives on change in inner attitudes which translates itself in corresponding outer practices.
The other inner change which has to be achieved is an increasing manifestation of feminine values, qualities and faculties through a positive encouragement to the growth of these inner factors. For, every individual has a masculine and feminine side, though those who have a feminine or masculine body may have a natural and inborn affinity or inclination for the corresponding qualities or values. Since women have a natural inclination for feminine values and qualities, they have to be allowed to grow towards their highest potential through their natural capacities, qualities and values. However, the aim or ideal to be achieved is not a swing to the other extreme of domination by woman or feminine qualities but a psychological balance between feminine and masculine qualities and faculties in the work-force. Emotional intelligence, social sensitivity, pragmatic intuition, executive competence, caring for people, nurturing community, collaborative leadership are some of feminine qualities and faculties natural to woman. On the other hand conceptual intelligence, logical and analytical thinking, envisioning the long-term future, perceiving the big-picture, philosophical or metaphysical speculations are some of the masculine competencies natural to men. There must be a balanced development of feminine and masculine competencies in the work-force.
The work-force diversity in global business can be a rich and fertile source of evolutionary experience for creating a global civilisation founded not on a global government but on a global consciousness. This requires a cultural synthesis based on our common spiritual heritage of humanity and internalization of these values in the consciousness of the individual and the organisation. This cannot be done entirely by outer organisation or mental education; it requires a clear understanding of the spiritual dimensions and inner synthesis based on the principles of yoga. However this inner synthesis and the outer organisation are not mutually exclusive activities. They can be pursued simultaneously in a mutually reinforcing synergy. Every achievement, learning or progress we can make towards this spiritual synthesis in a representative group in global business will have its ripple effect on the entire humanity and a positive impact in accelerating the spiritual evolution of humanity as a whole.
Cowey, Stephen (2001), ‘Peace of Conscience,’ ed. Peter Pruzan and Kristen Pruzan, Leading with Wisdom: Spirituality based Leadership in Business, New Delhi, Response p.76-85
Hamel, Gary, ‘Moon-shots in Management’ ‘Harvard Business Review,’ June 2009, p. 85.
The Mother (1972) Mothers Agenda, Institute for evolutionary Research, New York, Vol. X, p. 67.
Popul Jayakar, (1985) J. Krishnamurthy: A Biography, New Delhi, Harper & Collins, pp.48.
Robert Haas, ‘Values Make the Company’, Harvard Business Review, Sep 01,1990, p. 6-2 21
Sri Aurobindo, (1972) Collected Works, vol.19, Life Divine, p.891, Puducherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, p.891
Sri Aurobindo, (1972) Collected Works, vol.14, The Foundations of Indian Culture, Puducherry, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, p.75.
Robins Stephen, (2001) Organizational Behaviour, New Delhi Prentice-Hall, p.45-67.
Thomas, Roosevelt Jr (2001), ‘From Affirmative Action to Affirming Diversity’, Harvard Business Review on Managing Diversity, Boston, Harvard Business Press, pp.2-31.
Courtesy: Journal of Human Values, April, 2015