Soul LO1107

David E. Birren, MB/5, 608.267.2442 (
Mon, 8 May 1995 10:30 CST

Responding to LO1091 (Re: Distinctions):

Alex Pattakos writes:

>Speaking of "distinctions", I would be especially interested in how
>people integrate "soul" or "spirit" into their communication(s) within
>different organizational environments, i.e., business, government,
>nonprofit entities. What kind of distinctions need to be made in order to
>put the "S" word back into business, for example?

This is a BIG subject that I suspect is going to form not just a thread
but a whole skein. I'd like to step into it by offering the definition -
or rather, non-definition - of soul presented by Thomas Moore in his book
CARE OF THE SOUL. In the introduction, he says:

"It is impossible to define precisely what the soul is. Definition is
an intellectual enterprise away; the soul prefers to imagine. We know
intuitively that soul has to do with genuineness and depth, as when we say
certain music has soul or a remarkable person is soulful. When you look
closely at the image of soulfulness, you see that it is tied to life in
all its particulars--good food, satisfying conversation, genuine friends,
and experiences that stay in the memory and touch the heart. Soul is
revealed in attachment, love, and community, as well as in retreat on
behalf of inner communing and intimacy."

He goes on to say that "Tradition teaches that soul lies midway between
understanding and unconsciousness, and that its instrument is neither the
mind nor the body, but imagination." And he paraphrases the
fifteenth-century writer Marsilio Ficino: "The mind, he [Ficino] said,
tends to go off on its own so that it seems to have no relevance to the
physical world. At the same time, the materialistic life can be so
absorbing that we get caught in it and forget about spirituality. What we
need, he said, is soul, in the middle, holding together mind and body,
ideas and life, spirituality and the world."

Finally, (quoting from Chapter 1 now): "'Soul' is not a thing, but a
quality or a dimension of experiencing life and ourselves. It has to do
with depth, value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance. I do not
use the word here as an object of religious belief or as something to do
with immortality. When we say that someone or something has soul, we know
what we mean, but it is difficult to specify exactly what that meaning

So - with that thoroughly indeterminate definition as an introduction, I'd
suggest that a soulful organization is one whose culture recognizes that
this is the way people are, and treats them that way.

Alex asks:

>How do YOU practice "soul" in your working lives? What have you observed
>others doing?

I'll offer this for starters: My agency embarked on a major
reorganization study last fall. One of the first questions asked, before
we started talking about consultants and budgets and protecting jobs, was
(to put it one way): "People are going to be very concerned about this;
how can we best involve them and then help them deal with change?" The
study itself engaged the active participation of about 20% of the agency's
3,000 staff; it would have been more, but even at this level we almost
overloaded the consultants. We didn't use the word "soul" but I think
we've acted soulfully. This is in keeping with our mission of caring for
the environment and all the life-forms that exist within it. A holistic
mission tends to encourage other forms of holistic thinking. (This is
somewhat idealized; we are far from perfect.)

I look forward to the discussion....


David E. Birren Phone: (608)267-2442
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources Fax: (608)267-3579
Bureau of Management & Budget Internet:
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"I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart's affections and the
truth of the Imagination.
--John Keats