Looking at Spirituality, Ethics and Leadership, Part II

May 09, 2023

In our work at WEFA, spirituality plays a key role in the development of ethical leaders. Spirituality demands that leaders cultivate and nourish a sense of self that recognizes the interrelatedness of life or a sense of community. For Robert M. Franklin, spirituality refers to “a person’s sense of identity in relation to other people and that which is conceived as ultimate concern. Rooted in spiritual identity are a person’s fundamental values, moral commitments, and ability to engage in ethical reasoning. Spiritual health is reflected in a person’s ability to trust and care for others.” Franklin, Another Day’s Journey (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997:86). In summary, spirituality demands that we face the other, personally and collectively—and in facing the other we are transfigured and transformed and called to the larger quest of building just and loving communities in the world.

I encounter the face of the other in everyday life but also in its difference, strangeness, and transcendence; in its force of obligation and interdependence. James Hillman writes:

The Other’s face calls upon my character. Rather than thinking my character shows in my face and that my face is my character exteriorized . . . character requires the face of the Other. Its piercing provocation pulls from us every possible ethical potential. In bad conscience we turn away from the face in the wheelchair, the face of the beggar; we hood the face of the executed, and we ignore the faces of the socially ostracized and hierarchically inferior so that they become “invisible” even as we walk down the same street. Hillman, The Force of Character and The Lasting Life (NY: Random House, 1999:42)

The human face is also the face that is hidden and present for me in all its power and meaning. Indeed, in its deepest expression it is spiritual—in the heat of passion and desire, lovers face one another; in courtrooms, victims face their assailants; in reconciliation, the penitent child faces a forgiving parent; and in reverence and conviction, the devout faces the God she serves. But in the final analysis, spirituality requires that we face ourselves—our stories and memories. The face invites me to revel in memory—my own memories and in collective memory as diverse and old as the world. If such a face were to visit me, I would understand that I am not alone, unrelated neither to history nor to memory.

In C. S. Lewis’s classic retelling of the story of Cupid and Psyche, Till We Have Faces (Eerdmans, 1956), the dying Queen Orual remembers her sad story and comes to the great realization that Psyche, the sister she envied because of her beauty and the god’s love for her, was never the problem that she faced. Nor was it the faceless stone gods in the temple who needed faces. Rather, she first had to see her face, which she despised, before she could see the god’s. In the end, she discovered that her face and the face of Psyche were one and the same, mirroring the mystery of all that was and is to come. How can the gods speak to us face-to-face till we have faces? And how shall we face ourselves until we have faced the other?

Spirituality involves facing the other as we face ourselves. This experience of facing the other reveals the deep longing and yearning to be in unity with ourselves. Spirituality is also a discipline that places emphasis on practice— spirituality is something that we do. Prior to any act of cognition, spirituality has to do with the practical, day-to-day encounter with the other, the other being both friend and stranger, comrade and opponent, individual and collective, divine and demonic. In its active, dynamic expression, spirituality is life-generating and disfiguring.

Perhaps, the greatest challenge of ethical leadership in the third decade of the twentieth-first century is to face ourselves as we face the other. Here we may discover the deep-seated meanings of empathy, respect, justice, and compassion.

Who are the strangers in your leadership story? How are they related to your story? How do they call you to the weighty matters of justice and compassion?

Stay tuned . . .