Defragmenting the Self
God on Monday
He himself is before all things, and in him, all things hold together (Col. 1:17)
To say that Christ is king means he is sovereign over every aspect of our lives. This is easier said than done in the modern world, where our lives often feel so fragmented that nothing seems to hold them together.
I am a sociologist who studies how organizational cultures can help or hinder human flourishing. A few years ago, I interviewed more than a hundred Christian professionals working in Fortune 500 companies. They felt they had become mercenaries in the workplace, rather than the missionaries they felt called to be. Two factors were at work:
Unwritten norms: Our workplaces often cultivate a ‘hidden curriculum’ that undermines the norms and ideals they formally espouse. Your company might say ‘we are a family’ or ‘we are a team’, while implicitly communicating through policies and leadership decisions that employees are expendable, or are rivals in a competition for survival. The resulting cynicism, mistrust, and fear make it conducive for people to compromise their principles.
Mimetic models: In navigating a new employment situation, we tend to identify people who are popular in that environment and imitate them. Professionals I interviewed found themselves resorting to sycophancy, sabotaging colleagues as a result. ‘You can’t help becoming like one of them’, one manager told me.
In such conditions, what would it mean for Jesus to be king of our lives? How might we let him pull our fragmented selves together?
Prayer is crucial for growth in self-awareness. It helps us overcome the pride and self-sufficiency that leads us to think we are immune to our environments. A genuine Christian community is also vital. To become coherent selves, we need friends with whom we can be transparent, who hold us accountable, and who are worthy of imitation. Integration and maturity take time, and require ‘endurance and patience’ (Col. 1:11). We also need wisdom and courage, should the corrosive power of our workplace require us to resign.
What are the implicit norms and models of success in my organization? To what extent have I internalized them? What alternative norms can I cultivate at work? On whom should I model myself? Who can hold me accountable to be the person I am called to be at work, and how can I do better at sharing my life with them?
Lord, in you, all things hold together—even my fragmented self. Govern every aspect of my life. Give me the wisdom and courage to see you transform my actions and environments so they may glorify you, whatever may be the personal cost.
To read more on how our workplace cultures can fragment us, see my article ‘Resisting a culture of incoherence
; and my book Mercenaries and Missionaries: Capitalism and Catholicism in the Global South
(Cornell University Press, 2019).
On the mimetic nature of our desires, see Luke Burgis (2021), Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life
(St. Martin's Press, 2021).
This Week's Author
, Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology, The Catholic University of America.
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