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Interesting piece in Fast Company about the impact that the Harvard Divinity School is having among some of the nation’s business leaders.

In one case, that of Tom Chappell – who founded Tom’s of Maine – his experience at Harvard’s Divinity School put him in touch with the works of Viennese philosopher Martin Buber.

Fast Company writes that Buber “described two sorts of relationships people can have: an I-It relationship, in which we treat others as a means to an end (in business terms: ‘How can I get this salesguy to make the numbers I need?’), or an I-Thou relationship, in which we treat others with full respect and mutuality (‘We are partners in this enterprise’).” Chappell saw in these descriptions a “way to integrate goodness and performance,” and to apply them to a business context.

Chappell describes his time at the divinity school and the realizations it helped him reach as being transformational. It propelled him to look for ways in which his company could “honor its moral obligations to all its stakeholders -- employees, owners, suppliers, consumers, community, and the environment.” He believes that it helped his company become a better company, and helped him become a better man and leader.

Ironically, however, not everyone inside the school thinks that this should be the divinity school’s mission. “To scholars rooted in the flinty soil of New England, the vogue for spirituality in the corporation too often seems academically flabby, lowbrow, even vaguely unsavory,” Fast Company writes. “As a consequence, critics charge, the school has failed to create any lasting programs that address the nexus of religion in the workplace, and its professors have produced little in the way of substantive research on the topic.”
KC's View:
We aren’t nearly smart enough nor spiritual enough to suggest to Harvard how its divinity school ought to be operating.

But it seems to us that to suggest that programs that transform people like Tom Chappell into better people and better business leaders are, somehow, flabby and lowbrow, is to somehow miss the meaning of what is really important.

At a time of scandal and malfeasance, the school is having an impact. The world would be better off if some self-important business leaders that we can all think of had spent some time at a divinity school.