When we speak of spirit, we often talk in terms of religion. Broader definitions of spirit include such intangible phenomena as “the force or principle of life that animates the body of living things,” the enthusiasm of fans toward their sports teams, and the creative spirit of the arts.
In a new reality, organizations that address our need for spirit will have stakeholders with more voice, more choice and more responsibility. At the heart of spirit in the new reality is decentralized power and participatory decision-making.
To illustrate spirit in a new reality, I highlight two faith-based organizations in the U.S. and Canada, the American Green Bay Packer football team, and the “Spirit of ’76:”
- Ripple Allentown is a community-focused Christian church serving inner city residents of downtown Allentown, Pennsylvania. It has embraced restorative practices, teaching and implementing restorative principles and processes.
- FaithCARE (Communities Affirming Restorative Experiences) brings restorative practices to faith communities struggling with conflicts in their congregation, helping them resolve their issues through a series of open and honest conversations done in facilitated circles.
- Green Bay Packers football team is the only major sports franchise in North America whose fans own the team.
- Spirit of ’76 is a phrase usually associated with the American Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, which on July 4, 1776, proclaimed a new way of thinking about governance. Then in March, 1776, Scotsman Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, a book that proclaimed a new way of thinking about enterprise. Both of these comprise the two pillars of America’s pioneering experiment in democracy and free enterprise.
Tom Albright—whom I first met when he was a master’s degree student at the IIRP Graduate School—and his wife, Carolyn, founded Ripple in 2006, as a community-focused Christian church serving inner city residents of Allentown, Pennsylvania; a city that, like many others, lost its prosperity when it lost its largest industries.
As their small congregation grew, the Albrights sold their suburban home in 2009, and moved to the city’s economically distressed downtown, to live in the neighborhood that is served by their church.
Their congregation has embraced restorative practices, its principles and processes, as a practical way to have a “ripple effect in our community by sharing Christ’s love through acts of kindness and cultivating healthy relationships.” For example, in the summer of 2014, Ripple offered a 4-week restorative practices course, with a tuition cost of $1 per session.
The course gave people the opportunity to participate in and learn about circles and other restorative practices; how to use them to resolve conflict; and about the basic premise of restorative practices—that it’s usually best to do things with people, rather than to them or for them.
I was invited to participate in the closing “graduation” circle, which was a warm and gratifying experience. The invitation gave me the opportunity to appreciate the empowerment strategies that the Albrights and their colleagues—other volunteer pastors—are spreading.
Their efforts demonstrate ways in which religious institutions can achieve more meaningful engagement among the individuals in their congregations. Tom Albright presented the story of his church at an IIRP World Conference in 2013, shown in this [inspirational 17-minute video.]
FaithCARE, a part of Shalem Mental Health Network in Ontario, Canada, brings restorative practices to faith communities struggling with conflicts in their congregation, helping them resolve their issues through a series of open and honest conversations held in facilitated circles.
As the FaithCARE website notes, “One of the mysteries of faith is that some of the most difficult, painful and damaging conflicts between people take place in church settings,” leaving “people hurt and embittered—perhaps even questioning their faith.”
Since 2007, FaithCARE facilitators have helped over 30 Ontario churches, representing a variety of denominations, deal with a range of conflicts including situations of great intensity. Congregation members have expressed that “we would not have been able to move from our pain and conflict to where we are now without the support of FaithCARE.”
As the FaithCARE website advises, “Everyone has a voice, and the process is always invitational.”
Another important role that FaithCARE plays is to encourage congregations to host restorative conferences for people in the community. Shalem and the IIRP Canada have embarked together on the Hosting Project, in which Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish and other religious institutions act as hosts of restorative processes for residents of their region.
The FaithCARE website explains that, “Hosting connects deeply with themes of hospitality and sanctuary that are central to all of the world’s major religions.” The goal of hosting is to support the use of Family Group Decision-Making (FGDM), also called Family Group Conferences (FGC), by providing necessary meeting rooms, a kitchen and a nursery at a safe and neutral site. [For more information on FGDM/FGC refer to Care and Justice pages of this website.]
Currently, Shalem and IIRP Canada are partnering with three Ontario agencies that organize FGDM meetings in several regions of the province, making such services much more accessible to people in their local communities.
For a decade, these two organizations have had an impressive collaboration in bringing restorative practices to schools, workplaces, agencies and communities, but their most distinctive efforts have been in developing restorative practices in faith-based organizations and congregations.
Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers football team is the only major sports franchise in North America whose fans own the team. If you haven’t already, now would be a good time to watch or read “The Green Bay Packer Factor: A Kinder, Gentler Capitalism.
On August 18,1923, the Hungry Five—so named because they were always begging for money to keep the Packers alive—persuaded the National Football League to make an exception to the rule that a team must be owned by an individual or a small group of owners.
Consequently, over 360,000 shareholders today own more than 5 million shares of non-profit corporate stock. Despite the fact that a share costs $250, “pays no dividends, benefits from no earnings, isn’t tradable and has no securities-law protection…buyers can’t get enough.” A tax expert on Wall Street remarked, “I’ve never seen a stock offering where people pay so much and get so little.”
But that’s how non-profit corporations can accomplish things that people want done, but which profit-making corporations would not likely undertake nor sustain.
Non-profits are not a replacement for profit-making corporations, but they provide a good way to run a business that is accountable to the local community. While non-profit corporations must be just as businesslike as their counterparts, they have different motives and behaviors than for-profit corporations.
The Packers are the only American major-league sports franchise to release its financial balance sheet every year. The board of directors, except for the elected CEO, all serve without pay. If the team dissolves, all profits and assets go to community programs and charities.
By engaging with its fans, the Green Bay Packers football team has an unshakable base of support that securely anchors the team to Green Bay, Wisconsin. It’s a city of only a hundred thousand people, while much bigger cities see their sports teams move away, much to the consternation of local fans.
In Europe, a growing number of teams have become fan-owned football teams, particularly in the U.K., where there are a number of “protest” or “phoenix” teams that have been formed in response to dissatisfaction with private owners, or when teams have shut down.
Whether fans owning teams is a trend that will spread to other locales, including the U.S., is an open question. But the spirit associated with the Green Bay Packers, as well as FC Barcelona and Real Madrid—two of Europe’s most successful football (soccer) teams—demonstrates how sports teams can thrive when their fans own them.
Doing with, rather than to or for, may be the next development for sports teams in a new reality.
The Spirit of ’76
In a recently published collection of historian David McCullough’s speeches, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, he said:
“To Jefferson, the Revolution was more than a struggle for independence; it was a struggle for democracy, and thus what he wrote was truly revolutionary.
Why do some men reach for the stars, and so many others never even look up?
Thomas Jefferson reached for the stars:
‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…’
Never, never anywhere, had there been a government instituted on the consent of the governed.”
Jefferson’s final draft of the Declaration of Independence, published on July 4, 1776, proposed an ideal of democracy that did not exist anywhere in the world, and which we still aspire to achieve.
At the time, men like Jefferson still owned African slaves, and men without property and women did not have the right to vote. But we have evolved. America is a work in progress, a noble experiment. We are still reaching for the stars.
The Declaration of Independence is one of two written documents that embody the “Spirit of ’76,” which made the American experiment an inspiration to people around the globe. The other is the Wealth of Nations, published four months earlier—March, 1776—by philosopher and economist Adam Smith in Scotland. These two documents represent the twin pillars of democratic capitalism.
Smith’s ideas about enterprise were just as revolutionary as Jefferson’s ideas about governance, and just as firmly based in democratic decision-making. While Jefferson believed we were not made to live under tyranny, Smith declared that we were not made to live in poverty. Smith advocated economic democracy, just as Jefferson advocated political democracy.
Under Thomas Jefferson’s vision of governance, people’s collective decisions at the ballot box would guide the government. Under Adam Smith’s vision of enterprise, people’s collective decisions in the marketplace would guide the economy.
Smith called for free markets and free trade, challenging the prevailing practice of government intervention in eighteenth-century economies. He warned that when government granted monopolistic corporate charters, tax preferences and other privileges to certain members of the economy at the expense of others, it disrupted the wellbeing of that economy.
He argued that the self-interested actions of buyers and sellers in the marketplace would regulate the economy automatically, like an “invisible hand” ensuring the maximum efficiency of the system.
Smith has since been accused of justifying selfishness in business, but that’s not true. He knew that in order to create an effective and productive capitalist system, individuals must pursue the interests of both the self and society.
Robert J. Samuelson, in 1998, wrote a scathing but balanced defense of Adam Smith— chiding both liberals and conservatives:
Liberals are so protective of government that they cannot concede the great power of Smith’s “invisible hand.”
Self-interest is not simply greed, selfishness or narcissism.
If properly constrained, it is an immense force for social good, and much human progress stems from the independent exertions and creative energies of individuals and enterprises.
Liberals recoil at this notion because it deprives them of the power, social status and psychological gratification of seeming to deliver (through government) all the trappings of the good society.
Meanwhile, conservatives are so contemptuous of government that they cannot admit that it is often more than a necessary evil.
It creates the legal and political framework without which tolerably free markets could not survive.
It also supplies the collective services—from defense to roads—that the private market doesn’t, and deals with the market’s unwanted “excesses.”
Smith realized that government produced these benefits, but many conservatives who cite him seem oblivious to their existence or importance.
Samuelson says that:
- What concerned Smith was constructing a decent society.
- Free markets were only one means to that end.
- Government was another, and Smith constantly probed the proper roles for government and the market.
As much as the spirit of Jefferson, the spirit of Adam Smith became an integral part of the American experiment. When the new American constitution created a democratic republic, it simultaneously created a free market that employed the wisdom of Adam Smith—prohibiting all taxes between the states. That decision was incorporated into Article One, Section 9 of the United States Constitution.
“No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State. No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another…”
In taking this step, the framers of the U.S. Constitution invented a large free trade zone, a “Common Market” that European countries would emulate almost two centuries later. Both proved Smith’s assertion that unfettered trade maximizes prosperity and economic wellbeing.
But something’s gone wrong. We no longer have a fully functional democracy or a truly free market. Adam Smith’s warning is still true—that tax preferences and other privileges to certain members of the economy at the expense of others disrupt the wellbeing of the economy.
Our political and economic systems are increasingly distorted by corruption. We’re not just imagining that things are rigged in favor of the rich and powerful. Here are some disturbing facts:
- In 1949, the richest 1% of Americans owned 21% of all U.S. wealth.
- Now, only six decades later, the richest 1% of Americans own 43% of all U.S. wealth.
- In part, the wealthy become wealthier because of favorable tax rates. For example, the wealthy pay only 15 or 20% on their long-term investment income, while wage earners pay as much as 39.6%. The justification is that long-term investments create jobs—but more critical to job growth in a consumer economy is a public that has money to spend.
- Equally critical to consumer demand are minimum wage laws that keep pace with inflation. The federal minimum hourly wage, for example, has been frozen at $7.25 since 2009.
- Two full-time minimum wage workers in an American family with two children barely make enough to exceed the family poverty level defined by the U.S. government. Yet the American super-rich have more than doubled their wealth since 1949, at the expense of their fellow Americans.
- Globally, the problem is worse: the richest 1% own almost as much wealth as the other 99% of all humanity.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned us many decades ago that, “We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” The Spirit of ’76 that once inspired people around the globe is threatened now, as never before.
It’s time to build a new reality.