Plato’s Insights on Beauty/Goodness as a Key to Employee Loyalty

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Stack of hands a teamwork symbol

In a previous post I noted how Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle viewed productivity, loyalty, and ethics as interrelated.  Businesses are well-advised to draw from the insights of these philosophers in cultivating: (1) truth, (2) a ‘we-self’, and (3) creative acts of good will.  In this post we’ll look at what it means to cultivate creative acts of goodness.

In some of his writings, Plato uses the ideas of “goodness” and “beauty” interchangeably.  Plato was a pretty sharp thinker, but didn’t he know the difference?

Well, part of his insight was that things that are truly good will also be beautiful.  I have a photo of my father-in-law lovingly applying a band-aid to the skinned knee of my daughter when she was about three years old.  It’s a picture of a truly good act.  There’s also as much beauty in that picture as any photo I’ve ever taken.  Truly good things are like that: they resonate with our aesthetic sense of beauty.

If Plato was correct that beauty and goodness are indispensable ideals—and Christians can readily adopt this point into their understanding that we are created in God’s good and beautiful image—then this has big implications for how humans flourish and find life satisfaction.  And this includes their jobs in the workplace.

When artists construct something that touches our souls with a sense of beauty, they have used their creativity to show us some dimension of goodness.  A company can go a long way toward connecting employees with the aims of the company—meeting the ever-present goal that managers have of loyalty and productivity throughout the ranks—by speaking to this same human need for the connected ideals of beauty and goodness.

And so the smart manager or administrator will look for ways to help people find creative ways of expressing good will toward one another.  I know of several companies in which some person or small group has taken it upon themselves to put out bowls of fruit for workers who would otherwise head to vending machines for their mid-morning snack.  I know of an executive who recorded on his computer all the anniversaries of his employees, and then sends out automated emails that say “congratulations on your upcoming anniversary” two days before each employee’s anniversary.  He’s saved numbers of people over the years from forgetting their anniversary.  I could go on with examples.  Perhaps you could as well.

When people are on the receiving end of some random act of good will, it’s interesting that they in turn tend to want to find some creative way of expressing good will to others.  The snowball effect of finding some new way to express good will can be profound.

Also interesting is the effect on loyalty all this has.  Small acts of good will can sometimes be enormously appreciated by others.  People feel loyalty to a community or organization if they experience others within that organization being good to them.  Perhaps even more importantly, people will feel loyalty and make true commitments to an organization if they themselves have found the right outlet to express goodness to others.  They will feel like they have found the place where they belong if they have found ways to unleash their own creativity (and their own spiritual gifts) in acts of goodness—the ideal toward which all of us are deeply oriented.

And so a company’s third pursuit—in addition to the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of a ‘we-self’—must be to encourage ourselves and others to unleash our creativity in finding ways to express goodness and beauty to one another.  Any company looking for long-term success will need to be concerned about productivity, loyalty, and ethical-mindedness within the workforce.  The main takeaway point from the Greek philosophers’ emphasis on virtue is that these things will largely take care of themselves, if we actively cultivate an atmosphere of truth, of a we-self, and of creative acts of goodness.

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Kevin Kinghorn serves as editor of the Faith and Work Collective blog. He is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury Theological Seminary. His undergraduate work (Emory) was in economics and political science. His graduate work (Asbury; Yale; Oxford) and current teaching has focused on topics within philosophy of religion and moral philosophy. He lives in Mt. Sterling, KY, where he and his wife Barbara work toward community transformation, providing music and art opportunities for children.

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