Time ripe to re-think 'relationships'
At this time of year it's worth pondering: many business people and economists think of themselves as Christians, but what implications does this carry for the way they view the world and conduct their affairs?
According to Michael Schluter, founder of Relationships Global and, these days, a business consultant, Christianity is a "relational" religion. If so, it doesn't sit easily with market capitalism as it is conceptualised by economists and practised by business people.
The primary emphasis of economics and business is on satisfying the wants of the individual. In this they give little priority to individuals' human relationships.
Is Christianity much different? Certainly, in the Evangelical version I grew up with, it too focuses on the individual. And you could be forgiven for wondering whether it pays much attention to relationships.
But here Schluter begs to differ. He says all of Christianity is a relational story. It starts with humankind created in God's image, but then the relationship is ruptured in the Garden of Eden. Finally, God comes to earth as a baby and ends up dying on a cross with the expressed purpose of restoring the broken relationship with humankind.
What does God require of us? Jesus summarised it: all the law and the prophets depend on two commandments - love God with all your heart, and love your neighbour as you love yourself. What could be more relational than that?
Schluter says life can be viewed from many perspectives: financial, environmental, individual, material. But "as Christians, we need to see all of reality through a relational lens if we are to look at the world as God sees it".
All of life is ultimately about relationships. For example, he says, "every financial transaction is an expression of an underlying relationship between nations, organisations or individuals".
The development of a society can be measured not in terms of economic growth but by the quality of relationships between individuals and between ethnic and other social groupings.
Education's goal can be defined as acquisition of wisdom for children to be able to serve their family and community, rather than acquisition of technical skills merely for personal career advantage.
"At a personal level, our happiness and wellbeing are determined primarily by the quality of our relationships. Arguably, financial issues - for example, debt and savings - matter to us primarily due to their relational implications," he says.
Above a certain income, wellbeing indices point to the central importance of relationships. Even for those below this income threshold it's not clear if the priority of income is for personal benefit or for group benefit, such as the care of children.
Debt is closely associated with depression and also with divorce, child abuse and social isolation, he says. Survival rates after serious illness are more closely associated with levels of relational support than with levels of income.
"It is easier to find someone financially rich and miserable than someone relationally rich and miserable," he says. "It is hard to find someone on their death bed who says, 'I wish I had spent more time in the office'."
The individualism of our culture leads us to miscalculate the significance of events because it takes little or no account of "externalities" - that is, the effects on third parties.
For example, companies and public service agencies move staff to new locations to maximise economic productivity, and economic analysis applauds their decision to do so. But no attempt is made to measure the social or relational costs of such dislocation, especially to spouses or partners, children, friends and parents and grandparents whose relationships have been disrupted.
Schluter says business, finance and public sector organisations are increasingly coming to recognise that financial evaluation of performance is insufficient.
"The purpose of companies is increasingly defined inclusively to recognise the significance of company decisions for many stakeholders, rather than instrumentally, where customers, suppliers and so on are regarded simply as means to increase shareholder profits."
Low levels of national debt - a measure of inter-generational loyalty - decrease economic instability and aid economic growth. Political stability is a foundation for economic prosperity, but depends on peaceful relations between ethnic and religious groups and between rich and poor.
"To see the world in relational terms requires a re-education process as the media, corporate advertising and our own inclinations constantly point us towards seeing things from an individualistic or materialistic point of view," Schluter concludes.