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Why business men should read Plato, Dante, and Dickens

6:00:00 AMUnknown

Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. - Sir Francis Bacon 

An article caught my eye the other day entitled “Why Business Men Should Read Great Works of Literature” by Vigen Guroian. I clicked on it, curious because my beloved father is a businessman and secondly because I love literature. But I had never wondered how the two fields could possibly be related.

I am well aware that not every human being has a stack of books on his nightstand. I’ve grown up with the general impression that some people just don’t like to read. Period. And this has never bothered me, until now...

Recently, my father was interviewed for the Business column of our local newspaper. The article was entitled, “Foster, works, prays, plays hard.” They asked my father many questions concerning his successful business ethics which makes him a business leader in his community, one such question being; “How much does your spiritual life influence what you do from a business standpoint?”  

My father replied, “The spiritual life is everything. Everything else is an aspect of the realization of the spiritual. In other words, your life is about living spiritually. Business is part of your life, but you cannot separate it from your spiritual beliefs. I do not want to be a man of business that knows about God. I want to be a man of God who knows how to do business.”  

After reading this article, I asked my Father to expound upon this response. He said, “There are people who focus on the physical pleasures of life.  They seem to have everything in life.  However, their lives consist of a constant struggle of perpetually striving to climb the ladders of success and then you find out - they put a bullet through their head. Sometimes, it is hard when we become acclimated to the physical joys this world brings becomes hard to take a break and separate ourselves from the physical and realize the true aspect is the spiritual.”

In response to my Father’s musings, I imagine the common business man would be left asking, “If I do wish to break free - break free of the cold pragmatism of the business world for at least a moment a day -how would I go about this?”

My father’s daughter would reply: Literature, the well spring of the Liberal Arts which, perhaps, was taken away from you long ago.

Literature can bring even the most narrow mind face to face with the inexhaustible human quest to discover why we are on this earth and why this life is worth living. Great authors can place you in another person’s shoes, presenting you with realities and experiences you may never encounter just sitting in your office.

Many people would agree that reading is important for every human being. So why single out the business man?

In his article, Guroian explains, “business men and women wield great power and are called into roles of civic and political leadership.”

Therefore, it is crucial for the benefit of our nation and society that our leaders be individuals who are well formed in all aspects of their lives. When you hire a lawyer, it is reassuring to know that he passed all his boards with flying colors.  But it is even more comforting if he knows the difference between good and evil.

Literature can revitalize the moral code by which men and society live by. Russell Kirk, a well known American political, historical, and moral theorist, wrote, "Literature is the cement of society, transmitting to every rising generation, century upon century, a body of ethical principles and critical standards and imaginative creations that constitutes a kind of collective intellect of humanity, the formalized wisdom of our ancestors."

We must care about forming not only the intellect but the conscience of the business man.   

The reason being; the business man’s duty is not only to his job but more so to his soul. This enrichment of soul is crucial for the man who wakes up at 6 am to face hypnotizing computer screens and endless figures.

But to be honest, thus far I don’t expect you to be convinced to leave work tonight with high hopes of picking up Moby Dick when you get home. “Nourishing your spirit with books” sounds like a library marketing pitch gone wrong. To understand why reading the great authors is imperative, you must also understand the danger that comes with ignoring them. The problem is not that people don’t like to read; the problem is modern Education and for our purposes, Business Education.

Beginning in the 20th Century and continuing into the 21st, our education systems have been putting more an emphasis on producing worker bees and less on forming human beings. Universities are promoting specialized vocational education and demoting the liberal arts from requirement to elective.

Do universities believe the workforce alone can teach a man about the human condition better than Dickens or Dostoevsky? If so, I think they are completely and utterly wrong.  C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and many other wise educated men would agree with me.

C.S. Lewis reminds us, “if education is beaten by training, civilization dies.”

Chesterton would chime in; our current education system teaches men and women how to drive a car, but they do not teach them how to mend it, still less design it.

In his essay “On Business Education,” Chesterton writes, “the whole point of education is that it should give a man standards, by which he can judge material and fugitive conditions.” 

When the youth are deprived of a liberal arts education, deprived of Aristotle, Dante, Shakespeare, and Dickens, they become practical, but helpless, wimps. Able to practically operate the machine, but unable to tell you why it is good the machine exists and how it compares to the broken machines of the past.

Chesterton’s defense of the liberal arts was faced with the ever persistent and undying argument: “What is the use of my son learning all about ancient Athens, and remote China, and medieval guilds and monasteries, and all sorts of dead or distant things, when he is going to be a superior scientific plumber in Pimlico?

Chesterton’s all too wise and, in his mind, too obvious reply: “The use of it is that he may have some power of comparison which will not only prevent him from supposing that Pimlico covers the whole planet, but also enable him, while doing full credit to the beauties and virtues of Pimlico, to point out that, here and there, as revealed by alternative experiments, even Pimlico may conceal somewhere a defect.”

What our nation needs is a Business Education which prepares students for their years in the workforce and for their final moment on their death bed. An education which not only teaches us how to count, but how to think. An education which seeks not to narrow, but broaden our minds.

In 1929, a highly successful engineer, John. C. Parker, wisely summed up the plight of the businessman’s education:  “I would infinitely prefer that education fit [the man] for happiness and decency in poverty, than for wealth acquired through the sacrifice of himself and his character.”

Business men and women who have already been deprived of the great authors should refer to them now. Plato, Dante, Dickens, Lewis, Chesterton, (I could compose a hefty list) have the ability to teach us: why our lives are worth living, why every day counts. Their wisdom adds a vital component to your work day: meaningfulness.

Where do you begin? 

Here’s my personal compilation of a few works which when read might introduce meaningfulness to your daily routine.

Collected Works by Flannery O’Connor

The End of the Affair by Graham Green 

Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis

Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostovesky

Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper   


Displaying Annie Foster

I am an aspiring writer who recently acquired a passion for philosophy.  It is my dream that someday my writings will affect humanity in a way which brings them closer to truth. However, I would be equally as content as a stay at home mom who creates fantastical bedtime stories for my children.     


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