When did we get so wrapped up in ourselves or some form of hedonistic pursuit in life, that we lost the ability to be soulful?
And whilst this is a powerful word to me that I happen to love — and adore the sensation that it creates in my mind and spirit—the question that keeps popping up is:
Why aren’t we more bothered about being soulful?
OK, what do we MEAN by being soulful? We’ll get onto that but first a little story of how I discovered the word soulful could be used in the context of work.
One of the defining moments in my working life came when I read a very stimulating book by a Belgian ex-McKinsey consultant named Frederic Laloux.
Reinventing Organizations isn’t a perfect book. Indeed, it built on an excellent predecessor book Freedom Inc by Issac Getz and Brian Carney. There are lots of people that like to pick holes in Laloux’s declarations and deductions but I sense all Fred was doing was being soulful.
And in Reinventing Organizations, we also had a big dollop of Bryan Robertson’s Holacracy book/work (intentionally, but falling short IMHO on being soulful); and a homage to the work of Professor Clare Graves (and his Emergent Cyclical Levels Of Existence theory about human behaviours and socio-psychological evolution) built on by Ken Wilber, Don Beck and Chris Cowan into the concept of Spiral Dynamics. Not soulful in and of itself but trying to define soulful in behaviours and complex, adaptive systems.
Politics is largely not soulful. Justice regularly falls short of being soulful. Education is not as soulful as it should be. Most economics certainly isn’t soulful. Society is falling way short of being soulful.
Back to work: What Laloux, Getz, Carney and before them Graves, Wilber, Beck and Cowan tapped into was being soulful.
In yourself and in the sense of an organisation where work gets done.
Work. That dominant force in the world. I’m not going to the “work is bad -v-work is virtuous” debate. Or about the suppression of the human spirit by forcing people to spend most of their time at work is a form of subjugation.
Work that is — as philosopher Daniel Dennett framed in his response to the secret of happiness — to “Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.”
Now that’s soulful.
So what IS being soulful? And how can organisations — the fictitious thing we create as a legal entity that binds people who come together to do work — be soulful? They’re not real, just intellectual and brand constructs.
Soulful then is: Full of or expressing deep feeling; profoundly emotional.
When you’re being soulful in your thoughts, words, exchanges and deeds with other people it (naturally) feels like it comes from the soul. Not necessarily the construct of a logical or deliberate mind but somehow part of being soulful does come in the form of recognised expressions and actions we do as communicating sentient beings.
Soulful is depth. Not shallow, cursory, superficial, fake, disingenuous. Eurgh, such awful words. You’ll tell yourself you’re virtuous, crusading even, right-on, honourable, direct, assertive, misunderstood maybe. But “soulful” as a real thing will elude you. Deep down, you know this. But you excuse that flaw and find compensation in other things you do, stand for and are. Not soulful though. Unless you face into that charade and want to shift to a more soulful way of being. You can gush, do “generous” things, but if your intent is to look good, to play to the gallery, you’re not soulful.
Soulful is expressions of genuine, positive, kind, generous feelings. We may all say “nice” things to each other. But we then curse under our breath. Resentful of someone else's soulfulness that you cannot fathom and so deny it and judge it as false. You project your disdain and anger towards people not because they’re imperfect, but because they’re soulful. Yes, they may have made mistakes. Are not without tarnish. Clumsy perhaps. Letting people down. Given in to a poor judgemental impulse or urge. And you’ll harshly judge them and say to yourself “see, they’re not as good as they/others think they are”. And feel comforted that this reminder of your lack of soulfulness is at least “better” than this so-called soulful human.
Soulful is profoundly emotional. Of unfiltered, uplifting, sincere words and actions. Of the realisation that others need support. That sharing good fortune and circumstance, being generous, kind and boosting their confidence are you being truly soulful through emotional acts, words and gestures.
Telling people they matter, because they do. Telling people it’s alright if they’re off their best because it is. Telling people you appreciate them because you do. Telling people they’re loved because they are. Showing gratitude, humility, tenderness, care and compassion. Because it’s what we are wired to do as social animals, who nurture, protect, assure, educate, enable.
Soulful can be what you do when you lead.
Soulful can be what you do when you follow.
Soulful can be what you do when you challenge.
Soulful can be what you do to comfort someone who is hurting.
Soulful ISN’T being dominant. Being aggressive. Being discourteous. Being disrespectful. Being deceitful. Taking advantage. Being elusive. Being vague. Being dishonest. Being destructive. Being divisive. Being ambivalent. Being unhelpful. Being cruel. Being judgemental. Being forceful. Being ignorant. Being arrogant. Being oppressive. Being dangerous.
We are born being soulful. If you see young children with each other, their unspoilt instincts are often to care and be cared for; to look after and help others and to not see differences that are dividing us as adults.
We lose the ability to be soulful because we are told to win, be distrusting, be competitive, be aloof, be wary and be in control.
In Frederic’s book, in Issac & Brian’s work and in the stories of organisations that they showcased, soulful is the adjective of the organisation (that fictional thing that binds people) via the people themselves who are creating that soulfulness.
It’s in us. It’s natural. It’s powerful. It’s real. It’s abundant.
Soulfulness is a way we could all recalibrate our energies and our very way of being, yet we often hide it, deny it or are averse to it.
“If I care that much, I’ll only get hurt.”
“Why should I give that when it’ll get manipulated and abused.”
I wonder if you tried being deliberately and sustainably soulful in all you do, what that would achieve, realise and do for you and others?
If you started from the premise that the organisation you are a part of could be soulful, would it be? Could you be part of making it be? Even if those unsoulful people deliberately or inadvertently spoil it, would that really matter or knock you off course? Or do you tell yourself that you being soulful, others being soulful and the organisation becoming more soulful is a fallacy and the stuff of unicorns, fairies and the force?
If you deny soulful and say it won’t be, then, funnily enough, it won’t.
Yet, one soulful act from you creates a rippling effect in others, then it will be 2x and in turn 4x, 8x, 16x. Soulful can be exponential.
What if we did all we could to be soulful each and every day? What if YOU can help create a soulful organisation so that every day is filled with warmth, enlightenment, purpose, joy, fulfilment, and yes, flourishing.
Maybe the book we’re all yet to write is the soulful way of work or the soulful organisation. Maybe we won’t need to write a book because we’re all creating a more soulful way to be in our work and lives.
You might have to let go of some of the unsoulful pretences though and truly recognise something soulful you think, say, and do and catch yourself doing that. And repeat and scale and embed and regenerate and replenish and share and do and give and get and find and expand your soulfulness.
How can we be more civil, supportive and inclusive with each other without being soulful first? My assertion is, we can’t.
Want to change the world, and remove hate, division and narcissism?
It’s what Graves/Beck/Cowan/Wilber called holistic (in Spiral Dynamics) and what Laloux called evolutionary (in Teal).
I’m dedicating myself and my work to being more soulful. My one KPI, my one mission, my one “more important than me” element in Dennett’s secret of happiness.
Do we all want to be soulful and work in a soulful organisation or can’t we handle that?
Our future yardstick to measure all the goodness in the world — and we may have lacked the word that helps us be that, and got lost in semantics — is soulful. Something that binds us to a more virtuous and positive way to be that lies in that one word.
And the ultimate question to ask in order to be and do our best at all times is this.
Am I being soulful?
If the answer is yes, then goodness will flow.
Be soulful yourself. It’s a love revolution. It’s a daisy chain connection. It’s our soulful evolution.