Marcel on work as the creative affirmation of the transcendent

Drawing from Marcel’s path-breaking formulations, I view creativity as having a central role in fashioning the flourishing life. By this, I refer to the individual’s quest for what Marcel called “spiritual reality” and “spiritual illumination” (Marcel, 2001a, pp. 1, 13), a life that is characterized by “novelty, freshness, revelation,” that intends the transcendent, and, perhaps most importantly, often leads to radical perspective-shifting, life-affirming self-transformation, and a “renewal of being” (Gallagher, 1962, pp. 84, 95). While a life that is narrated in terms of “spiritual reality” and “spiritually illumination” can be psychoanalytically viewed as merely a regressive manifestation of infantile wishes pertaining to mother/infant merging, or an indication of defensive idealization against aggressive wishes, I will instead mainly view such experiences as phenomenological, that is, as creative expressions that are authentically transcendent, certainly in the mind and heart of the person experiencing them (Akhtar, 2009, pp. 269—270). Most importantly, perhaps, it is the capacity for what Averill calls “emotional creativity,” the psychological bedrock for a “renewal of being,” that Marcel insinuates gives us access to the best of what is both “inside” and “outside” of ourselves, namely, the three virtues of Beauty, Truth, and Goodness,3 which includes the workplace. Simply stated, emotional creativity refers to the capacity for “novel, effective and authentic” receptiveness, responsiveness, and responsibility, an openness, curiosity, and imagination that leads to a process of “spiritualization of the passions,” to quote Nietzsche, that is, to “self-realization and expansion” and an increased “vitality, connectedness and meaningfulness” (Averill, 2009, p. 255). In short, I am talking about selffashioning or self-creating, which, as Marcel sees it, always includes an other-directed, other-regarding, and other-serving thrust to it. Like Freud and Buber, for Marcel the fine arts are explicitly creative, but the creative impulse is also expressed in what can be broadly called the ethical sphere, in acts of hospitality, admiration, generosity, love, friendship, prayer, religion, contemplation, and metaphysics. Such ethically animated creative impulses can also be enacted in the workplace, whether by a volunteer doctor working with Ebola patients in West Africa, a policeman or fireman, or a graciously helpful clerk or doorman. In all such creative experiences of deep communion, of “being-with,” of“self-donation to the thou, the spirit of encounter, co-presence, engagement” (italics in original; Miceli, 1965, p. 20) in Marcel’s nomenclature, and more simply, the feeling of emotional and spiritual closeness, “ We do not belong to ourselves: this is certainly the sum and substance, if not of wisdom, at least of any spirituality worthy of the name” (Marcel, “Foreword,” in Gallagher, 1962, p. xiv).

In the vocational and organizational psychology literatures, the role of this kind of other-directed, other-regarding, and other-serving spirituality in the workplace has been conceptualized in terms of “the spiritualization of work,” in which work is geared to “broader life fulfillment” rooted in promoting care and concern for family, colleagues, and the wider community. These include organizational strategies that demand ethical leadership, enhance employee well-being, facilitate sustainability, and are socially responsible, while they also uphold profits and revenue growth (Carroll, 2013, pp. 595, 597,604). Prosocial practices, as they have been called (Dutton, Roberts, & Bednar, 2011, p. 159), are meant to shield and/or support the best interests of other people and provide a medium for employees to partake in routine helping and giving in the work context. Research has clearly shown that those employees who engage in regularly helping others and giving to a cause that transcends themselves are more likely to flourish in terms of job performance and job satisfaction. Moreover, engaging in prosocial practices in the work setting “often increases psychological and social functioning, as indicated by greater persistence, performance and citizenship behaviors on the job” (ibid.). Indeed, such a “for the other” comportment in the work setting also has its psychoanalytically conceived, exquisitely sublimatory, and self-reparative benefits, for it can stand for or replace a loved and loving internal object that enhances personality integration (Levine, 1997, p. 155). As English novelist George Eliot wrote in Silas Marner, “Everyman’s work, pursued steadily, tends to become an end in itself, and so to bridge over the loveless chasms of his life” (1882, p. 121).