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TITLEWork is Worship: Business is a Spiritual Game
AUTHOR 1Mishkin Berteig
ABSTRACTFireside interview with the CEO and chief scientist at the Berteig Institute, an education company that helps improve business and beautify work environments, on the spiritual aspects of work, business, profit, and cooperative capitalism.
NOTES Transcript prepared by Doug Couper from video online at
TAGSAlan Coupe

1. Transcript (see video below)

Work is Worship: Business is a Spiritual Game - Fireside with Mishkin Berteig
uploaded by Baha'i Community of London, Ontario
2022 April 16
29:45 minutes
Video description: A business is a system of people doing something they couldn't do as individuals. Insights about co-operation make a business more service-oriented. Managers in particular benefit from this spiritual focus.
Transcriber's comment: Repetitive 'filler' words and phrases like 'um' are deleted in the transcript. If the reader feels a concept has been compromised in the process, please contact us with details.
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(Hoda) - Welcome everybody. We are thrilled to have you joining us for our monthly firesides. These are hosted by the London Baha'i community the first or second weekend of every month. This month, we have Mishkin Berteig joining us, and he will be presenting on (the idea) "Work is Worship; Business is a Spiritual Game", which I think is a very intriguing topic and the title for our presentation, because we don't often hear the word business and spiritual in the same space ....

Mishkin Berteig is the CEO and chief scientist at the Berteig Institute, an education company dedicated to helping managers deliver massive business results and create beautiful work environments for their staff. Mishkin has been a Baha'i all his life. He is a husband, a father of four, an educator, a business person, a cyclist and a fan of Lego. Some of his loves include mathematics, architecture and food. I'm sure there's a few other friends in the community who also enjoy (food) so we will have the presentation first and then we will turn off the recording for discussion and Questions and Answers. If you would like to start putting those in the Chat as you're thinking about them, so you don't forget them, please do so. Mishkin, I pass it over to you.

(Mishkin) - Thanks so much Hoda. (It's) really a huge honour to be here and I hope that as I go through this, people will understand that I'm not some erudite scholar of the Baha'i teachings or anything like that. I'm just a guy who grew up as a Baha'i who really loves my faith and the teachings, and you know I'm just doing my darndest to put them into practice ... I wanted to start my talk with a story about myself that maybe some of you will find humorous ... Just to give you a sense of where I'm coming from, when I was growing up, I became a big fan of reading comics and this was partly because my dad loved comic books as well, and so we'd go to the comic book / magazine store and me and my younger brother would spend hours reading comics together.

Overtime, I discovered that I was attracted to comic books about two characters. One was Richie Rich, the poor little rich boy and (the other was) Uncle Scrooge, a miserly duck who had a huge bin of money. That interest stayed with me, and I was always fascinated and curious about money. As someone who grew up in a family of artists, and in a Baha'i community that was very much focused on the spiritual matters of the world, I always felt just a little bit uncertain about how that all fit in. Whether it was kind of good or not, I was interested in this money thing.

As I got older, my brother and I tried starting some businesses and we were awful at it. One of our first tries was to publish some comics and we tried making some toys and (other) different things. Over and over In my life, I tried starting businesses. If you count those childhood businesses, I've got a lot of failed businesses behind me, and one that's doing all right. I don't know exactly how It came about other than Iwas attracted to these comics, but I've always been interested in this idea of how people make money, how money works, how money relates to the good things In the world - and also (to) the bad things: the corruption (and) the abuses.

I've quite naturally studied a lot of these things on my own (and) I've learned about economics, about accounting, about business, of course, and I don't know that I have any final conclusions, but I wanted to share with you some of my journey and some of my insights and thoughts about this. The starting place is how I describe the topic - that a business Is a system.

So what's the system? ... A business is a system involving a group of people (not just one person) doing something they couldn't do alone. We see businesses all over the place - we see people working in businesses; we see people working for businesses; we see people sometimes working against businesses - so there's this question about what makes business good. I want to talk about (that and) work itself and money.

I'd like to share a couple of quotes from the Baha'i teachings. These are things that I've known about for many years and (have) been constantly thinking about ... in the background, as I go through life as a person who has been an employee for other businesses (and) as an employer running a business. I'm going to share my screen from time to time to show you these quotes ...The first one I'd like to share is actually about wealth so this is from a really fabulous book called the Tablets of Baha'u'llah. Baha'u'llah is the founder of the Baha'i faith and he writes: “the beginning of magnanimity Is when man expendeth his wealth on himself, on his family, and on the poor among his brethren in his faith” ...He goes on in the same passage (to say) ”the essence of wealth Is love for me. Whoso loveth me is the possessor of all things and he that loveth me not is indeed of the poor and needy. This is that which the finger of glory and splendour hath revealed. I encountered that quote when I was quite young as I was looking for things in the Baha'i writings that were really short and I could read (easily because) I wasn't too motivated to read long passages, and this particular piece is just two pages long ...

Magnanimity is a word that a lot of people don't use In common speech. Basically it's related to generosity and being open-hearted and saying "Hey, you know there are other people out there" - and I'm going to protect, help (and) be generous to those people. The beginning of magnanimity is when man expendeth his wealth - and this is the thing that caught my eye, when I read “on himself”. The teachings of the Baha'i faith allow us to spend our wealth on ourselves and (then the quote says) on family. (Family) is obvious for most people. You care for your family. If you have children, of course, you spend what you can to help them along. Then the quote says “on the poor among his brethren.” So (for) the poor, you try to be generous to society. Then in the very next line, He says “the essence of wealth is love for Me”. I also found (it) very interesting that “who so loveth me Is the possessor of all things,” If we take that literally, if we love God, then we possess everything In the universe. What does It mean then to possess? ... These statements (were) always ... in my head and I've always been trying to figure out what to do with (them) in practice. How do I apply this to real life?

The next quote is exactly (about) that. This is from the most holy book the Kitab-i-Aqdas. Baha'u'llah says: ”O people of Baha. It is incumbent upon each one of you to engage in some occupation such as a craft, a trade or the like. We have exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship of the one true God. Reflect, O people, on the grace and blessings of your Lord and yield Him thanks at eventide and dawn. Waste not your hours in idleness and sloth, but occupy yourselves with what will profit you and others.” (This is) absolutely fascinating - especially in connection with those other quotes. So we must do something with our lives - some occupation, a trade, a craft or the like. In other passages, He talks about a profession, the arts and the sciences, so when we think about what it means to be wealthy and our reliance on God, then part of our reliance on God is to work and that work is worship - which just blows me away every time I think about It.

Is all work worship? No matter what it is, is it worship? ... There are other passages which talk about work done in the spirit of service as worship. This particular passage that I read (describes) a craft, a trade or the like, and (says) engagement in such work is worship. A couple of sentences later (it says) occupy yourselves with what will profit you and others. I feel like Baha'u'llah is being amazingly generous to humanity to say that we don't have to isolate ourselves; that we don't have to ... sacrifice all our life and time for service and, in fact, when we do work, it's okay to profit ourselves and others.

In some people's minds, profit is a bad word - like why can't you just do that without profiting. Of course, profit doesn't necessarily mean monetary profit. “Occupy yourselves with what will profit you.” Certainly, if we worship God, that's profitable to our (spiritual) souls, but what's really cool is that we can do work to profit ourselves (in the physical realm too). In my own life, what that has meant for me personally is that I've struggled to figure out how I (can) work with that spirit of service, so that I'm worshipping God. I consider this one of the most amazing opportunities (that) I don't have to sit in my room and pray for eight hours a day. I can actually go out and do work for eight hours a day and that's worshipping God.

When I was in school, I was constantly thinking about what should I do, what career should I be in, what profession or trade or craft or art or science should I do - that would be of service. I think a lot of people think about this. They might think of it in terms of how do I serve my family; how do I make as much money as I can so that my kids are OK, or so that I can help my parents In their old age, or so that I can get my brother out of trouble - or whatever your life circumstances are. Often we frame our work as making money in order to serve someone else with that money and that's, in my mind, part of this - but, of course, there's a lot of people who also work in a way that the work itself is service. If you were to ask most people about their work, they would say that contributing to other people's happiness (or the) advancement of knowledge or beauty in the world - that this contribution ... motivates us (because) our souls long to contribute ...

I went to university and ended up getting a computer science degree. Now I'd say it that way because when I started, I didn't know for sure that's what I would do. I got a computer science degree and, not too long after graduating, I started working as a software developer and I did pretty well In that profession. I ended up working In Silicon Valley for a couple (of) years and I enjoyed It, and I knew that I was contributing to the betterment of the companies that I was working for, but often I didn't feel like the work itself was really contributing to humanity, so I struggled with this and I started thinking about how do I help people a little bit more directly. How do I help make the world a better place - not just making more profit for the company that I happen to be working for? I ended up, for example, working for a big bank In San Francisco and it was okay but It wasn't inspiring me, and I wasn't really feeling like I was reaching my potential in terms of service, so I started to think about what I could do. Eventually after a few other tries, I started my current business.

I'll say a few words about that later, but basically the reason I did that is I realized that If I wanted to serve humanity at the level that I thought humanity deserved, maybe I would need to work with other people and we would need to be conscious of our service. In a big corporate environment, it doesn't feel like service. It really feels like shareholder profits are the point - not terribly inspiring, right? So I decided to start my company to create an environment where service to humanity was a core concept.

But before I talk about my company, I wanted to share a quote that is one of the few that I could find about companies and about the fact that we have to work in groups and that having a company is OK from a spiritual perspective ... It's part of a (text) about a person's Will and Testament. If they die without a will, what happens to their belongings and possessions? It starts off talking about the deceased - the person who's died without a will. This one is interesting because it mentions what happens if a person dies without a will and their children aren't yet adults: “If the deceased should leave children who are under age, their share of the inheritance must be entrusted to a reliable Individual or to a company that it may be invested on their behalf In trade and business. Until they come of age, the trustee should be assigned a due share of the profit that has accrued to it from being thus employed.” (While) the framing is ... (about) wills and deceased people, the core of it is really interesting ... What I got from this is that Baha'u'llah is saying that companies are OK, business is OK and profitable business is OK; that you can invest money and put it into a business - and away you go. In fact you should do this in the case of children who are underage and (for) their share of an Inheritance. I (thought) if it's OK for underage kids and their share of (an) inheritance, that probably means it's OK in other situations as well ... It made me realize starting a business Is OK. I don't have to be alone; I don't have to be a solo business person; I don't have to be an employee of someone else (so) the idea of setting up businesses and a company is actually quite reasonable; and (so is the idea) that it should make a profit; and that profit is in (the) service of people who need that profit (and) who work for that profit like the trustee for the underage children.

Probably many of us think about what we (can) do with any savings that we might have and, just as an aside, this is also interesting because it says, "Yeah, you know what!" - investing in businesses or trades in order to turn a profit is perfectly legitimate. It's off the point of my discussion, but as I introduced this topic, I said that a business is a system and it's a system where you actually have multiple people involved in order to accomplish something that a single person couldn't, and so I want to share (my) last quote - which is about this concept, and then I'll talk about my business briefly ...

Abdul-Baha, the son of Baha'u'llah, wrote that the supreme need of humanity is cooperation and reciprocity - the stronger the ties of fellowship and solidarity amongst men, the greater will be the power of constructiveness and accomplishment in all the planes of human activity. Without cooperation and reciprocal attitude, the individual member of human society remains self-centered, uninspired by altruistic purposes, limited and solitary In development like the animal and plant organisms of the lower kingdoms - which actually sounds depressing if you ask me.

So the supreme need of humanity is cooperation and reciprocity. Both of these things occur in businesses. When I was an employee, I relied heavily on other people In the business for us to work as a team to accomplish something greater than any of us could have possibly accomplished individually. We see this in so many aspects of society (and) so many aspects of humanity. Whether we think of it in terms of organizing amazing arts, or whether we think about it as the sciences or technology, all the things that happen at a large scale require cooperation and reciprocity - for people to be inspired by what they think of as an altruistic purpose. Not every business necessarily has that altruistic purpose to it (and) I know society sometimes looks at business as somehow inherently dodgy – like "OK you're in business, but do you really have to be. Couldn't you just volunteer Instead?" What's interesting about the things I've learned about this from the Baha'i faith, is that business is (just) one way, (and) not the only way, but one way of getting a group of people to rally around an altruistic purpose and work in cooperation and reciprocity to achieve some sort of service to humanity that wouldn't otherwise be possible. It doesn't mean that every business has good results; it doesn't mean that every business is going to be successful even if it does have an altruistic purpose, but nevertheless, I think that business is actually a spiritual game and that the impulse of humans to serve is magnified, multiplied and made exponential by working together In a business context.

To wrap up, I started out learning about money through comic books and then I tried different businesses along the way; I tried being an employee for several different companies and I learned a lot of different things. Now that (I'll soon be) over 50, I feel like I have a tiny bit of life experience and (can say) I've encountered, over and over again in my career, a particular kind of person, who is struggling ... A lot of people don't think about this but in many organizations, managers (are) the people In the middle. Not the owners nor the employees / staff who do the hands-on work of a business, but the managers (are the ones who) really struggle. If you're not a manager yourself, you might be surprised to hear this.

Managers are some of the most stressed-out, miserable, overwhelmed, depressed, anxious people that I know. The executives and owners get the thrill of making big decisions and accomplishments, and the staff (are probably doing the most valuable work) serving customers in some direct or indirect way, but (when we think of) managers - what's their contribution? What (goal) do they have to work towards? Are they just climbing the corporate ladder? That's not terribly inspiring ... What I've realized Is that managers are kind of like the forgotten people in an organization ... I might discover in five years that managers don't deserve my help, but I doubt it ... They're the ones who are suffering in many cases more than anyone else; and alleviating their suffering is my purpose in business now.

I'm not going to get into the details of that because we're near the end of my presentation, but I realized that we all have to find something that we believe is service. We (all) experiment, we try to find our path of service - not just in our volunteer work, or community work, or family work, but also in our career, our profession, our occupation, our trade (and) our business. I hope that I've inspired you to think about business and your profession just a little bit differently than you might have before. Thanks for listening.

(Hoda) - Thank you so much Mishkin. That definitely was a very thought-provoking presentation,and you've made me think of managers In a completely different way. Right now I'm trying to think which managers do I know (and) how they (might) feel, but I really appreciate you sharing your journey with us ...

2. Video

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