Is It Time for Spiritual Psychology?

Lillian was hired as an office clerk. After several years of dedicated study and hard work she was promoted to middle management. A few years later, she joined another company to further advance her career. After further study and long hours in the office, she advanced as high as possible in the company. She then got a phone call from an executive recruiter.

He told Lillian, “There’s an exciting opportunity that I’d like you to consider. If accepted, you will work directly with the Vice President, and he will teach you everything he knows.”

Lillian listened to the news with mixed emotions. After all, how could she be sure that she would get along with her new boss? And was she capable of carrying out what would be her new responsibilities?

She decided to try, so she made an appointment and was hired after her second interview. On her first day at the job, her joy changed to a fearsome shock. Her boss was verbally abusive. At least once an hour he was shouting at her, calling her stupid, incompetent, useless, worthless, and retarded. The abuse went on daily.

After each day, Lillian was drained. And since she had nervous spasms during her sleep, she awakened exhausted. Although she dreaded going back to work, she mustered all her strength and forced herself to go to the office. If she were chewed out by her boss in a private office, at least she would have time, after he left, to lick her wounds and try to heal herself. But she didn’t have her own office. Instead, her desk was right next to the boss in his office. So, from morning to evening there was no relief from the poisonous atmosphere. He even insisted they eat lunch in the office. After three weeks, Lillian broke into tears as she confided to a friend. “I just don’t know what to do.” she said.

“I don’t think I can take any more of this. What shall I do?”

What would you do?

I don’t know what you would do or what advice you would give Lillian, but I know what psychologists would say. They would tell her, “Lillian, you’ve got to be assertive. You have to stand up for yourself. You don’t have to take abuse from anyone. If someone treats you badly, don’t smile and pretend it’s okay. Remember, unkindness deserves a firm response; don’t let anyone abuse you.”

But what if your boss refuses to change despite your protestations? Besides, isn’t fighting him contrary to Christ’s teaching of “Turn the other cheek”? Isn’t it also contrary to Buddha’s admonition to love those who rob and beat us? Again, isn’t it against the Qur’an (Koran) that repeatedly teaches it is better to forgive than attack another?

Isn’t it also against the teaching of forgiveness found in Hindu scripture: “Forgiveness is a virtue of the weak, and an ornament of the strong. Forgiveness subdues (all) in this world; what is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? What can a wicked person do unto him who carries the saber of forgiveness in his hand? Fire falling on the grassless ground is extinguished of itself. And unforgiving individual defiles himself with many enormities.” (Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva Section XXXIII)

Now, let’s return to the question I asked earlier. If you were in Lillian’s position, what would you do? What would be the right thing to do? If your boss refused to stop harassing you, would you quit? Could you forgive him and stay?

The average person finds it extremely hard to live by the spiritual teachings I mentioned above. “Turning the other cheek” seems contrary to our natural instincts. Why is it so difficult to accept? Because we separate ourselves from others in our mind.

We think we are different. We believe there are good and bad people, kind people and jerks. Of course, in our mind, we always belong to the good and kind group while those who make us uncomfortable belong to the bad group and are jerks.

Spiritual people see the world differently. To them, all people are the same. Everyone cries when sad, laughs when amused, and attacks when he or she feels threatened. Some people will do nasty things, not because they’re nasty, but because they are wounded inside. They don’t act out of spite as much as they act out of pain. Understanding this, spiritual people can accept and forgive others.

Why should we be concerned about this subject? Because people are the source of our power and contribute to our happiness. The better we get along with others, the happier and more powerful we become. Do you remember the question I asked earlier? Would you quit or would you stay? Well, the choices we make determine the results we get, so let’s explore this further.

But before we do, let me say it wasn’t Lillian that was a victim of abuse, it was my wife. And when she asked me what to do, I replied with a spiritual approach, not a psychological one. I told her that despite his abusive behavior her boss was a decent person. I suggested she try to forgive him and put up with his nerve-racking behavior for three months. I told her that if she still wanted to quit after that time, she should feel free to do so.

Yoko, my wife, stayed on and discovered that after three months she could tolerate her boss’ rude behavior and stopped having spasms during her sleep. After six months her boss started to melt under the warmth of her patience, understanding, and acceptance. Shortly later they became the best of friends and he, the Chief Financial Officer, taught Yoko everything he knew.

Two years later, a Japanese printing press manufacturer opened an office and showroom fifteen minutes from our home. They picked a president to run the company and were looking for a CFO to be second in command. Yoko got the job. Within three weeks she discovered the president was a crook, stealing company funds. After reporting to the Head Office in Japan, she was instructed to fire the president, not to hire another one, and to take charge of the company, which she successfully did.

Can you see how a spiritual approach led to a successful conclusion? Imagine the exciting life and financial success that Yoko achieved BY TURNING THE OTHER CHEEK. Few people would have put up with the abuse of Yoko’s former boss. But that’s why few get to climb so high in life. By the way, what happened to Yoko is not an isolated case. I, too, had similar experiences of being verbally abused by people who became the best of friends that then opened new doors of opportunity.

Am I saying we should never stand up for ourselves? No, but before you do, stand up for the abuser, a wounded soul. If you don’t, who will? My general policy is to give abusive people three months to begin changing. If they don’t start to change, I then step in with conventional assertive behavior. I don’t do it to protect myself, but to protect other victims. I also do it to help the abuser. For as long as no one objects, he or she will continue along the same path. The abuser alienates others, destroys morale, and dampens productivity. So, by guiding the abuser toward proper behavior, I help them become more powerful and successful. By doing so, I not only improve the abuser’s life but the lives of all those he or she deals with.

Over the years, psychology has made considerable progress. Its latest incarnation is called “Positive Psychology,” a term that was first used by Abraham Maslow (1908 ~ 1970). Positive Psychology represents a shift in thinking. Rather than looking at psychology as the study of mental illnesses it is now seen as the study of optimal human functioning or wellness of being. It is Martin Seligman who is seen as the driving force behind Positive Psychology, for which we have to be grateful. But I would like to introduce the idea of Spiritual Psychology, an approach that includes the spiritual dimension as well as the mental one. Our story of Lillian / Yoko illustrates the application of “Spiritual Psychology.”