06/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Reframing the Crisis: A Wildfire of Opportunity

Imagine what it would feel like if when you turned on CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News, instead of seeing interviews with politicians, political pundits and economic analysts, you watched interviews with poets, visionaries, and philosophers who helped us make sense of these tumultuous times. Imagine hearing people address the spiritual nature of this crisis, speak to the emotions such times trigger and provide us with a new lens for understanding the vast complexities this systemic collapse is bringing to light.

It is not simply a material crisis we are weathering. It is not only about money; in fact, that is the least of it, really. We're facing the biggest decisions we've ever faced as co-creators of Western civilization and American culture: will we take care of each other? As a so-called Judeo-Christian society, will we actually embody the tenets of our faith that ask us to care for others as we care for our own, to share our wealth, to empower the poor? If so, then this very upheaval is a first step in that direction.

Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev once wrote, "The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question." And it's really the spiritual questions that are on the table now, though one would never know it listening to the daily news. We are going through a dark night of the soul akin to September 11, but without the kinship, without the expression of our soul-disturbing grief, without a resounding public acknowledgment that the twin towers of capitalism and globalization as we have known it have collapsed in a rubble all around us.

We are at a threshold, a turning point -- many of us fearful, jobless, steps away from homelessness. And weary as we are, it is our time to be creative, to be vocal, to imagine together the kind of world we want to live in. None of us were educated for this task. We were taught what to think, not how. We were taught to be suspect of anything foreign, un-American, non-religious but this is the very moment when we need to transcend those fears and entertain every new idea that points to fairness and opportunity for everyone.

A huge opportunity for breakthrough right now is in the business environment where there is a collective force, a compelling question and a sense of urgency. This is a defining moment for leaders, an opportunity to tap into the spiritual energy and creative potential of the workforce. It is a time for collective engagement, community inquiry and company-wide involvement in the search for new solutions. It is a time to address the spiritual nature of our crisis, to appeal to the souls and imaginations of the people gathered, and to ask the questions that cause people to rise up in all their glory and bring their whole hearts to the table; not how can we be the best in the world, but how can we be the best for the world?
How can we reframe our questions in such a way that people are inspired by the inquiry?
How do we get our teams to embody the idea that waste is food and to conjure up new ideas for sustainable practices? How do we transform ourselves into a triple-bottom line entity?

These are spiritual questions because they involve the whole being, the whole planet, the whole human family. We're in a crisis because we failed to address the whole when all our attention was on profit alone. That world is over. That paradigm will never be resurrected. We have evolved beyond that thinking as a human organism as it does not take into account the entire human body, the whole group of us. The questions now are bigger than profit, bigger than returns on investment, bigger than individual success. When the finger is cut, even the toe cells respond. As the neural cells of this planet, we are reorganizing ourselves for the benefit of every cell. It's how nature works.

Think of wildfires, which are a natural part of terrestrial ecosystems. Wildfire eliminates dead and decayed plant and tree matter, enriching the soil and ensuring that healthier trees have less competition for limited nutrients. What looks like a disaster to us is actually an organic win/win to the forest. So these are our wildfire times. Yes, it's frightening, disconcerting, heated and punishing, but what an opportunity for new growth!

Jan Phillips, author of The Art of Original Thinking: The Making of a Thought Leader, is a consultant to businesses and organizations who are committed to bringing some heart and soul into the workplace.