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That's the Spirit

Those calling for a spiritual awakening are marching into enemy territory: the world of business. But what happens when a corporation's soul clashes with its bottom line?

When the Green Bay Packers won the 1997 Super Bowl, it was a triumph of soul. The Packers are deeply rooted in the Wisconsin city where they were founded in 1919. They were named after a local meat processing plant, the Indian Packing Company, which paid for the first uniforms. Starting in the 1920s, the Green Bay Football Corp. made a series of public stock offerings. In 1950, 1,900 local residents each put up $25 a share to buy the team. They and their descendants remain the owners. No one owns more than 200 shares of Packers stock. And it pays no dividends -- every cent goes back to the team in pay or toward the improvement of facilities. The result is a community -- and team -- spirit unmatched in any other National Football League city. That's why Packer players who score touchdowns leap into the stands to embrace spectators. That's why fans at Lambeau Field sing "Amazing Grace" during time-outs. That's why, as Bruce Adams of the San Francisco Examiner wrote last year, "a group of nuns 75 miles away in Fond du Lac prays for the Packers on Sunday morning and then settles down in front of a television set to watch the game."

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It's also one reason why a team from the small northern town of Green Bay could beat all the big, bankrolled teams from New York to Los Angeles -- the Packers have soul.

Now, soul is in. The San Francisco Chronicle recently called it the "buzzword of the '90s," in a headline for a front-page story reporting that some 322 citations for the word appear in the current edition of Books in Print. That's nearly four times the number in 1990. The notion has even permeated TV ads. Millions of viewers were exposed late last year to Nissan Motor's gaudy commercials introducing the 1997 Infiniti Q45 luxury automobile with the slogan "Everything changes but the soul." And this year Ford Motor is touting its top-of-the-line Lincoln Continental as a car that "gets into your soul, not your pocket."

So it may not be surprising that forces calling for an awakening of spirituality are now marching into enemy territory: the business world. If anything could be considered antithetical to soulfulness, it's humdrum, buttoned-up, make-a-buck commerce. Witness the long line of business villains in literature, theater, and film. (Just revisit Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol or Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.)

But today, a particular malaise -- a sense that business crushes the spirit and compels workers to suppress feelings -- has become an opportunity for the spirituality gurus, who propose to bring soul into the workplace.

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