During college, I spent an academic year in Sevilla, in southern Spain. It was a pivotal time in my life and an experience that impacted me a great deal. I will never forget the first time my host mother, Chari, called out to me “Hasta luego mi alma, mi corazón” (“Until later, my soul, my heart”). Even today, thirty years later, these words resonate with me and fill me with joy. Not only had Chari touched my soul and heart, but she had confirmed that we were entwined and had become very close. Her words also reminded me that we all have a soul and a heart that must be shared to feel whole, something I had never really contemplated until then. I felt more connected to her and to myself after this moment, and felt a supreme sense of belonging and peace. I realized then that one must be at once both vulnerable and trustworthy and reveal a part of one’s soul to become intimate and close, to create a bridge to connect both souls.
One must nurture one’s soul as one would care for a small child–limiting negative chatter, thoughts and criticism to allow it to flourish. Walking that fine line between vulnerability and protection is challenging. It requires opening up and taking risks while still maintaining a safe space for your soul to rest. Living abroad in Spain awakened both my heart and my soul and reminded me that I was worthy, independent and capable. I felt connected, in some mysterious way, to a culture far from my genetic makeup but somehow close to my heart and soul. Whenever I return to Sevilla, I walk around knowing I have lived there before, even if in another lifetime, as it feels so close to my soul and to my being.
The exact origin of the name alma (soul in Spanish) is debated, but it is most likely derived, in the female form, from the Latin word almus, which means “kind”, “fostering”, or “nourishing”. The warmth of the meaning was definitely reflected in how the word made me feel when uttered by my host mother. But how can one really define a soul? One cannot see it, but it is there. I envision the soul as innate and that which makes you be you. It is your essential being, your character. It is that which remains when you are not even present; it is the thought or memory of a person. It is that which lingers when one is gone–one’s legacy. It is what one leaves behind for this world. In some cultures and religions, the soul even survives death, having a life of its own separate from the body. I see it more as the intangible, a memory and a legacy.
As we enter the new year of 2021 the country is looking forward to turning the page to a new administration led by Joe Biden, a leader who often promised to restore the “soul of the nation” during his campaign. As he noted, our nation’s soul–its character, inherent being and meaning– has been diminished and injured during these past four years. This year of COVID only exacerbated this, as this virus forced us to be witnesses to the raw implications of our eroded national soul. We witnessed a healthcare system incapable of taking care of our most vulnerable, an economy with an insufficient safety net, and a legacy of racial inequality which is far from resolved. It has not been a pretty sight to witness all of this, but it has been an awakening of sorts for most of us.
It will now take the bringing together of all people from all walks of life to trust in each other to bring back this communal and nurturing feeling–this soul of our nation. Reaching across the political aisle, one of Biden’s well-known talents, will be required. We will have to be vulnerable with “the other” and open up and take risks to bring this soul of the nation back to some semblance of existence and to simultaneously gain respect in the eyes of the world. Will we once again take care of the sick and the poor or will we abandon them again? Will we abandon justice for all again or look injustice directly in the eye and deal with it? What will be our country’s legacy? The soul of the nation is at stake and must be resurrected for us to live as proud members of this society, our home, once again.
Even businesses are looking for ways to define or redefine their souls–their character, their legacy– that which makes them unique and be contributing members to society and the planet. As a consultant helping companies achieve B Corp certification, I help companies find their “souls”, as they come to terms with how they want to impact their stakeholders–their workers, the community, their customers/clients and the planet. I often explain the Impact Business Model of the B Impact Assessment as the essence or soul of their company. The Impact Business Model captures that which makes that company special and meaningful to others. It captures a company’s legacy—will the company create a less toxic product, help alleviate poverty, provide workers with ownership opportunities or uphold a significant charitable giving policy? What good will they do for the world? The options are vast and different but each business model (or nurturing element) helps to make the company whole, just as a soul provides that for an individual. Defining the meaning for existence keeps the soul eternal-whether for a country, business, or person.
How will you leave this world a better place than you found it? How will you be true to your soul and that which makes you be you? Begin with kindness–to yourself, to neighbors, to strangers, to the planet. Be patient. Take care of each other. Perhaps not necessarily with terms of endearment, as my host mother shared with me, but with action. Make a difference in your community. Help someone in need. It is no coincidence that so many expressions—soulmate, soul sister, feed the soul—relate to connection, nourishment and comfort. We ache to fill our soul and our lives with positivity, joy and love. Let us begin 2021 with this wish for ourselves, others, our nation and the world.