The Seven-Rung Ladder

She lit a burner on the stove, and offered me a pipe
I thought you’d never say hello,” she said, “You look like the silent type.”
Then she opened up a book of poems, and handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet from the thirteenth century
And every one of them words rang true and glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page like it was written in my soul
From me to you…tangled up in blue

—Bob Dylan

Last week I shared my excitement for the Pope’s first visit to the United States, and how we, as market leaders (and market makers) can learn from his outstanding example as a great messenger.

At the continued risk of mixing religious themes and how they embody timeless business principles and ethics, today I am introducing an underlying theme that will continue through the next several weeks.

Bob Dylan fans will likely be familiar with the quote above, taken from one of his best songs, “Tangled Up in Blue.” It’s a first-person narrative of a love lost, then rekindled—sort of. The “book of poems” referenced above refers to Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, widely regarded as one of the best works of world literature.

This vision of the afterlife describes the author’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, drawing heavily on medieval Christian theology and philosophy, most notably the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas.

One of the most noted features of the Divine Comedy is the “seven-story mountain.” Each level of this mountain is a metaphor for one of what had then already become known at that time as the seven deadly sins. These are not individual sins or acts (although individual sins do draw from them). Rather, they are instead human tendencies or weaknesses, that when left unchecked, even most non-religious people cannot deny will bring nothing but turmoil, misery, and unhappiness to our lives (and our businesses).

If you regard yourself in that non-religious camp, I invite you read and discern the following “deadly sins,” if not through the eyes of faith, then through the eyes of what constitutes or threatens basic emotional, psychological and social well-being.

I have ordered them below in the same way as Dante does, and as they are often presented in most Christian teaching. The order here is significant, because they rank at the top of the list (which according to Dante, is the foundation of his seven-story mountain) from the most severe (pride) to the least severe (lust).

  1. Pride

  2. Envy

  3. Anger

  4. Sloth

  5. Avarace

  6. Gluttony

  7. Lust

“Enough with the Sunday school!” you are likely thinking. “What has any of this to do with my business?” is the real question here.

That question will be gradually answered over the next seven weeks. Not only will we address the “sins” themselves, but for contrast and forward motion, we’ll highlight each corresponding virtue. Please stay tuned with an open mind–I will be sharing some wisdom from some awesome thought leaders, both classic and contemporary.

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