Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Path to Right Livelihood

A Tricycle Daily Dharma about work.
Those of us who start on the path to right livelihood find that our lives are more balanced, simple, clear, and focused. We are no longer strung out in a meaningless cycle of material consumption. The contemporary economy focuses on this cycle of consumption. It doesn't really support our efforts to find meaningful work. Today, work is a means to consume or to pay debt for consumption already indulged in. How many people do you know who really love the work they are doing? How many feel bored and alienated? How many are simply earning the money to spend it on material pleasures? Right livelihood demands that you take responsibility for making your work more meaningful. Good work is dignified. It develops your faculties and serves your community. It is a central human activity. -- Roger Pritchard, in Claude Whitmyer's Mindfulness and Meaningful Work from Everyday Mind, edited by Jean Smith
Most of the people I know have some interest in their work. They care about it. They want to do a good job. Sometimes they have ideas about how to do it better. The Japanese model of continual improvement is predicated on the notion that if given a chance people will want to do a good job. So I don't think it's the case that most people are bored and alienated at work.

On the other hand, few work situations are ideal. One is locked in a relationship with other people who have their own agendas. The agendas of two different people are almost never identical. Yet the demands of a work environment are such that people are forced to work together. Furthermore some people have more authority than others. All this leads to stress and discomfort. So work is never perfect.

I don't think that the primary poles are between "meaningful work" and "earning … money to spend … on material pleasures." They are between a work environment that enables and values one's contributions and one that doesn't. What one does with the money one earns is often independent of the work that one does.

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