Making a Living ... and a Loving

"This is what I do for a living and a loving," I said as I introduced myself as the workshop facilitator. I paused as if a bird had stopped mid-flight to consider the miracle of its defiance of gravity. The words had flowed without conscious thought from somewhere deep within me.

Perhaps they were spurred by an experience two evenings prior. I was attending a fundraising reception for a group of artists. My friend Sam was describing her job as the Executive Director for an organization that provides food, housing and education for the neediest in Third World countries. "That is what the Buddhists call Right Livelihood," the Creative Director of the group, whom we had just met, intoned. I have been musing on his statement, and the reverence with which he made it: is my livelihood right? After all, I don't provide food, housing and education for the poor and my business is certainly run for profit.

What is Right Livelihood and does it apply to for-profit businesses, and the people who lead and work in such businesses?

Richmond Lewis, in his blog post refers to Bhikku Basnagoda Rahula's quote: "The layperson's objective [is to] live a long and dignified life with the wealth obtained through rightful means." Richmond goes on to state how this would apply to our current, more complex times:

"I introduced the idea of right livelihood as conscious livelihood. In other words, regardless of our job (or lack of a job) we should be aware of the implications and consequences of what we do."

By this definition, Right Livelihood is a principle that we all can and should practice. Right Livelihood is not just for Buddhists, nor for those involved in charities, it is for each of us, no matter what job we do. Many believe that it is about finding your true calling, your "purpose" and that the "in the meantime" job is not Right Livelihood. My friend Trecia shared this story about her recent visit to the grocery store that suggests otherwise:

The woman at the check out counter is polite, not overly friendly, but packed the grocery bags with such skill and care, I was shocked to see that not only did she use a fraction of the bags other cashiers use, she made every conceivable use of space. When I complimented her she seemed surprised I noticed. She went on to tell me that she tries to think about the way people will unpack the groceries as well. I had not noticed but lo and behold, all the stuff for the cupboard is mostly in one bag, fridge stuff in another, then mostly freezer stuff etc. My thinking is it does not matter what work you do, all work is important and worth doing well.

No doubt this lady had been standing on her feet all day, is paid little more than the minimum wage and has had to deal with all manner of customers in various states of their own distress. Yet she managed to give of her best in a most conscious way and to make her job her right livelihood. Surely her work is no less noble than my friend Sam's? Perhaps Sam has wider reach, but just think how many lives this cashier makes better, in ways that most of us would not even notice. Imagine a mother, surrounded by a brood of hungry, fussy children, unpacking the groceries that this cashier had so carefully packed? Might she be grateful? Or a senior citizen, or someone limited in mobility, whose task of unpacking groceries was made slightly easier? Might they be deeply grateful for this momentary ease?

Richmond Lewis believes that we should expand the Buddha's teaching of Right Livelihood on a larger scale: "Society at large also has a responsibility to be conscious of the consequences of its economic and employment policies." He is not alone in this view. The Conscious Capitalism movement was started by John Mackey of Whole Foods, and posits that businesses can be used for good even as they generate profits and satisfy shareholder expectations. There are four basic principles -- higher purpose, stakeholder orientation, conscious leadership and conscious culture. Surely this is Right Livelihood at the organizational level. And I would strongly believe that those who work in such organizations would individually be engaged in their own Right Livelihood.

Here are some questions I think business leaders should ask in order to align with the principles of Right Livelihood:

  1. Are we giving of our best?
  2. Are our intentions of the highest order?
  3. Are we acting ethically?
  4. Are we minimizing harm to others, our employees, the environment, communities in which we operate, our planet?

Fundamentally though, I think Right Livelihood is about working with love. When we consciously work with love, we will automatically give of our best, have the highest intentions, act ethically and minimize harm. And we can create businesses that are loved by customers, employees and other stakeholders, are enduring and maybe even satisfy those pesky shareholder expectations. Like John Mackey espouses, we can create a world where all stakeholders are able "to flourish, to be happy, to be fulfilled."

Tired of unhappiness, poor business results and conflict in your organization? Convinced there's another, more joyful way to get fantastic business results? This is your forum. Post a comment. Write to Marguerite and she will reply promptly. Want more solutions to workplace challenges? Check out Marguerite's blog. Planning a retreat? Marguerite joyfully travels the world to facilitate. With Marguerite's help, you and your team will get clear on the results you desire, agree on what to do and switch on your joy buttons. Please contact Marguerite