The Right Livelihood

Ultimately, work on self is inseparable from work in the world. Each mirrors the other; each is a vehicle for the other. When we change ourselves, our values and actions change as well. When we do work in the world, internal issues arise that we must face or be rendered ineffective.”
~ Charles Eisenstein, Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition

I´ve given you my time. Its all I´ve got to give – its all any man has. And for a pitiful buck and a quarter an hour.”
~ Charles Bukowski, Factotum

In Buddhism there is a concept called the “right livelihood”. This has also been adopted (and adapted) by many Permaculturists to mean making a living while respecting and caring for others and the world, even making a difference through regenerating or allowing a better world to happen for us and future generations…

There is even an award from Sweden called that way: (also known as the “alternative Nobel Prize”), where people are awarded for truly humanitarian, just and/or environmental work that heals the planet along with the people living on it.

To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others. ” … Our vocation can nourish our understanding and compassion, or erode them. We should be awake to the consequences, far and near, of the way we earn our living.” (The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching [Parallax Press, 1998], p. 104)

In our current societies we can say without much research that most jobs don’t reflect this concept: many are enslaved in jobs with inhuman conditions, no benefits or safety, underpaid or not paid at all. Others work to barely keep a roof over their heads and food on the table and others work to keep an unsustainable lifestyle and pay debts and mortgages through all their lives.  Only a small minority work at “what they love” or in truly healing, regenerative jobs that respect others and the environment.

People, in most cases, work to pay for mortgages, vehicles, clothes, appliances, toys, student and other debt, food, health, daycare, old-age care, insurance and entertainment. Many of these things wouldn’t be necessary (or even wanted) if we didn’t work and cared more for our bodies, communities and relationships. Think about it: we work to pay for things we could easily do ourselves… but  by the time we realize this we are already trapped: we are already in a big house, we already have too much “stuff”, debt and commitments…we are obese and exhausted slaves with flat TVs, iPods and nice clothes. And we don’t challenge nor ask the “ethics” and consequences of our jobs or employers.

Many jobs (and “careers”) are in fact destructive: either they destroy (directly or indirectly) the environment, the local economy, relationships and our own health or they allow for this to happen to others.

Most jobs in our current society are completely dependent on fossil fuels being cheap and easy to find: we commute, we are surrounded by plastic and rare metals, we use tons of resources that travel back and forth around the world and most of the things we use or produce in our jobs are thrown away after just one use. Even those in the services or tertiary sector produce waste and (in most cases) what they produce is unnecessary or may have been addressed by family members and by living a healthier lifestyle…

Saying that our current way of earning a living is unsustainable and degrading for most human beings is an understatement.

I haven’t been a career counsellor (or career coach) all my life. I decided to go on this a few years ago after struggling with my own “career” as a newcomer to Canada, where none of my past experiences or studies seemed to have any value (and where, as in many other countries, “education” and “lifelong learning” have become an “industry”, yet another way to push the economy to “grow” and keep our consumerism alive). At that time, even when I have always been a bit of a misfit and a rebel, I wasn’t challenging the system in the same way I do today.

When I went back to school to study career counselling I became fascinated with the idea of helping people to navigate through their “themes”, discovering life patterns and converting disconnected dreams and interests in something of value for them as well as others in society.

Both my readings, values and recent experiences as a community activist, Permaculturist and Transitioner have put me in a position where I have to ask why do career counsellors become all excited when a new LNG or port facility, increase in coal exports, big department store or other corporation are announced coming to town. The easy answer is that all these things “create” jobs for their clients…”growth” is the answer: the more we consume (black Friday and all), the “better” is the economy…the more people are sick and obese, the more paramedics, physicians and nurses are needed; the more children are being left in daycares, the more teachers and caregivers are needed…the more we abandon our elders the more social workers and care-aids are recruited, the more violence, insecurity and crime, the more policemen, firefighters and social workers will have jobs…and so on. Maybe if we destroy the entire planet, create insanity in all human beings through detachment and empty entertainment and kill all the other species, we may have a giant economy!

What about the deeper meaning of “career” (as a lifelong succession of creations and gifts to ourselves and the world, connected to what we are and what will transcend us?)

In March 2014 I will have the rare opportunity of presenting at the regional Career Developers Conference for Career and Community Counsellors.

My topic will be how to coach people to develop their own “right livelihood”. I will talk about the “new” economy, the “gift” economy and the “green” economy. I will talk about how this system for which we prepare people (job seekers) is crumbling and about what is happening in the fringes. I will also talk about dark trends and reality: how more formal education does not guarantee any jobs, how employers are resorting more and more to outsourcing, project, temp or contract-base hiring to avoid commitments, reducing or eliminating benefits, reducing or eliminating training money and even vacation time for their employees, and how the power is becoming more and more unbalanced (benefiting the employer). In Canada, these trends include immigrant workers’ exploitation and abuse in the name of “gaining Canadian experience” or medieval international trade agreements that ensure cheap labour in exchange for a “chance to live the dream”. These are huge elephants in rooms that are starting to get too small and uncomfortable…

But there are also bright trends: How the fringes (or the edges) are expanding and how those who are the “losers” in our capitalist society are becoming something else: many are actually designing our escape from the rat race. How local entrepreneurships and workers co-ops, self-employment and multiple-income creation are providing the right livelihood to a growing minority in the world. How ethical investment, ethical businesses and Transition initiatives are creating, more than jobs, entire local communities. These trends, along with a tendency to reduce consumption, switching to production of what we need instead of consumption and simplifying lifestyles are giving birth to something new and exciting: a post-capitalism, post-consumerism, post-anthropocentric system that may be more just, inclusive and truly “sustainable” (as opposed to trying to “sustain” a system of continuous growth for the sake of…the growth!)

My hope is to show my colleagues that there is a world out there where we won’t see people as “clients” and we won’t need to do more “needs assessments” or list their “challenges”. In this world, we won’t need to make anybody feel inappropriate because they can’t tell their “career story” in 60 seconds inside an elevator or shake hands or keep eye contact in a certain way. In this world, boring and copy-and-paste resumes may be obsolete and interviews may happen informally over a cup of tea or when growing food together. We may not know “what employers want” anymore and our role may be that of a friend who ask you the right questions and support your change.

At the same time, I may need to work on difficult questions: how are we going to support and advocate for those who are still in this old system and suffering from abuse and discrimination?; How can we help job seekers to understand that they may need to stop looking for a job and start creating their own right livelihoods instead? How can we convince and support those who have been in the edges for centuries, along with those who are in the center but exhausted of the rat race, that a job can be something rewarding, changing and exciting, a career can include many different roles through life and that they may not need to work full time or until they “retire”?

In a world that is rapidly crumbling but ferociously clinging to life (through bailouts and austerity measures, through hidden treaties between governments and corporations, through dispatching democracy and justice in the name of economic growth, through bombarding propaganda and addictions to keep us ignorant and numb), how can we minimize the abuse and the suffering of those who don’t have a choice and how can we create or show the path for them to have a real choice, so the “right livelihood” stops being a luxury of the middle class or a whim of the rich ones?

Is it too much to ask, to live in a world where our human gifts go toward the benefit of all? Where our daily activities contribute to the healing of the biosphere and the well-being of other people?”
~ Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible

For those wanting to know more about these trends, I will keep posting about this and similar topics. You can also check some of the links I’m currently reviewing here:

The Green Economy Coalition

The New Economics Institute

The New Economy Working Group

Building  Resilient Communities (Yes! Magazine)

The Global Transition to a New Economy

New Economies Forum (David Korten’s website)

Sacred Economics (Charles Einsenstein website)

Please feel free to send me any resource or comment through the comments or contact links.

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