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Work, Right Livelihood, and Self-Esteem

There is little doubt that your self-concept and the work you do are intimately connected. Typically, when people meet, the first question they ask each other is, What do you do?" To which each responds with a job description: "I'm a butcher." "I'm a baker." "I'm a candlestick maker."

The trouble is, when we are temporarily out of work, or when we lose enthusiasm for our work, or even when we are merely on vacation, many of us feel that we've lost our identity. While it is true that meaningful work enhances your sense of self, it is dangerous to tie up all your self-worth in your work alone. As you are more than your physical body, so you are more than the work you do. Regardless of what you do, you are a complex, unique, powerful, and beautiful human being. The more you open to your truest self - the more you accept yourself for who you are, not just for what you do - the more open you become to reading the signs that point you in the direction of meaningful and satisfying work.

In discussing competition, we saw how it can become a destructive force in our personal lives. As a national policy it can lead to devastation. Where was the satisfaction in winning the "arms race" if we continue to live in constant fear as a result? Where is the joy in having the world's highest standard of living if we do so at the expense of the poorer countries that we exploit? Does happiness mean becoming an island of plenty surrounded by a sea of poverty and misery? These are hard questions. But they are real issues nonetheless. If we need to learn to play and work cooperatively on the corner lot, we need to learn to play and work, cooperatively, on the planet-field if we are to survive.

In Hindu cosmology, the term lila refers to the Divine play. All of creation, as we perceive it, is said to be the result of the Creator at play. The work of creation is not separate from the play. In fact, the Divine actually transforms Itself into the earth, the waters, the animals . . . and dances with all of it - Itself. Everything then is sacred.

In Christianity, the doctrine of the mystical body of Christ says that we are all cells in one larger body - the body of God. We are all working together in order to bring about the perfection of the whole.

Our work and our play can serve the realization of our interdependence as a species and our reliance on other species, or it can undermine it. Most people desire a form of work that serves some meaningful purpose, even though in the short run they may operate as if they are only in it for personal gain. The Buddhist concept of "right livelihood" speaks to this, urging us to engage in forms of work (and play) that move us forward toward the realization of unity and happiness and freedom from suffering, instead of increasing our separation, unhappiness, and pain with one another.

Work that harms the earth and its resources, work that creates weapons of mass destruction, work that generates greed, jealousy, and fear, and alienates people one from another . . . this is work that also harms the worker, if not in body, then in soul and spirit.

If we are to genuinely enjoy the fruits of our labors, we must examine their impact on the planet as a whole, and reaffirm our commitment to letting everybody win.

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