My friend keeps talking about "right livelihood," but neither of us is entirely clear what it is or how we can do it. Any suggestions?
--Jean F., Saint Louis, Missouri
Right livelihood is work that brings true benefits to oneself and to others. The term has its roots in Buddhism; right livelihood is the fifth factor of the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path. (Wrong livelihood, on the other hand, is work that involves exploitation, deceit, destruction, or other types of harm to others.)
This concept has grown thanks to a Sweden-based charity, The Right Livelihood Award Foundation (rightlivelihood.org), whose award is also known as the "alternative Nobel Prize." For the last 26 years, the award has been presented to people "offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today." Past winners include Mexican artist Francisco Toledo, who works to protect and renew Oaxaca's environment, community, and culture; and Kenya's Wangari Maathai, whose Green Belt Movement fosters sustainable economic development in her country.
You don't have to be an international figure to practice right livelihood. An architect who designs beautiful buildings that are energy efficient does. So does a carpenter who creates furniture from recycled wood and a teacher who runs her classroom with kindness and enthusiasm. The first step to finding your own right livelihood path is as simple as finding fulfilling and serviceable work. Melissa Everett's "Making a Living While Making a Difference" and "Whistle While You Work: Heeding Your Life's Calling," by Richard J. Leider and David A. Shapiro, offer advice on finding work that connects to your deepest values. If it's direct service you're craving, consult idealist.org, a database of job, internship, and volunteer opportunities in 165 countries.
Already love your job but would like to take on more right-livelihood characteristics? Spearhead efforts to green your office, work with your company to deepen its commitment to social responsibility, or get your coworkers involved in community projects.
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Text by Tracy Fernandez Rysavy