Michael Carroll on what to do when your work doesn’t align with your values.
Question: I work at a large energy company. I love my job, my colleagues, and my workplace culture, but intellectually I know that my company does harm to the planet. Can I respect the Buddhist principle of right livelihood and keep a job I enjoy? If so, how?
Answer: In our pursuit of right livelihood, it is fitting to consider the harm that our employers may be causing our world. It is equally fitting to recognize that our employers—whether pharmaceutical companies, banks, social media businesses, and yes, even energy corporations—also do tremendous good for others, fostering health, well-being, and safety for billions worldwide.
For Buddhists, holding such a paradox in our hearts can be a noble and inspiring challenge: how can we strengthen the compassionate impulses of modern-day enterprises while limiting the harm?
What better place to lend a hand than where it is most needed?
First, we can recognize the toxicity and damage unfolding from the workplace, but not be blinded by it. As Buddhists, we are committed to helping others in distress, and what better place to lend a hand than where it is most needed?
Second, we can be engaged Buddhists whatever our occupation—as a scientist, teacher, computer programmer, truck driver, salesperson. We can cheerfully promote what is healthy, fearlessly confront what is toxic, and compassionately protect what is vulnerable. It is our intention that is central: we go to work not just for a paycheck, but to inspire the best in others and encourage health and well-being for all sentient beings.
Finally, we can bring the wisdom we discover in our meditation practice into the workplace. That begins with engaging livelihood as awakened activity. For, in the end, right livelihood is less about standing up for what is “right” and more about authentically and skillfully helping a world that, in so many respects, has lost its way.