Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Right Livelihood


We had a spirited discussion in my Men’s Group tonight (yep! I’m in one and still going strong after 26 years!) about Community Service. It began with, “Are we doing enough?” and soon went to “What is it?” The first thoughts were the obvious ones—the beach clean-up, feeding the homeless, planting trees—but soon widened into the thought that anything we do that uses our skills and passions and also serves the health and well-being of the community is a community service.

I confessed that the usual notion of Community Service feels to me like a white liberal guilt thing, a token short-term act that yes, might help someone or fill a need, but doesn’t get to the root of the situation. Yes, I’ve fed the homeless and cleaned up the beach and planted a tree and all of it was fine and everyone on the planet did it, what a wonderful world it would be. Maybe. But my community service is more at the root of changing the stories that make the mess in the first place and aiming for a life where we all cultivate a passion and skill that serves the community. Me playing the piano every Friday at the Jewish Home for the Aged felt to others in the group like a community service, but I resisted the notion to call it that. I don’t do it help the “poor elders,” I do it because—well, how could I not? It brings so much joy to everyone in the room and that includes me. If the joy in the room was only for me or only for them, I probably wouldn’t do it. For it to be authentic service—and already that word is adding too much—it needs to feed both the giver and the recipient.

Someone in the group called on the Buddhist term “Right Livelihood,” work that is honest, ethical, does minimal harm and aims for health and healing. That’s clear and simple and naturally, if everyone followed it, well, that indeed would be a wonderful world. No arms dealers, no bomb-makers, no NRA, no hate groups, no drug pushers, no Wall St. gluttons, no fast-food advertisers, no violent videogame makers. It’s a long list. Then there’s the good professions with people doing their job poorly and causing harm—from the music teachers to the doctors.

When people ask me about my summer, I reply, “I never had a bad day.” And it was true. Because whether I was working in the field that I love so much or soaking in some restful time with sun and water, I was happy because I was living the life I was meant to live. And happy again that it brought some small degree of light, happiness and love to the teachers I trained and the kids I worked with, some inspiration for them to pass the torch to keep the marathon of music running. That’s the kind of community service I like.

And I get to do it again at school tomorrow! Hooray!

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