"So, I'm thinking that if people can do this under the extreme conditions of prison, in the workplace people may try to discover small things, small choices that they can make in how to go about their work. And of course, somebody may work on an assembly line with little variation in how to do their tasks, but they still have other kinds of choices in terms of their attitudes, how they interact with their co-workers, whether they utilize certain inner qualities or spiritual strengths to change their attitude at work even though the nature of the work may be difficult. Isn't it? So, perhaps that would help.
"Of course, when you are talking about rigid rules and lack of freedom, that doesn't mean that you are required to blindly follow and accept everything others tell you. In instances where the worker might be exploited, where the employer thinks of nothing but profit and pays a small salary and demands a lot of overtime, or where one may be asked to do things that are not appropriate or are unethical, one should not simply think, Well, this is my karma, and take no action. Here it is not enough to think, I should just be content.
"If there is injustice, then I think inaction is the wrong response. The Buddhist texts mention what is called 'misplaced tolerance,' or 'misplaced forbearance.' So, for example, in the case of Tibetans, in the face of Chinese injustice generally, misplaced patience or forbearance refers to the sense of endurance that some individuals have when they are subject to a very destructive, negative activity. That is a misplaced forbearance and endurance. Similarly, in the work environment, if there is a lot of injustice and exploitation, then to passively tolerate it is the wrong response. The appropriate response really is to actively resist it, to try to change this environment rather than accept it. One should take some action."
"What kind of action?" I asked.
"Of course it again depends on the situation," the Dalai Lama said reasonably. "But perhaps one could speak with the boss, with the management, and try to change these things."
"And if that doesn't work?"
"Then, revolt! Rebel!" He laughed. "This is what I generally say. One needs to actively resist exploitation. And in some cases, one may simply need to quit and to look for other work."
"Well, in today's world, exploitation certainly goes on," I agreed. "But in a lot of cases it isn't a matter of gross exploitation. It may just be that the nature of the job is very demanding. For example, when the economy is slow, companies are forced to cut back and lay off employees. Then the employees who are left have to take on more and more responsibility. Work becomes more stressful for those who remain. Any suggestions on how to cope more effectively with that type of situation, that sort of pressure or stress?"
"Of course it will vary from individual to individual how one emotionally and psychologically responds, and it also depends upon the nature of work and the nature of the company," he reminded me. "So there are many factors to take into account. For example, if you view your work as something that is really worthwhile--if, for instance, there is a higher purpose to your work--then of course, even if the work is very hard there may be a greater willingness to undergo that hardship. Under such circumstances you might think, Oh, here's an opportunity to do something good for society. So, it depends."
"But that kind of situation or attitude may not apply to everybody," I pointed out. "So, what I'm wondering about is a general approach to work overload, which is actually one of the other common sources of work dissatisfaction."
"What is this 'work overload,' what do you mean?" asked the Dalai Lama. The genuine curiosity in his voice suggested that he had never heard of the concept.
From The Art of Happiness at Work. Copyright The Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Riverhead Books.
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