For me, business and livelihood means trying to pay my bills by doing what I enjoy doing and would probably do anyway, even if I had a more conventional job. A number of my friends are in the same boat — they do massage, cook, build houses, and throw pots.
My friends are often my ‘customers’ and I occasionally feel guilty about taking money from their thin wallets; I feel guilty a lot less these days since they seem to be able to pay their rent and I’m having trouble paying mine. But I’d like to explore this guilt with you and try to make some comments on the alternative business scene.
Most of my guilt stems from the idea that money is somehow bad. This has always seemed a little strange to me since power, greed, and a general sense of aggression have characterized parochial cultures based on exchange as well as multi-national economies like ours; we are always looking for the ‘bad guy’ and money takes the rap more often than not. If used skillfully, money (as New Age Journal columnist Bob Schwartz says) can be a lubricant to make things happen in the marketplace and doesn’t need to be a goal in itself. The three important forces behind right livelihood and conscious business are the idea that you want to get across, your skill and mindfulness in promoting the idea, and the money necessary to make it happen. Money doesn’t need to be a measure of your self-worth or your personal greed; it can be a sane reflection of time, energy, and skill.
I have been bothered at times by the ethic in some alternative business communities that people should live on as little money as possible. I no longer feel that making more than $3,000 a year conflicts with helping to establish a saner, less confused and aggressive world. The roots of human suffering go far deeper into our collective minds than an occasional airplane trip to Boulder. As Bob Schwartz says, we need to refocus our energies away from sharing (dividing the proverbial pie) to helping to develop a synergistic, growth-oriented society where individual needs are synonomous with those of the organization and culture at large. This doesn’t mean to hustle as much money as possible; it does mean we need to expand our ideas of social change beyond the narrow limits of political ideology.
But probably my greatest sense of guilt comes from just being in business: visions of Shylock and shysters, of the peddler in the movie “Hester Street” trying to sell love potions (the latter-day equivalent of Vitamin E). But business can be creative and visionary, and is probably the most direct arena where we can establish more humane models of exchange and transaction outside of our friendship and family groups. We can envision something new — such as alternative energy sources, innovative counseling, and so many other products and ideas — and manifest the idea. It is possible to return to simpler, more precise values and products (things we need and want deep down inside) through our work and occupation. It takes a risk, but risk is the life of the adventurer.