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We all know we need to lead a coherent life, where our actions reflect our inner principles and beliefs—but many times we separate our work life and our spiritual life.
Can we only help others after work? Do we have to limit our service to humanity to our free time? Or, if we already work in education or social work or any of the helping professions, is it enough service to just fulfill our work duties?
The Baha’i writings have a distinct viewpoint on those questions:
Senses and faculties have been bestowed upon us, to be devoted to the service of the general good; so that we, distinguished above all other forms of life for perceptiveness and reason, should labor at all times and along all lines, whether the occasion be great or small, ordinary or extraordinary, until all mankind are safely gathered into the impregnable stronghold of knowledge. We should continually be establishing new bases for human happiness and creating and promoting new instrumentalities toward this end. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 3.
… the honor and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world’s multitudes should become a source of social good. Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight. – Ibid., pp. 2-3.
As I participate in community service activities organized by the Baha’i community, I’m learning how service creates the enthusiastic, energizing feeling of spiritual empowerment so necessary in these times of stress, tension and exhaustion. I’m learning, too, how we can look for ways throughout our work day to involve ourselves in the life of the community—so we won’t relegate our service to just the weekends.
Just as individuals get organized and take part in community service activities like children’s classes or junior youth groups organized by the Baha’i community, we can also collaborate with others at the company level where we work. This service can create opportunities for others to join us, too.
Bringing Community Service to the Workplace
My husband and I have a software development company, and we wanted to bring community service opportunities into our workplace. Once, we encouraged everyone to take part in a special Dengue Fever prevention clean-up campaign organized by the local government to reduce potential mosquito-breeding and infection sites around the neighborhood. We gave paid time off to anyone who wanted to participate. This experience became the cause of great happiness for our employees. We all experienced a shared sense of joy and accomplishment, and had fun seeing all the software engineers with gloves and garbage bags looking around for containers of stagnant water. This one morning of joint manual labor dedicated to the health of others created a special kind of happiness and unity in the group.
Many companies now make a commitment to support senior homes or orphanages, and periodically organize support activities. The most important aspect of these efforts involves creating opportunities for the company staff to have the experience of serving humanity in the context of their work life. To raise money is, of course, very important and useful, but it doesn’t replace the personal experience of serving others.
This type of service at work can take the form of participation in recycling or cleaning campaigns, winter coat collecting rallies, community clean-ups, etc. Local government agencies and NGOs usually post their service activities online, too. Anyone at work can check these lists, communicate to the rest of the company and encourage his or her coworkers to help out.
We can also encourage our companies to collaborate with a local high school or college, with the goal of bringing its particular work experience to enrich local education. All over the world, universities are strengthening their extension projects, where students take their knowledge out into the greater community and contribute to its progress. No it’s not enough for our companies to provide funds; a company’s experience can become the greatest contribution it has to give. This type of relationship can generate multiple opportunities for us and our colleagues to share our knowledge and help others.
For instance, our company started a project where college students could work a few Saturdays during a semester teaching high school students something of what they study themselves. This project has allowed many college students to have their first experiences doing something for the community. Because our company focuses on software development, that’s what we work with.
Benefits of Doing Community Service at Work
We’ve learned that service to others fosters the development of new skills, generating a particular kind of happiness and a sense of empowerment. This project also created opportunities for the staff of the company to offer their time to give talks, and several of them went on to become volunteer mentors in science projects and judges in science fairs. In this way, they used their work-related knowledge to serve the community—and they actually worshipped with their service:
… all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 177.
So, not only we can serve our community in our free time, but we can also involve our colleagues and generate opportunities for others to join us with their own talents and knowledge. Many of our coworkers surely will be happy to serve, too, if the activity is organized so the person can simply show up and provide their service.
After a long, tiring day at work, wouldn’t it be great to think:
Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 2-3.