The Baha’i teachings say the idea of work, the human activity that allows us to obtain the necessities of life, is associated with reliance:
True reliance is for the servant to pursue his profession and calling in this world, to hold fast unto the Lord, to seek naught but His grace, inasmuch as in His Hands is the destiny of all His servants. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 155.
What a unique concept. We all know that reliance means trust, dependence and confidence—but what does it mean to rely on God by pursuing your “profession and calling in this world?”
In the 21st Century global economy, work is relative to culture and geography. Someone worked to make the shirt that I purchased at an American department store—but the hours that person worked are not remunerated at the same level as my work for leading a business unit in a major corporation.
The Baha’i teachings say that “work is worship,” and that every human being has skills and abilities that can help them obtain the means for survival for themselves and those they love:
It is enjoined upon every one of you to engage in some form of occupation, such as crafts, trades and the like. We have graciously exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship unto God, the True One. Ponder ye in your hearts the grace and the blessings of God and render thanks unto Him at eventide and at dawn. Waste not your time in idleness and sloth. Occupy yourselves with that which profiteth yourselves and others. …
Hold ye fast unto the cord of material means, placing your whole trust in God, the Provider of all means. When anyone occupieth himself in a craft or trade, such occupation itself is regarded in the estimation of God as an act of worship; and this is naught but a token of His infinite and all-pervasive bounty. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 26.
This noble idea of work, what it is and is not, and my own desire for social justice, leads me to contemplate the world of work—especially this year, as I recently retired from paid work. Some of my contemporaries have semi-retired or retired, and are now exploring other interests: travel, volunteer service, family.
Many of my friends are so grateful to be out of the world of paid work. We share employment battlefield stories of interminable meetings with no agenda and no action items, wasted time and money, failed projects, of incompetent managers, of unethical behavior, or of ruthless self-interest and profiteering. These anecdotes are borne out by today’s headlines: there doesn’t appear to be any sector of human activity, be it public/private sector, finance, media, technology, health, agriculture or energy, that is not prey to organizational dysfunction, diminished employee morale, public apathy or distrust.
In my experience as a human resources leader in both private and public sectors, most people come to work because they have to. They work to survive, not because they want to thrive. Some of those who may say they love their jobs and are happy in their work are self-employed, at the pinnacle of their organization, or have carved out a niche of indispensability so they cannot or will not lose their position.
Nevertheless, where is the “true reliance” aspect [of work] that Baha’u’llah speaks of? Is it in the stock market? In private equity? In government? Or legislated policies and laws? If you examine spirituality and try to identify a common thread of morality, values and ethical behavior that governs the actions, behavior and thought of those who work—what is it? Is it the example of our parents/guardians, that elusive “Protestant work ethic,” the fear of poverty, or the need to keep busy and active? What is that force which motivates us to get up at dawn, for example in the dead of winter, to perform actions that will require payment in cash (or a negotiable instrument) at the end of the day, week or month?
If we accept that every human being has the capacity of spiritual nobility, then we also accept that each of us is born with a unique imprint of capacity, meant to elevate ourselves and those around us.
As a worker, I tried to use my innate skills not only to make money, but to share what I knew with others in ways that (hopefully) helped them elevate themselves and their work circumstances. In over 40 years of paid work, I made an effort to act in ways that reflected my belief in the inherent capability of every person. It was not easy work: sometimes it was difficult and painful to maintain that vision.
I knew a woman once who kept a large Holy Bible open on her desk. She used it as an amulet to ward off the gossip, toxic relationships, and perceived injustices swirling around her in the workplace. Her faith in God was her North Star, her “true reliance.” As a single mother in an administrative position, she knew she needed to keep her job, to support herself and her family. She could not say to her boss “take this job and shove it,” as the popular song says. In her Faith, she found the resilience and resolve to maintain her equilibrium at work.
Baha’is believe that work done in the spirit of service to humanity is elevated to the status of worship. The Baha’i teachings reinforce the nobility of every human being, and the ability to use our knowledge and skills to take care of ourselves and our loved ones—and to benefit all of humanity, as well. An inherent resilience comes from knowing that one’s Faith can extend to providing the means for daily sustenance, reflection and creating a livelihood—as well as the means for praising our Creator.