Youth in focus: I have a very short and simple question. I am planning a career in a government office. What does lama think are the most important qualities for this job, and why?
– TP, Thimphu
Well, for any office job, we require many qualities such as discipline and honesty, but if I have to choose the most important ones, then I would say that having ‘a big heart’ is first, with mindfulness a close second.
Basically, the role of a person who works in an office is to serve the public, and to do this effectively you need a strong motivation to help solve people’s problems – and for this you need a big heart.
In reality, many people in positions of authority do not meet the level of trust placed in them. They forget that their job is to help those who come to them for assistance, and instead try to dominate them. In Buddhism, we understand that this kind of attitude is a reflection of a person’s insecurity. Basically, when we have fear or insecurity, we are easily hurt and so we erect barriers to protect ourselves. Dominating others is one such barrier. Being rude and speaking harshly are others. However, these responses are useless and will not bring us the peace and security that we desire. Instead, they perpetuate the cycle of dominating and being dominated and so we never actually deal with our fears. In the Buddhist ‘Wheel of Life, this attitude is symbolised by the animal realm.
People who have confidence and are at peace with themselves do not need to dominate others. They do not need to pull others down. This is why it is so important to develop a big heart – it counters our insecurity and fear.
Obviously, we will not bounce out of bed one morning and shout, “From today, I’m going to have a big heart.” That isn’t going to happen. However, we can begin to investigate our responses. When we speak harshly with a customer and feel the need to dominate them, we can investigate why we do this. What are we trying to protect? What are we afraid of? The barriers will not fall immediately, but at least we will no longer delude ourselves that the customer is to blame for our negative attitude. If we continue this investigation with curiosity and honesty, our hard edge will slowly erode away and our natural good heart will begin to shine through. Furthermore, it will also be helpful to start each day by developing the motivation to benefit whoever comes to you for help: “May everyone who leaves my office do so with a sense of satisfaction.”
Obviously, some people’s requests will be unreasonable. In such cases, we may have to refuse their application. Still, we should do so in a polite and straightforward way and not dismiss the person harshly or with malice. Having a big heart does not mean that we are weak and easily taken advantage of, but instead it signifies that we have a strong motivation to help and advise the people who we are employed to serve. It also indicates that we are dealing with our inner fears and insecurity.
For the second most important quality, I would recommend having mindfulness. When we are mindful, we do our work beautifully and skilfully. We never get bored, but instead see each letter that we write or each customer who we serve as a totally unique and new experience. Even if we have to write a thousand letters, we use appropriate words and aim to make each one a work of art. With customers, we are totally aware of the person who has come to us for help and do our best to solve their problems. In this respect, we do not discriminate whether they are educated or uneducated, rich or poor, but instead see each one as a unique individual who deserves our full attention and best effort. Basically, we should write letters that we ourselves would be happy to receive and deal with customers in a way that we would like to be treated.
So, to return to your question, I personally believe that “having a big heart” is the most important quality to have in an office. With a big heart, we at least have the motivation to help those who come to us for help. Without it, even great skills will be useless, because we will not use them in a way that benefits others or even ourselves. It would be like a doctor having immense knowledge and expertise, but with no desire to treat patients. Mindfulness, for its part, enables us to keep our work fresh and alive.