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Work is an Act of Love

When we give to our society through our work, we are giving back what we have received before.

Since our conception and until our young adulthood, we have received from our family and from society what we needed to survive. When we were a child, our family provided care, food, shelter for us. We also received a lot from neighbors, doctors, teachers, from professionals who helped us or our parents to raise us. So in the first years of our life we accumulate a debt to our family and our society that we cannot start paying back until we become adults. As children we take so much that, when we grow up, we feel the impulse to give. We feel the need to balance taking with giving. So giving is always giving back, and we can only give back when we have first taken.

Adults have two ways of giving back: vertically, to their family, and horizontally, to society. In our family we mainly give forward, we receive the greatest gift of life through our parents and ancestors, and we pass this gift onto our children and grandchildren. Sometimes, when our parents are old, we can also compensate for what they gave us by caring for them. In families, we give back by caring.

The second way of giving back is giving to society through our work. We compensate for the professional help we received as child through our job, profession or career. We offer our talents, expertise and energy to others outside our family and in exchange we receive money. So work is the materialization of the need to balance taking and giving. One of the systemic forces of love that guides our life.

Bert Hellinger observed that adolescents who can not work become angry. The pressure of their debt makes them feel uncomfortable, frustrated and guilty when they cannot give back. They feel lighter when they can contribute to the common good. Similarly adults who lose their jobs tend to become depressed. They lose their dignity and sense of belonging. We can stay in the adult when we can be at the service of society. In this exchange we become strong, alive and fulfilled. Work is an energy of love and a universal need.

So work is our way to give back to society… but there is more to that. In the same way that in choosing my partner, I choose someone who will (also) help me heal the wounds of my family tree, it appears that the choice of profession can also be related to the needs of my ancestors. We have all heard of professions that run in families for generations: there are families of bakers, lawyers, teachers or nurses where trades and careers are passed on from parent to child. We remain loyal to our forebears in repeating what they did. One of the most common dynamics we see in family constellations. And one of the most obvious.

Yet, there is another powerful dynamic that operates in systems that is less evident: the systemic need for compensation. Often the type of career I choose compensates for a wound in my family. We receive so much from our ancestors who suffered deep traumas, that we unconsciously feel the impulse to choose the profession that will also repair their wounds. This is how teachers may be honoring a parent or grandparent who had to leave school in order to care for their siblings or to go to war. A heart surgeon may be compensating for the heartbreak suffered by the women in their family. A social worker may be giving back to others the social help received by her disabled parents.

Later in life we sometimes start to lose the passion for our job and we feel the urge to change our orientation. It is possible that the service to our family is done. Now we are more free to decide how we want to contribute to our society.

Life is multilayered and incredibly efficient. In choosing our professional path we are not only serving our community and our country. We might also be expressing our gratitude to the ones who came before us, and who in spite of their suffering bequeathed us with the spark of life. It is our way to honor their greatness.


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