The Wisdom 2.0 conference, a four-day gathering of the Silicon Valley crowd to address the intersections of spirituality, mindfulness, and technology, is taking place this weekend. Author and conference attendee Jay Michaelson will be blogging his experiences at the summit here on the Tricycle blog throughout the weekend.
Honestly, I was surprised by his answer. Sure, it’s what one might expect from a longtime practitioner, son-in-law to Howard Zinn, and, not least, careful interview subject who knew he was talking to a Tricycle blogger. But if Kabat-Zinn is right, if serious mindfulness practice eventually erodes the foundations of certain businesses, aren’t the critics right to criticize?
The issue arose again this morning, in the panel with Evan Williams. A questioner pointed out that Williams is no longer a twenty-something entrepreneur, maniacally focused on building his company; how can the values of balance, wisdom, and meditation be communicated to those who still are?
Williams basically punted. He agreed that he got interested in a more balanced approach to work when he got older, and that most meditators at his new company, Obvious, were older as well. Indeed, it might be true that if you meditate and introspect, you’d get some perspective on your life—and thus forfeit your value as an out-of-balance, insanely driven worker bee at a tech company.
Kabat-Zinn, in our conversation, had made a similar point. “I did some mindfulness work with a major Boston law firm back in the day, and people ate it up—and then a whole bunch of them left. We have to be prepared for that…. These people were being given annual bonuses called ‘no-life bonuses’ because you had to work so many hours that you never saw your family.”
Now, the whole point of many of today’s corporate-oriented speakers is that such work environments are ultimately unsustainable, and that “no-life bonuses” are actually a bad way to do business. But is that really true? Several of today’s experts insisted that it was, and offered a handful of statistics, but I’m still skeptical. When I was younger and working at a dot-com, I put in 60, 80 hour work weeks. My classmates from law school did the same at their firms. The system is designed to make use of/leverage/exploit the energy of young workers, who are usually quite willing to put in the time, if there’s a chance of a Twitter-like payoff at the end. Eventually, yes, most of us get tired of the rat race, and either move up the ladder or, like Bartleby and Billy Joel, move out.
Does the fact that the system works make it right? No. But it does make its proponents right to worry that today’s meditators might be tomorrow’s ex-employees. They depend on lives out of whack. After all, it was Krishnamurti who said “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
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