Monday, March 3, 2014

Dalai Lama Advises Business Leaders on Compassion

The Dalai Lama proffered a simple message for the hard-driving innovators, disrupters and profit-drunk business titans of Silicon Valley on Monday during an appearance at Santa Clara University: "If you forget about others' happiness, you will suffer more."

Speaking on the topic of "Incorporating Ethics and Compassion into Business Life" - a feat that perhaps only the Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel laureate could unite in a sentence without inspiring an eye roll - His Holiness urged the 4,000 who filled the university's Leavey Center to focus on helping others instead of being "self-centered."

His stop in the valley - his last on a three-day visit to the Bay Area that has included appearances in San Francisco, Berkeley and Richmond - comes at a time when concerns about the region's wealth disparity and the displacement of longtime residents have become national news.

But the Dalai Lama, speaking barely above a whisper and often through a translator, did not rail on the evils of capitalism. Though some in the crowd said he was inaudible at times, they were charmed by his engaging laugh and wry sense of humor. He even laughed heartily - after a translation - at a fellow panelist's joke about a prostate exam.

However, he demurred several times when facing business-related questions. Instead, he appealed to the better nature of all, whether rich or poor.

'Social animals'

"Basic human nature is more generous," he said softly. "We are all equipped with affection. We are all social animals."

Every human being, he said, has "the seed of compassion." He called for eliciting that compassion by formally including the teaching of "warm-heartedness" in the school system instead of just leaving it for people to figure out on their own.

Starting in "kindergarten, we must include teaching of compassion, the teaching of warm-heartedness," he said. "It is not just for a spiritual education."

Moderator James Doty, the director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research at Stanford University, said that while valley businesses may be creating much new wealth, it is coming at a cost. Doty said the fallout of job-related stress and depression costs tens of billions of dollars annually.

While many companies may think they're helping employees by giving them free meals and exercise facilities at the workplace, they're instead tethering workers to their jobs for unhealthy amounts of time, Doty said.

Dignity Health CEO Lloyd Dean, who shared the stage with the men, said it's important to understand an employer's intentions when it comes to workplace amenities.

"If the intention is that people never leave work," that's not healthy, Dean said. "Whether you are giving me a free dinner or not, you are helping me to increase stress."

Simple approach

The Dalai Lama offered a more simple approach.

"Compassion brings mental peace, mental comfort," he said. While business may bring "physical comfort ... we need both."

His Holiness made a reference to the power of a smile. He recalled the time when he was seeing a doctor and the physician's smile "made the medicine work better," he said. But, he allowed, there are other kinds of smiles, like "sarcastic smiles."

Dean said one time you might not want to see a smile on the face of a health care provider is after they put on a rubber glove for a prostate exam. The audience tittered - and they laughed even harder when the spiritual leader bent forward chuckling after the story was translated.

"That," he told Dean, "was an excellent example" of a smile you don't want to see.

After hearing the hour-and-45-minute program, Alexis Cantos, a 32-year-old who does marketing for startups, said that while the Dalai Lama "didn't tell us anything all of us don't already know, hearing him say it - and who he is - makes it so much more profound.

"It kind of jolts you back into the things that are important," said Cantos, who lives in San Francisco. "And living in Silicon Valley, you sometimes get wrapped up in all kinds of other stuff. It's important to hear that again."

Joe Garofoli is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @joegarofoli  original link:

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