Reasons for hope

This is the final in a three-part series of blogs looking at the origins of our current crises and the way out of them. 

In the last two blogs, I’ve tried to spell out what I see as being the primary cause of our current crises (a problem of values) and the solution (the shifting of a critical mass towards a new mindset). Now in this final blog I want to give you reasons for hope by setting out a few examples of just how this shift in mindset is now being cultivated and the positive results that work is bringing.

Gross-national happiness

Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a philosophy that is conceptualised in the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan. Put succinctly, it is development with ethics. Technically, it measures the collective well-being of a population, like living standards, but also mental health, cultural resilience, governance, community vitality, ecological diversity, etc. GNH principles can be applied not only to a nation, but to any organisation – like schools and companies. Changing the way children are educated and how businesses work are two strong leverage points to transform society at scale.

Mindfulness in education

Education is not only about learning knowledge and skills. Equally important is learning to be and learning to live together in society. In fact, it is by neglecting these two latter pillars of education that has led us to the predicaments we are in today. There are now multiple organisations around the world that promote mindfulness in education. A Bhutanese Rinpoche says, “My schools do not teach children how to find great jobs; others do it better than me. I would like to form future leaders who are philosophers, who see – even unconsciously – the Truth and who act from the Inner Life. Such leadership is badly needed in today’s world, where materialism and individualism are so rampant.”

Mindfulness in business

Most people work in a business organisation. So, scaling up mindfulness from people to companies is a powerful way to change society quickly.

Vietnam is among the few countries where I have seen companies intentionally and systemically apply mindfulness at the corporate level. It is helped by the fact that these companies are closely-held and that their owners are veteran meditators themselves. They send their management to mindfulness retreats several times a year, and employ mindfulness ambassadors within the company to explain what applying mindfulness to corporate life entails. As with personal inner works, corporate mindfulness also takes time to implement – about four years for most companies.

It’s encouraging to see that the 10% movement is also catching on with multinational companies. When Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever and now a prominent advocate for more responsible business, says “we need to put purpose and sustainability at the core of companies, not profit”, he is talking about bringing mindfulness into business. Mr. Polman urges business leaders to make their companies “Net Positive” – ie. giving back to the world more than they take. Among the society-level challenges that a Net Positive company must take on, he includes and I quote – “rethink the measures of success (such as GDP); challenge the need for consumption and growth; bend the curve on capitalism and overhaul finance”. This is not a Marxist talking, he was the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world. Mr. Polman says the motive for the corporate world to change its paradigm is actually selfish: “Businesses cannot thrive in a society that fails”.

Younger generations

Even at this 11th hour, I am still hopeful. I am hopeful because technological progress – used wisely and ethically – can help relieve the material pain of many, especially for the most vulnerable among us. But I am hopeful mainly because of the younger generations. They are much more holistic and inclusive than their elders: For instance, when investing, they accept that the value of their investment will suffer if that means helping the world. With respect to philanthropy, next-gens are hesitant when the funding source violates their beliefs, but when engaged they understand that in order to help restore social justice, they must empower the recipients to a greater extent than their parents do.

For Gen Y and Gen Z, I am confident the leading edge of spiritual evolution has already reached 10%. These younger folks are actively working for a better world – a world built on union instead of separation, compassion rather than self-centeredness, a world focusing on broad human advancement and social sustainability instead of just economic and material development. The changes that they demand start with the inner selves. They demand that we live in truth. Now.

In 2018, Nguyễn Phương Lam retired as Co-founder and Co-head of the Private Equity business of Capital Group, and CEO of Capital International’s Singapore branch. Lam is involved (as an advocate, donor, or mentor) with numerous local civil society organisations and global NGO’s, including, and

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