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There’s a pile of garbage I pass every day on the way to work. It stinks, and often I see folks hurling a bag of crap into the overflowing dumpster. Which usually rolls off and spills onto the walkway. It sucks! It’s one of the reasons we were wearing masks here long before Covit. Yet, I see this scene, and also see, the old women who make their rounds on bicycles throughout the day, going from dumpster to dumpster, separating and gathering the recyclables, re-usables, up-cyclables, and genuinely turning this trash into an income stream. To protect from the sun and elements, they wear coverings from head-to-toe: masks, gloves and those cone-shaped, bamboo/palm-leaf hats traditionally worn on farms.
Tucked in the corner about six meters away, I pass a woman who has a tea stand under a large umbrella, under a giant tree. Hanoi is full of such vibrant trees; at least three people can comfortably sit across the diameter. I am in awe each time I pass. Like the other ladies dotted around our lake, she sells snacks, cigarettes, and small glass cups of ice-cold green ice tea. You can see piles of used tea leaves on her end of the dumpster. I’ve noticed that mostly motorcycle taxi drivers take refuge there, monitoring the App for a nearby ping.
Later that night, I can hear and see a garbage truck come by and hoist the dumpster up and empty it into its bowels. Hanoi has many narrow streets and alleyways – narrower than these trucks – so luckily collection is often done at night. This certainly helps keep the traffic flow during busier times. Worse still, if not for these dumpsters folks would burn even more rubbish along the streets than is already customarily tolerated. In addition to these toxic fumes, consider the ritual imitation money that many local families burn twice monthly as an offering to their ancestors. Toxic fumes are another reason many ‘stay’ wearing a mask in Hanoi. I look at all the plastic dumped in the dumpster, and am relieved that it won’t be burned here. I see all this, too, as I walk by each day.
What’s more, I’ve been out late nights and seen plenty of these trucks totally teamed by women. This overflowing heap of hot, disgusting mess reminds me that I am in a society where women participate in everyday ways I hadn’t even ever dreamed. This heap will be gone soon, and replenished for all these women and their work. This makes me smile as I pass the heap. Using mindfulness, I can no longer smell the stench, it smells like flowers. Today, roses.
Late-night rubbish collection in Hanoi. All female team.
Outside of ecumenical discussions, far too little is said about the subject of happiness. This is a drawback of western secularism, as discussed below. In the world of work, Occupational Health and Leadership have taken up this mantle, yet still only manage to approximate happiness through measurable factors that contribute to increasing satisfaction and decreasing dissatisfaction (i.e. Herzberg’s 2-Factor Theory). Taking Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into greater account, that understanding eventually incorporated terms such as wellbeing. Yet, again, outside of ‘continuing professional development’ aimed at improving workplace efficiency and effectiveness, far too few resources seem devoted to higher needs such as belonging, esteem and self-actualisation.
Those management terms all circle back to mindfulness, to personal empathy and the ability of both the individual and environment to foster dialogue in order to transform conflict. Be it conflicts or differences in needs/wants between co-workers – or across the bargaining table – the ability to communicate and find common ground is increasingly the skill that distinguishes human talents from Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Now, at least, there is a greater focus on developing so-called ‘soft skills’. This trend responds to our failure to contend with an increasing reliance on, and addiction to technology. What’s more, still, as technology increasingly supplants entire portfolios of routine management duties, how will future workplaces valorise empathy within known matrices?
How do we teach students the value of happiness, the practice of compassion and the skills for effective communication, negotiation and conflict resolution? In so far as leading culturally diverse workforces, the research is as clear as a prayer bell: Innovation requires dialogue – actual talk between equals. Innovation is therefore built on collaboration. Collaboration requires cooperation. Cooperation requires commitment. Commitment cultivates inclusion. Inclusion fosters commitment. Commitment depends on trust-building. Trust-building requires dialogue. Cooperation must be practiced and rehearsed, in addition to celebrated and applauded. We are effectively teaching how to work within a community. Those tools must play the greater part of management toolkit, over and well-over more punitive means of enforcing compliance to rules.
“I’m not here to be your friend.”
Those are words I hope no one would ever hear neither in the classroom from educators, nor in the workplace from managers. It implies the speaker’s inability to distinguish friendliness from being friends. It is indeed a thin line. Social media interactions with colleagues have virtually erased that line – at least re-drawn it. Irregardless – as we say in Kentucky for emphasis – kindness matters! I genuinely pity those who have not learned kindness at home or school; it’s traumatic.
In order to collaborate, to genuinely work together, requires some level of friendliness, beyond cordiality. It is irrational to lead through control and project the image of being in control through distant, dispassionate unfriendliness. BTW, the notion of dispassionate rationality and objectivity have been historically valorized academia even when it was clear.
I would not be the first university student to observe (though lacking the skills to explain): “The professors who prided themselves on their capacity to be objective were most often those who were directly affirmed in their caste, class, or status position” (hooks, 2003: 128). Their inability to connect, acknowledge and come to peace with their own emotionality and spirituality. “At times objectivism in academic settings is a smokescreen, masking disassociation (ibid: 129). Objectivity is a crutch:
“Denying the emotional presence and wholeness of students may help professors who are unable to connect focus more on the task of sharing information, facts, data, their interpretations, with no regard for listening to and hearing from students. (ibid: 129).”
The smoke and mirrors masks a pain so cutting so deep that skilled educators carve it out of their work, and further discourage it in peers and students. Sadly, I believe that managers have been taught to operate under the same logic. Hurt people hurt people.
Hurt people hurt people.
Today, we’re better able to acknowledge the maturity needed to reveal both one’s strengths and weaknesses – including with subordinates. The key skill is emotional flexibility and consequentially, the ability to seek and offer support. Failing to do so reduces opportunities for team members’ whole-hearted contributions of knowledge and skills. While it is still professional to keep some amount of distance between one’s private and personal lives, social media is a typical example of how those norms no longer apply. Yeah, it’s weird if you’re not Facebook friends with at least some of your colleagues.
What are responsible ways to use one’s public image that aligns with our own personal ambitions and goals? This was simply NOT an area of thinking in the classroom prior to social media. Yet, ‘bullying’ is a relatively modern concept brought to light by the LGBTQ community response to the suicide of a university student as a result of cyber-bullying because he was gay.
In 2010, Tyler Clementi, a first-year university student in America, was secretly filmed being intimate with another man by his roommate and a mutual friend, (or so he believed). The two colluded to threaten to out Clementi in what they all knew as a homophobic (university) environment. This resulted in Clementi’s suicide. Imagine such blackmail, bullying and harassment at work! What skills should the educational environments have provided Tyler and his roommates?
The response from the queer community was clear: Hope. For example, activist/journalist Dan Savage launched an internet campaign that encouraged LGBTQ+ youth, which was picked up by mainstream media outlets and entertainment. The #ItGetsBetter campaign quickly amasses hundreds of posts by celebrities of all flavors to combat anti-gay bullying. Things did get better. We put bullying on the map! Be it work or school, bullying is no longer tolerated…at least formally.
Yet, what of genuine happiness, not just survival? While I can’t speak for every faith, the notion of happiness if central to Buddhist philosophy. “The gratification of desire is not happiness,” writes Buddhist teacher Daisaku Ikeda in his 2017 essay collection, Hope is a Decision. What’s more, individual happiness is tied to our interconnectivity. The Soka Gaikkai, a global Buddhist organisation mentored by Ikeda, operates under the slogan “World peace through individual happiness” to acknowledge the interconnectivity of both humanity as a whole, and the place of happiness with the broader objective of peace.
Seen one way, happiness is neatly balanced at the tip of the pyramid of needs, and its inverse: wants and desires. For clarity: While adults may scoff when a teenager says they “need” the latest iPhone or they’ll ‘die’ we responsibly know that those youthful aches and pains are as real to them as any physical trauma one might suffer. We know that showing up at school with the latest cool gadget has as much to do with the higher-order needs for them as we may wish them to perceive their basic needs such as food, shelter and security. Hence, the parenting task becomes one of teaching skills to contextualise such desires and value delayed gratification.
These lessons are too often relegated to parenting due to the secularisation of schooling and workplaces in the west. Western secularism often fails to distinguish religion from spirituality, to the detriment of the latter since we remain staunchly Christian societies, especially to the extent of chauvinism when faced with an ‘other’. Any non-Christian in the west can see the secularism is superficial – even Stevie Wonder can see that. Echoing her own call for greater attention to spirituality in secular education bell hooks quotes HH Dalai Lama’s thoughts in the need for the distinction in the second installment of her seminal teaching trilogy:
Spirituality I take to be concerned with those qualities of the human spirit—such as love and compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, a sense of responsibility, a sense of harmony—which brings happiness to both self and others. … (hooks, ‘Spirituality in Education’ in Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, 2003 pg. 157-164)
Makes place in and around the classroom. As a lecturer, I am a coach, guide, mentor, leader and have even befriended students (particularly after their graduations). One primary aim and source of satisfaction in the classroom is facilitating values-based dialogue across differences in perspectives. My role is not just to dump selective parts of my knowledge into students’ heads, nor simply to train certain skills. Nay, we’re always teaching how to live in a diverse community.
To get more in-formation:
- hooks, bell. Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.
- Ikeda, Daisaku (2017). Hope Is a Decision: Selected Essays. Middleway Press. ISBN 978-0-9779245-8-5.