Selfie Mindfulness has gone viral
in the Corporate world but has it gone deep?
The epidemic of mindfulness courses in the corporate world fits far too neatly into the corporate culture of personal success and achievement of targets. A growing army of mindfulness instructors and facilitators have entered the buildings of corporations to offer courses to make life easier for the workforce. The current application of mindfulness for management and office workers certainly contributes successfully to a reduction of stress levels. Corporations welcome this development since it provides the opportunity to keep the office workforce reasonably relaxed, concentrated and focused on the aims of the company.
The application of mindfulness has successfully enabled corporations to continue their particular objectives with a workforce less distracted and more focused. It has become common knowledge that stress has a greater toll on working life than any other personal issue. Stress bears a direct relationship to distracted states of mind, excessive thinking and anxiety about the future. Mindfulness practice certainly offers a direct approach to a reduction in such levels of stress enabling bosses, management and staff to function in a more calm and clear away. Through the application of such supportive practices, people at work feel better about themselves and better about their relationship to their work. Is that as much as corporate mindfulness training offers?
There is undoubtedly immense pressure in the workplace with 70% of corporate employees in the USA reporting that they ‘dislike’ or ‘hate’ their job and would gladly find another position elsewhere or become self-employed, if the possibility arose. No wonder the corporate world realised they have a serious problem on their hands with such a high percentage of unhappy workers.
Many corporate bosses feel mindfulness can contribute to the successful running of the company and simultaneously change the negative atmosphere. Mindfulness also links effortlessly to other corporate values to contribute directly to the improvement of efficiency, meeting targets, and successful promotion of the business. Sales staff employs mindfulness methods to remain calm in the face of irate customers. They then gain approval from consumers for the services and products of the enterprise.
It has become a worthwhile investment for businesses to hire mindfulness consultants for the staff so they stay focused and clear in the present moment, free from the obscurations of boredom and negativity. Changes in such mind states will release more energy and concentration to address the check lists, spread sheets, financial projections and so on. Furthermore, mindfulness enables an increased capacity to engage in multitasking without becoming so tired or confused.
Excessive thinking, mental exhaustion and inner distractions feed unrest, errors of judgement and conflicts of interest within the company. Corporations report mindfulness practices contribute to an improvement in staff moral and increased levels of coordination in terms of planning and actions. A company values highly its productive capabilities and the capacity to sustain an advantage in skills and profits over its competitors. Mindfulness courses meet the criteria and values of any company regardless of whether it engages in corrupt business practices, plunders the Earth’s resources or produces a range of weapons at immense cost to life.
The various mindfulness practices regularly recommended for the office include:
Sit with straight spine with both feet on the ground and check regularly for any tension in the shoulders or other parts of the body.
Speak mindfully and clearly, making eye contact with the person, without raising the voice or speaking at speed.
Remember to find time to mindfully breathing and out to clear the mind of any distracting thoughts with the sense of connection to the present moment and how you feel in the moment.
When you change your posture, such as getting up from the desk, move in a mindful way rather than as an impulse or reaction to a thought of the voice of another.
When taking a drink, snack or meal, be conscious of the whole process from placing the hand on the cup or utensils to the tasting of the drink, mindfully chewing and swallowing of the food or the liquid and experiencing it going down into the body.
Be mindful if you start to feel overwhelmed with an exaggerated sense of responsibility or too many tasks to fulfil. Breathe through the pressure and then establish practical steps.
Endeavour to write down your primary duties and be careful about becoming dependent for your peace of mind on completing tasks that you have set yourself or others have set for you.
Make use of the outdoors. Take opportunity during the day to step outside the building to experience sky above and earth below. Breathe deeply in and out the air while experiencing contact with the outdoors.
Be mindful of your inner responses to what you hear in a conversation with another person in the company or while attending a business meeting. Be mindful of any views and opinions arising from within. Endeavour to make any creative ideas or concerns clear and thoughtful and let go of unhealthy thoughts.
Be mindful of your relationship to the start of the working day, the general attitude during the day and the primary feelings at the end of the working day.
Remember to conserve some energy for your loved ones when you return home and/or for those family and friends, near or far away.
Place more emphasis on being in the present moment. Endeavour to keep distractions to the minimum such as addiction to searching for information on your smart phone, habitually checking emails or searching for information not particularly relevant.
The daily application of such mindfulness exercises in the office contributes to a greater sense of harmony and well-being, less reactive mind states and the capacity to stay equanimous when difficult circumstances arise at work. The business world certainly appreciates a cool head in times of tension affecting the smooth flow of the organisation. Mindfulness then serves the personal and corporate interests at the same time. The Board of Directors obviously want a happy workforce since disgruntled minds inhibit focused attention and blocks off creative initiatives. A contented staff can sing from the same hymn sheet.
The Reactive Mind
It is not unusual to react, or overreact, through a sudden or progressive stimulation around what we see, hear or read through the other senses. The same principle applies in the inner life as well through a reaction or overreaction to a single thought, flurry of thoughts or the emergence of certain feelings. We can grasp onto our reactivity and make much of a situation in an unhelpful and unhealthy way. Mindfulness helps interrupt and break the cycle of stimulus and reaction providing sufficient inner space to respond skilfully to the circumstance.
Dedicated mindfulness meditators would agree that there is no substitute for regular and sustained application of the practices without forming any conclusions that it is an answer to the fundamental issues and questions of life. Mindfulness practice can also lead onto a transformed perception, a sudden insight or a creative vision.
When people working in corporations feel the pressure and demands of the job, they may well take comfort in the financial reward, especially bonus payments, for achieving the goals and targets of the company. A substantial annual income compensates for a toxic atmosphere, the intensity of the work, long hours and differences of priorities with other colleagues. Other motivations also play an important role including the drive to climb the corporate ladder, respect from one’s superiors and peers and achieving performance targets. Making a considerable income, staff will put up with a negative corporate culture or turn a blind eye to promoting questionable products. Alcohol, drugs and gambling give temporary relief after work to the daily grind in the office.
Mindfulness exercises keep work colleagues in tune with each other, as well as developing a growing capacity to acknowledge the range of inner feelings, thoughts and stories that the mind creates. Office tension produces problematic states of mind such as negativity, backbiting, envy, insecurity and fear. In religious language, life in the office can become a hell realm through the inflammation of feelings and thoughts carried around through much of the day, as well as away from the office. Mindfulness training contributes directly to the reduction of these hindrances to contribute to peace of mind with the potential for a collective sense of well-being. There is no substitute for daily practice at work, at home, privately and in social circumstances.
Differences between the private sector and the public sector
A successful company places efficiency in terms of time management as having a major value, even at the expense of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). The measurement of efficiency includes a hard working staff, the production of a number of units within a certain time span and a substantial profit margin at the end of the financial year. Corporate values may differ from those working in the public sector, such as public servants in education, health, government departments, transportation, charities, foundations and the rapidly growing non-profit sector. While acknowledging the usefulness of efficiency, the value of making available a service to people may have a much higher priority in the public sector. Yet, the public sector frequently faces criticism from the powerful private sector despite the greed, corruption and dramatic financial failures among major corporations. People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
Countless public servants, such as in health and education, enter these professions motivated by their sense of empathy for those less fortunate than themselves. They want to make a difference to people’s lives. They do not prioritise a substantial income and maximisation of opportunity for self-interest but respond to the needs of others who need their support. Such public servants do not find it helpful when corporations and governments try to impose targets and charts upon the public sector to measure performance. Targets and performance ratings work in corporations where self-interest frequently takes priority but often at a cost of peace of mind for the staff.
With its determination to increase market share through efficient and tightly controlled practices, the corporate world may generate a different kind stress to those engaged in public service. The public sector may rely upon government funds, grants from big business to ensure employment of staff and support for those in need. Stress arises through media attacks on public servants, doubts about the benefits to clients and excess of micro-management. The non-profit sector, public servants and private individuals engaged in service, as well as those supporting sustainability in the welfare of people, animals, the environment, may consider .co-operation and vision above achievement of targets set by management.
Mindfulness programs play an increasingly more important role in contributing to the health and peace of mind of people in hospitals, clinics, schools, prisons as well as for numerous private citizens. There is a strong ethic and compassionate element to the application of mindfulness in the public sector but can the same be said of corporate mindfulness? There is a divide between the public and private sector owing to the differences in the intentions, actions and results. Many sections of the private sector endeavour to maximise pleasure for consumers and maximise profits for the company while the public sector endeavours to provide a worthwhile service to support people and their varying needs.
Mindfulness practices have a role to play in the evolution of society struggling to cope with problematic states of mind from the unresolved issues of the past to the pressures pounding into the mind from the present. Employers and employees in corporations and public servants face similar issues from the past and present in that respect.
Are mindfulness practices making a real difference to the personal and collective problems in society? Despite thousands of reports, thesis and analysis, the evidence for any deep social change remains largely anecdotal. Numerous publications from daily newspapers, to weekly magazines and publication of books on mindfulness do not indicate any root and branch change in the ethics and values in the corporate world, especially around questionable products, the demands on the workers on the factory floor or on farms. Maximisation of profit matters above such concerns for corporate bosses. There appears to be no curbing of the super-rich and those who aspire to join the super-rich. Such wealth requires exploitation of human and environmental resources, a massive degree of self-aggrandizement and an emotional disconnect from the needs of the marginalised people of the world.
Ethics and Values
There is no evidence to show that even the most dedicated mindfulness practitioners in corporations have made any meaningful link between mindfulness, ethics and values. No fundamental change will occur unless there is a growing realisation that authentic mindfulness functions in a much wider content than what the current corporate courses offer. Corporations abuse their power such as through pressure on governments to comply with their demands, pressure on indigenous communities and erosion of international law.
Corporate mindfulness leaders seem to rely upon the belief that ethics and values will develop in some mysterious way as a natural outcome of corporate employees spending more time being in the moment with a calm, non-judgmental mind. Selfie mindfulness supports a relaxed self with a kindly disposition towards others. It is always heartening when people who spend so many hours together every day in the office get on well with each other but corporations need to be mindful of the growing public disquiet of corporations predatory practises, unwillingness to pay compensation for accidents and the setting up of major tax havens
Significant numbers of staff may hold to a primary value of financial rewards through performance-based actions and efficiency in. tasks. Financial gain can actively overshadow other values to the point that they become rather meaningless. To develop authentic values, there would have to be a shift away from performance-based financial rewards, and the demands of efficiency, to a willingness to act in the public interest, as well as in the interest of all the staff including night-time cleaners and the workers on the factory floor, often in a faraway country.
Personal income and efficiency then figure much lower down the table of values. Important values include work ethics, health, working conditions, honesty, principled practices and moderate charges for products and services. These values challenge the swelling of exorbitant profit margins at the expense of factory workers and customers. Empathy shifts priority from self-interest to the public good. There is no sign that the variety of corporate mindfulness projects shows any movement towards a corporate culture transparent, self enquiring with a vision to support and benefit the general public. The current crop of mindfulness practices continues to serve self-interest of the individual. Selfie mindfulness rules in the corporate world, not empathy.
Selfie mindfulness has gone viral in the corporate world but has it gone deep?
Mindfulness has become a whole branch of psychology empowering practitioners to observe the movements and formations in their own mind without becoming hooked up in the process. First-hand experience and benefit have contributed to the rapid rise of mindfulness. Professionals in the various mental/physical health services and their clients strongly recommended to friends, family and colleagues the benefits of mindfulness. Word of mouth led onto the written word.
Numerous people in the corporate world have spent years in mindfulness courses, as well as residential programmes and retreats. The current approach of selfie mindfulness reduces stress but few participants seem to wish to take the practice much further and develop the larger context. There have been no online reports of any shakeups in corporations in terms of their questionable business practices following regular mindfulness courses.
Mindfulness teachers frequently emphasise the importance of extricating these mindfulness practices from the traditional baggage of Buddhism with its temples, monks, nuns, religious rituals and cultural views around karma, rebirth and samsara. There is certainly merit in freeing up these traditional mindfulness practices for their application into the stressful circumstances of daily life. Mindfulness teachers fail to recognise that mindfulness meditation has jumped out of the frying pan of Asian Buddhism into the fire of cultural norms of Western secularism. Secularism believes in the self, competition, survival of the fittest and achieving goals to confirm a successful identity. Secularism highly prizes neuro-scientists to measurement brain activity. The ideology of secularism obscures the significance of mindfulness as much as any religious belief systems.
Secular mindfulness exists in the shadow of scientific theory perpetrated through the prism of self-interest. Selfie mindfulness functions as the first and last step in a narrow remit that bears very little real relationship to knowing mindfulness in a much wider context. The wider context of mindfulness exists as a valid pointer to a genuinely awakened life and a compassionate way of being. The mindfulness industry has no knowledge of mindfulness as one of the limbs to transform the structures of large institutions, as well as the vision of society.
Western interest in mindfulness developed primarily through Westerners spending years in practice in Buddhist monasteries in Asia, as well as Asian teachers, and those practitioners trained in mindfulness meditation in western retreat centres. Yet, mindfulness teachers appear reluctant to recommend residential Buddhist retreats in case they sound like missionaries, even though any deep training in mindfulness includes intensive retreat in Western centres or Asian Buddhist monasteries. We are left with the impression of a cursory acknowledgement of 2500 years of mindfulness practices in the Buddhist tradition. Exposure to the Buddha’s teachings enables practitioners to make contact with a different set of values from the corporate worlds’ promotion of self-interest at the expense of others.
Application of Mindfulness in the Public Sector
Generally speaking, the application of mindfulness harmonises much more easily with the public sector, such institutions as hospitals, schools, prisons and caring religion. These institutions uphold a primary ethic to end suffering, develop the heart, mind and body, provide healthy resources and an upliftment of the human spirit. Doctors gladly send their patients to mindfulness teachers who offer short, intense courses to patients to enable them to cope with pain and sometimes dissolve its crippling influence. They experienced calmness in the mind, and growing ability to stay steady in the present moment with the capacity to see feelings just as feelings and thoughts as thoughts. Practitioners know greater levels of peace of mind through not becoming so easily caught up in the arising of challenging feelings, thoughts or stories. Mindfulness has become an important service to support people in pain and experiencing distress.
Since the mid to late 1970s, word began to travel round in the public sector about the power of mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation teachers gave tools to patients, schoolchildren and prisoners, as well as those charged with responsibility in such areas. Classes in school found that regular meditation sessions increased cooperation and friendship between children, reduced class bullying and developed more self-confidence among the girls and boys. Teachers did not require any scientific documentation to confirm the benefits of mindfulness since they witnessed the benefits on a daily basis in the classroom.
Initially, prisoners were sceptical about practising mindfulness. Some prisoners were suspicious that the prison authorities introduced mindfulness as a means of pacification of the minds of prisoners in order to exercise more control over their lives. Rather than jump to such conclusions, some prisoners attended the mindfulness sessions that brought about benefits. With more calmness and clarity, prisoners found they were able to articulate their needs without becoming so angry, reflect on unresolved issues and find inner peace. They developed the capacity to take one day at a time. Prisoners face stress when their mind wanders into thinking about their future and the length of time of their incarceration, whether it is weeks, months or decades. With less anxiety and agitation, prisoners found they could form closer friendships with others and develop their mindfulness practice in the countless small, repetitive tasks that make up a prisoners daily life.
As the years went by, corporations began to hear of the benefits of mindfulness in the public sector and understandably wanted to apply the same principles in the office. This proved to be the second major phase of the application of mindfulness into the Western social environment. Major corporations such as Apple, Sony, Google, Monsanto, IKEA and Harvard Business adopted mindfulness programmes. Google says that more than 1000 of its staff have attended mindfulness courses while the company, itself, hosts mindfulness conferences.
The business community remains largely determined to view itself as hard-nosed pragmatists who regard mindfulness (essentially a selfie practice) without any so-called mumbo-jumbo of spirituality. Such views enable corporations to ensure that selfie mindfulness remains within its current narrow remit. There is no encouragement whatsoever to establish a deep and caring wisdom in the corporate world, despite corporations like Goggle running Wisdom 2.0 conferences.
Selfie mindfulness in the corporate world primarily supports:
action orientated priorities
concentration on tasks
capacity for fast decision-making agreements,
pursuit of power and profit
reduced absence from work
reduction of stress,
results focused orientation.
These values form the basics of corporate life. Mindfulness finds itself subversive to Western culture and mainstream corporate values with mindfulness utilised as a tool for those specific ends. Furthermore, the hard nose pragmatists demand confirmation of the benefits of selfie mindfulness confirmed through changes in certain cells of the brain. Neuroscientists have replaced spiritual teachers as the authorities on mindfulness. Shrouded in such cultural norms, there appears to be little opportunity for mindfulness to resume its rightful role as a contribution to an enlightened way of life and all the depth of discovery that belongs to it.
It is hard to find online studies which actually address and detail the varieties of methods, techniques and environments used for mindfulness. Practitioners and seniors in this long standing tradition need to know the time spent in formal mindfulness meditation, the postures and locations, as well as the primary motivations of the participants to be revealed in the studies.
Currently, the most popular group program is the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme (MBSR). Generally numbers from five 20 people meet together for a period of eight weeks in a weekly session lasting for two to three hours, plus a one day workshop. The MBSR course includes mindfulness exercises, meditation, yoga postures, working with pain, experiencing various levels of relaxation and sharing of experiences. The participants make an agreement to practice daily their homework assignments, perhaps lasting around an hour, to enable mindfulness to register as a valid tool for the individual to maintain after the completion of the eight-week programme. Corporate mindfulness teachers will apply several of the primary features in the MBSR programmes, which, in turn, have its background in the Buddhist meditation tradition
Stuck in a Definition
It may well be that between one to two million people in the West have engaged in some kind of mindfulness/meditation courses in recent decades but there does not seem to be any significant evidence to show significant numbers have shown firm motivation to explore the teachings and practices in a comprehensive way. With selfie mindfulness going viral in the workplace, you might think thought that it would trigger an explosion of a deeply committed interest in these ancient teachings of ethics, inquiry, depth of meditation and a profound wisdom.
We welcome people’s application of mindfulness meditation to their daily lives and the benefits that go with it. We need to encourage a passionate curiosity in the significance of a non-selfie mindfulness and its potential to influence profoundly every area of life, inwardly and outwardly, self and other, the private sector and the public sector. It could well be an error of judgement of the founding fathers of Western mindfulness meditation to distance themselves from the Buddha’s Dharma. The result of such a judgmental standpoint leaves mindfulness isolated from its roots, narrow in view and limited in application.
Mindfulness appears stuck in a painfully limited definition, namely “cultivation of attention to the present moment in a non-judgemental way.” The Buddha, the master of mindfulness, never gave such a definition in the entire 10,000 discourses of his teachings. The Buddha referred to mindfulness as one of the links in the noble path to enlightenment, one of the great powers of the mind and one of the great limbs of awakening. He pointed to being mindful of the healthy and wholesome intentions to support right mindfulness. He emphasised a commitment to inquiry to become mindful of whatever arises and knowing the conditions for what arises. He encouraged inquiry into exploitation, suffering and harm due to the activities of institutions - social, religious, business or political. The Buddha addressed the inner world and outer world. The Buddha placed mindfulness as a spoke in the wheel not as the hub.
Mindfulness has been amputated as a limb from the body of the teachings. It is important to distinguish here the Buddha Dharma (teachings of the Buddha) and the religion of Buddhism that serves as wrapping paper around the gift of the Dharma. Authorities on mindfulness invariably keep restating that these mindfulness practices have nothing whatsoever to do with a 2500 year old tradition. Oh yes, they do!
Yet, there is a growing concern among seniors in the mindfulness industry that far too many of the current trainers and facilitators have little deep experience and knowledge of ethics, mindfulness, depth of meditation spiritual experiences or profound realisations – all limbs in the body of the teachings. The latest training programs strongly advocate that those wishing to become mindfulness teachers need to attend several residential retreats of a week-long or more at Buddhist centres, so that they deepen their experience of the breadth and the depth of the body of the teachings. It is a step in the right direction.
There is also a concern among those dedicated to the Buddha Dharma that a growing number of mindfulness facilitators see the career and financial opportunities in taking up mindfulness as a profession. Institutions in the private and public sector will regularly pay a facilitator a four figure sum for offering staff a single day’s mindfulness workshop. Is self-interest ruling empathy?
Corporate leaders have a dual motive for the introduction of mindfulness into their business. They show consideration for the well-being of staff and desire for a greater collective output from the staff. The mindfulness training also provides a powerful distraction from questioning the ideological and structural frameworks governing corporate values and policies.
Selfie mindfulness gives the staff the impression that all their stress, anxiety and lack of self-worth, as well as reactive behaviour, are entirely self-created. The staff believes that they bear full responsibility for creating their own stress. Mindfulness programmes support the view that the burden of responsibility for stress and anxiety attacks rest exclusively upon themselves. They ignore inquiry into the external conditions that generate personal problems. Mindfulness programs let the prevailing ideologies of the corporation completely off the hook. No wonder CEO’s and the board of directors welcome the introduction of selfie mindfulness exercises in the office. Staffs need to develop insights into the daily pressures of corporate domination upon their lives. There is a failure to bring mindfulness to bear on corporate culture and its impact far and wide.
Having rejected any enquiry into the substantial practices of the Buddhist Dharma, corporations endlessly repeat the value of the definition of mindfulness. No wonder. The definition of mindfulness as being in the present non-judgementally is a judgemental view. Our capacity to make critical judgements in the present moment shows a responsibility to ethics, integrity and a larger vision. The critic may sound judgemental but it is surely better to voice one’s concerns than remain silent out of fear of sounding negative. The willingness to address different kinds of suffering in the corporation mirror these ancient teachings on ethics, responsibility and action.
The Stereotyping of Buddhist monks and nuns
Mindfulness exists in a context of widespread exploration to end harm and suffering. It is not unusual for the leaders of mindfulness to treat Buddhism with a certain patronising disdain. Buddhist monks regularly find themselves stereotyped as otherworldly, detached from political and social realities with little to offer society. There may be such elements among monks and nuns that meet the classical Western stereotype of the ordained sangha but such crude generalities show disrespect to the concerns and actions of Buddhist monks and nuns in various traditions.
We only have to look at the quiet determination of Tibetan monks worldwide protesting at the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Thousands of Buddhist monks took to the streets of Burma demanding an end to the harsh rule for decades of the military dictatorship. We read of Buddhist monks in Thailand ordaining trees in the front line to protect rainforests from electric saws and the bulldozers. We read of monks protesting about corruption in politics and business in Buddhist countries. We read of monks and nuns protecting sacred religious sites and places of religious heritage. Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka spent years advocating an end to the civil war between the Sinhalese and the Tamil.
There have been various rewards for the noble actions of Buddhists. Two prominent Buddhists, one a monk (the Dalai Lama) and one a woman (Aung Sahn Suu Chi of Burma), were awarded the Nobel peace Prize. Other monks and lay people were nominated for the same award and received various other international expressions of recognition for their noble service. There continue to be numerous tributes to the determination of Buddhists, ordained and householders, to resolve conflict and establish a sustainable world with respect for people, animals and the environment.
It may be that these hard-nosed pragmatists in the corporate world simply project their own other worldly shadow onto the Buddhist tradition, especially monks and nuns, who remain firmly committed to ethics, life-sustaining values, a moderate lifestyle and an outgoing expressions of compassion. We are left wondering whether self-seeking careerists identified with a personal drive towards status and accumulation of wealth represent an other-worldliness not commiserate with the Earth’s fast diminishing resources and the suffering born of greed and aggression.
Bent on the reduction of stress as the only purpose in their training programs, mindfulness leaders make reference to claims of ethical neutrality with regard to mindfulness. They claim that stress reduction enables practitioners to make their own wise choices in terms of values and priorities at work. There are other mindfulness teachers who make the claim that ethics is implicit in the practices since the practices contribute to a reduction of personal tension, the judgemental mind and reactive behaviour. These rationalisations that prevent making ethics explicit reveal a fear of provoking a reaction from corporations. There are issues of individual and collective responsibility, as well as unexpressed personal conflict and guilt that should belong to any worthwhile mindfulness programme.
This isolation of mindfulness from a wider perspective contributes to moral detachment bringing about a denial of the harm of certain corporate policies. Mindfulness teachers need to find their own voice of inner authority. They need to encourage recognition that a corporation consists of various states of mind that may well have submitted to an unquestioning obedience to harmful values. In scrolling through numerous reports, articles and scientific analysis, I could find no concrete examples in decades of corporate mindfulness practices that have brought about any kind of change.
Mindfulness practices in the office have not led to any change in the working conditions of low-paid workers, corrupt industrial practices or ending the exploitation of customers. Corporate mindfulness has a very narrow remit. It is not leading towards any revolutionary change, deep ethical roots or the application of wisdom and compassion to the current painful circumstances facing humanity. We can have more confidence in Buddhist monks and nuns to change the world than corporate men and women driven by self-interest.
Corporate methods to avoid responsibility
Instead of transforming the exploitative practices of corporations, the bosses employ teams of lawyers, public relations experts, marketing personnel and sympathetic scientists to undermine every challenge to the harmful impact of their behaviour.
Generally speaking, corporations rely upon a shortlist of defences to justify questionable business practices and business products. These businesses make every effort to reassure the customers and clients that they do everything possible to minimise any negative impact of their practices or what they produce. Rather than being ethically neutral, there is an avoidance of applying moral values. Corporate lawyers and public relations officers will vociferously challenge any scientific findings against the corporation, their policies and products. They will take out libel action to stifle dissent.
I have not been able to find a single case of the application of corporate mindfulness which includes enquiry into unhealthy and unwholesome practices, warped values or the taking of moral responsibility for painful outcomes. Some major corporations continue to avoid payment of taxes, grossly overcharge for their products and services and accumulate immense wealth and power. Evidence tends to show that corporations have developed the capacity to employ methods of denial in order to remain blameless instead of accountable. Businesses exploit the vulnerability of customers, such as gambling, tobacco addiction and online pornography and then place blame on the consumer. Their frequent escape clause often get summarised as “That’s his choice.” That’s her choice.” “That’s their choice.” “We cannot take responsibility for the choices that people make.” Such views enable such corporations to continue to take advantage of the vulnerabilities and addictions among countless numbers of consumers in every age group.
There are frequent examples of corporations showing utter disregard, if not contempt, for the common good and placing self-interest of the company in the foreground. Various examples of such exploitative practices include avoidance of taxation through abuse of loopholes, providing governments and their agencies with personal data of subscribers, low-paid farm and factory workers enduring harmful conditions, denial of workers’ rights including unions, risk-taking financial investments, grossly overpriced products and accumulates huge capital for individuals. Large corporations often run like totalitarian governments creating toxic environments for employees. These corporations act like regimes dominating the lives of countless people through control, pressure to achieve targets and offer slave labour working conditions for the lowest paid workers.
The persuasive powers of lawyers, public relations experts and advertisers enables the entire staff of the corporation from the boss downwards to avoid any feelings whatsoever of being personally responsible for any suffering, injury to health and unhappiness of consumers. The campaign of powerful corporations put out a message that actually vilifies their customers for buying the product or engaging in excessive use of it. Customers think there problematic behaviour, biological reactions, genetic history serve exclusively as the cause of the ills of their mind or body or both.
Investigative organisations make every effort to hold corporations accountable. There are eight primary corporate strategies to avoid or minimise responsibility for suffering of citizens or abuse of resources owing to the behaviour of the company. Corporations spend money and years fighting claims of people for compensation. Statements of denial of responsibility from the corporation include.
Attempts to dispel the credibility of the experiences or conclusions of analysis of harmful practices.
Claims that far more research is needed to verify the views of the critics.
Condemns any kind of regulation to their codes of conduct
Denial of the suffering.
Minimisation of harm their product caused so the corporation can continue as before.
Placing responsibility on the consumer for the choices they made
Rejects freedom of access to findings of companies own research. They see it as an interference with privacy laws.
Rejects legislation since laws amounts to government interference in the freedom of the market.
These strategies to avoid ethical values and moral responsibility ensure the continuity of the policies Major businesses claim they support the economy and society since they offer employment for farmers, factory workers, retailers and subsidiaries of the main corporation. This rationale repeatedly stated gives credibility to numerous products and services regardless of the hazardous consequences. For example, corporations persuade us to buy junk drink, junk foods and countless gimmicky products. There is the glorification of sex and violence as forms of entertainment. Is it acceptable because the business supports economic growth?
. Corporations display a consistent capacity to obscure their harmful practices by attributing the suffering of customers to numerous other causes and conditions to get the company of the hook. They apply these same methods decade after decade in order to maintain the business as usual. Powerful companies regularly fund scientists to engage in research knowing full well that the phrasing of the conclusions will employ a language to exonerate the company or create a public impression of inconclusive evidence. Once again, this sanitised approach enables every level of management to continue working without experiencing any pangs of conscience. One set of scientists can show conclusive evidence of harm. Another set of scientists would provide evidence to refute the data. Another set of scientists will express doubts about conclusions.
Current mindfulness practices exclude exploration of moral responsibility and an ethical engagement with the company. CEO and the Board of Directors only make changes as small as possible in response to the intensity of public demand. Governments frequently submit to the power of corporations, opposition parties also acquiesce while corporate lawyers take full advantage of loopholes to maximise profits and avoid taxes. There is a lack of political determination to hold certain corporations accountable despite their abuse of people and resources. Unlike governments, corporations know they are not accountable under international human rights law. They can get away with widespread abuse of people and environment and threaten to disinvest in a country to get their own way. Fearful of losing their business, governments worldwide appease to their demands.
Four Noble Truths
Rather than mindfulness teachers adopting glib rhetoric about enlightened self-interest and the mindfulness revolution, they could draw upon the Four Noble Truths, the hub of the teachings of the Buddha.
Mindfulness experts can evolve to show confidence in a deep inquiry into corporate suffering instead of offering only a handful of palliative techniques to reduce stress. The Four Noble Truths are:
There is suffering. Suffering arises through not getting what we want, losing what we have, being separated from who and what we love and through inflaming body/forms, feelings, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness.
Suffering arises due to causes and conditions
There is the resolution of suffering
There is a way to resolve suffering.
These Four Noble Truths (or more precisely The Four Truths of the Noble Ones) apply to the individual and the collective, such as corporations.
The Four Noble Truths applied to the Corporate World
First Noble Truth: There is suffering. What suffering arises in the company from top to bottom in the hierarchy? What suffering does the corporation cause when corporations avoid moral responsibility? What suffering arises when the corporation engages in exploitation of loopholes in the law and taxation? What suffering arises when corporations inflame their products through advertising and marketing?
Second Noble Truth: What are the causes and conditions for suffering in the corporation? Drawing on the Buddha’s teachings, Nagarjuna, the 2nd century sage, named the four conditions for what arises. The four conditions have immense significance influence giving rise to policies, strategies, and everything from stress to peace of mind and onto every event. The four conditions are:
A strong condition (s) from the past
Surrounding conditions in the present
Variety of conditions leading up to the suffering in the present.
All the conditions, major and minor, near and far, for what arises
Third Noble Truth: There is the resolution of suffering in the corporation. This may require the application of any one or more of the four conditions. It requires commitment. If a corporation shows no willingness to change its behaviour, then it requires the voice of the public upon the corporations and government. Third noble truth confirms wisdom, love and liberation from suffering.
Fourth Noble Truth: The way to the resolution of suffering includes the willingness to address the issues of suffering. This requires commitment, integrity with employees taking risks to show corporate malpractice and change the culture.
If, as human beings, we are going to develop, then we must be willing to look into all four conditions at the personal and institutional level.
The purpose of looking deeply into causality is to take the suffering out of events. We apply links of the noble path including right understanding, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right creative effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Every one of the links serves the deepest interests of all those in the private and public sector and all consumers.
Seasoned in knowing and exploring the four conditions, people at work can understand what arises, endures and passes and respond with wisdom to events.
Selfie Mindfulness has gone viral in the corporate world but has it gone deep? No, it has not. Corporations may be well organised, efficient and powerful with a global outreach. Influential voices in the private sector believe they can manage society better than governments and religious institutions. These companies propagate the view of consumer power knowing full well that corporations control the market and determine the range of products. They swallow up small businesses, small farms and take advantage of creative individuals from the arts to inventions to public service. Corporations are willing to swallow up or merge with competitors to increase their power base. The few dominate the many.
We need a revolution to take away the power of elite billionaires and their businesses whether running supermarket chains, high street banks, vast media organisations, financial institutions, weapons manufacturers, food, public transport, computer technology, online businesses , drug companies, oil, coal and gas industry. The current priority in mindfulness courses do not show the way forward.
May all beings live mindful lives
May all beings engage in inner and outer inquiry
May all beings live with wisdom and compassion.