My Invite to Google Wisdom 2.0 Conference,
Or was it Tel Avoidance?
Google Inc, the major search engine, kindly invited me to speak at their Wisdom 2.0 international conference in Tel Aviv, Israel in early February (2016) and then Google went silent.
In the spirit of freedom of communication and social media, blog readers may wish to see the essence of my correspondence with Google. I have not mentioned the name below of the Google organiser. After all, he is only acting upon behalf of Google.
Google wrote to me in November, 2015.
Wisdom 2.0 is the world’s premier gathering of Mindfulness oriented researchers, practitioners, and executives. Tel Aviv has been chosen along with three other world cities for the next round of global Wisdom 2.0 “Connect” events.
Our excitement for bringing the world’s top mindfulness conference to Israel could only be surpassed if you would join us as an honored guest presenter Thursday, February 4, 2016 in Tel Aviv.
Though Wisdom 2.0’s policy prohibits paying honorarium to its speakers, we promise to show you a great time and of course will cover all expenses incurred.
This conference will be monumental for our society.
Your presence at Wisdom 2.0 Connect literally has the potential to help shape the ensuing discourse in this country (Israel) and the surrounding region, as we build towards a more aware, compassionate, and peaceful Middle East.
We hope you will give our invitation some genuine consideration, and look forward to
hearing back from you soon.
Reply from Christopher
Thank you very much for your kind invitation for me to speak at the Google conference in February, 2016 in Tel Aviv.
I hesitate to take flights (the environmental cost) for conferences unless I feel I can make a real difference.
- How much time will you kindly offer me to give the talk?
- Will there be an opportunity to take questions?
- How much time will be available for questions?
I speak without notes. Can I presume that I do not have to write out a lecture?
I will reply as soon as I hear back from you.
Dear Readers of this blog, The organiser certainly provided some distinguished speakers -neuroscientists, mindfulness experts and a speaker on Judaism. I then asked in a further email to Google for the opportunity to speak for 30 minutes in the plenary session (when everybody is present) and 50 minutes in a side room for those who would like to explore further. I received a reply from Google. I then felt the flight would be worthwhile. Here is my last email in early January to Google pointing out my intention behind my talk.
Thanks for update.
As a senior mindfulness teacher in the West (40 years teaching, plus six years as a Buddhist monk in the East), I wish to offer some inspiration and insights to mindfulness teachers.
I wish to communicate the depth of exploration and inquiry necessary for the resolution of stress rather than stress reduction.
I wish to respond to mutual influence of dependent arising circumstances, inner and outer, and the language necessary to communicate ethics, mindfulness and wisdom in the public/private sector. There is immense potential for mindfulness teachers to be a vehicle for change far beyond the current remit.
After that email from myself, SILENCE FROM GOOGLE. NOT A WORD.
A Response to Google after the Silence
I have expressed concerns in recent years in various articles , public talks and through social media about the behaviour of powerful corporations on such matters as tax avoidance, poor conditions of factory/farm workers, wilful destruction of the environment, support for US government in terms of surveillance, obsession with profit and more. I hear these important ethical issue were not addressed at the Google Tel Aviv Wisdom 2.0 conference.
In a recent essay to be published in a US book later in the year, I wrote:
“Rather than restricting mindfulness to a series of meditative relaxation exercises and sharing of these experiences, mindfulness workshops need to explore the deep issues as well. We need mindfulness mentors in corporations who have investigated the soul and shadows of the corporation, engaged in much online research beforehand and have the capacity to offer a workshop that looks deeply into the impact of outer corporate demands upon the inner life of all the workers and the environment. Mindfulness leaders in the corporate world need to ask deep questions to participants.
- Who am I?
- What are the causes, inwardly and outwardly, for stress?
- What are we doing here?
- What is most troubling about this company?
- Does this company bring any harm to people or environment?
- What is more important than making money?
- What is more important than working hard to achieve company targets?
- What contributes to peace of mind, empathy with customers and society?
- What would show empathy and kindness to the paid workers in the company?
- What am I missing out on through working so many hours a week at work and at home?
- Are we afraid to speak up?
- What wise changes, inwardly and outwardly, am I willing to explore?
In another essay, written in 2015, for another US book due to be published in the future, I wrote:
“Despite years of mindfulness programmes, hosting major international conferences and regular invitations to spiritual/religious leaders, there is no evidence of mindfulness practices penetrating deeply into the body of Google or any other corporation. Performance matters most to these companies, whether they adopt the hard approach of Amazon or softer approach of Google. Corporate soul searching is not on the mindfulness agenda.
“Critics of Google point out:
- In 2013, Google made £3 billion in revenue in the UK and only paid little in taxes to support the people of Britain. Corporate tax avoidance has become widely known as Google Tax. A Parliamentary committee referred to Google’s contrived tax avoidance schemes as “calculated and unethical.”
- Widespread reports of Google case misuse of its power to promote its business.
- Google unfairly uses its products to oust smaller competitors
- European Union accused Google of cheating competitors by distorting Internet search results in favour of Google
- Top results on Google searches are not solely based on relevance but manipulated according to which company paid the most.
- Google has been criticized for censoring its search results in compliance with the laws of various countries in order to maximise revenue.
- Critics doubt the validity of Google’s “Don’t be evil” motto.
No doubt, some of the 1700 Google workers in Silicon Valley in the USA, who attend mindfulness courses, have their dirty fingerprints on their computer keyboards in terms of some of the corporate behaviour of Google. I cannot find any reports through Google Search of mindfulness leaders teaching computer programmers to become mindful of their feelings, thoughts and intentions in such forms of anti-trust behaviour and their disregard for ethical responsibility.
Google, Money and Wisdom
Google clearly has clearly a different perception of itself than people like myself. Google thinks it can ‘help shape the ensuing discourse in Israel and the surrounding region to ‘build towards a more aware, compassionate, and peaceful Middle East.’ I have been visiting Israel/Palestine for 25 years.
Frankly, I goggle at Google at its notions of self-importance.
In my view Google cannot shape a discourse in Google Inc. towards a more aware and compassionate organisation.
Google tells us that its conference Wisdom 2.0 is “the premier space of the global corporate mindfulness movement.”
Oh no. If it is true, then the other corporations are even more out of touch.
Meanwhile Google encourages people to get its ‘mindful, creative and compassionate workplace tickets.’
Meanwhile in Europe
On behalf of its 27 member states, European Union is suing Google for tax avoidance. On February 11, a few days after the Google Wisdom 2.0 conference in Tel Aviv, the British government ordered senior Google executives to answer questions on tax avoidance to the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee and senior tax officials.
Google uses various strategies to avoid and minimise paying taxes in the United Kingdom. The Conservative government persuaded Google to pay a mere £130 million in back taxes – less than 3% of its tax bill.
Google’s sales for advertisements alone amounted to £4.6 billion. Corporation tax is the UK is 20%. Google claimed it paid 20% on its profits.
The committee asked the Google executives asked the obvious question. What were the profits of Google if they paid the full 20%?
The President of Google Europe. Asia and the Middle East and his senior executives said they did not know.
“We do not have the figures in front of us,” said Google executives.
The committee asked the President of Google how much he earned. He did not know. He said that he did not have his “salary calculations to hand. “
“You don’t know what you get paid?” said the committee member. The committee started laughing.
The vice-President of Google Europe was asked why Google did not pay taxes for nearly10 years. He replied that he could not explain why Google did not pay taxes.
Residents in the UK might like to follow the same approach. Please tell the Inland Revue (UK taxation authorities that you do not know how much earned last year but you are willing to pay between 2% – 3% in taxes
Other countries in Europe, such as France and Italy, are also demanding that Google Inc. pay taxes to support the poor, the sick, the unemployed, the elderly, hospitals, schools and environmental sustainability.
Google Inc. and the most senior executives hardly inspire confidence. Meanwhile Google continue to hold their Wisdom 2.0 conferences. A headlines in the British daily newspaper described Google executives as ‘living on another planet.’
I think the name of the remote and out of touch planet where Google dwells is Cyberspace.
Meanwhile Google continue to hold these Wisdom Conferences with their claims to be aware, mindful and compassionate.
Frankly, Google Inc. is not fit for purpose. Wisdom and compassion emerges from clarity and insight, not from self-delusion.
The wide range of thought political activists should not imagine for a moment that wisdom and compassion will emerge from such conferences. The range includes organisations campaigning for social and political justice, groups working for the marginalised people worldwide, politicians working for redistrubution of income and corporate experts working to establish ethical behaviour from corporations.
Mindfulness teachers contribute to some reduction of stress in these companies but do have not the authority to explore the major causes of stress, due to corporate policies, demands and exploitation of staff and the impact on workers, consumers and society.
Expectations on Mindfulness teachers, executives and corporate employees
We cannot expect Mindfulness teachers offering workshops in the corporate world to address unethical corporate behaviour, even though such behaviour contributes to high levels of stress.
Employees stress arises due to unconscious resistance, unquestioning obedience to corporate demands and fear of failure.
Corporate practices involve pressure on the staff to produce more sales, generate more efficiency and achieve corporate goals of global expansion and profit regardless of who suffers. This generates stress throughout the hierarchical structure and into society. Mindfulness teachers can offer little in the way of meaningful change.
Mindfulness teachers provide helpful tools to reduce stress levels of employees arising from corporate ambitions. The teachers also provide tools for self-created stress, such as the desire for recognition, submission to long hours of work and pursuit of a bigger salary and bonus. We should not expect mindfulness teachers to inspire any change in corporate behaviour. It is like asking a person who waters a few plants to be a landscape gardener.
Five Google managers based in Ireland face criminal investigations. Italian police have reason to believe these managers may have engaged in substantial tax avoidance.
We cannot expect employees to bring about change in corporate behaviour. The employees have their careers, mortgages, families and lifestyle to think about. They cannot risk all this by trying to make their company a caring and socially responsible organisation.
Judging from the meeting with the UK Parliamentary committee, top Google executives sounded incredulous. The European/Middle East/African Google bosses admitted between them that they do not know how much one earnt, or how much profit Google made in the UK or why Google failed to pay taxes in the UK for nearly 10 years.
The committee asked said that Google had 20 meetings with government ministers. The Google boss was asked if the question of taxes came up. He said he could not remember for sure.
I did feel some concern for the Google bosses. I did not think for a moment they were showing early signs of dementia. Google has invited neuroscientists to speak at their Wisdom 2.0 conferences. Perhaps the Google bosses should ask for a consultation -just to be on the safe side.
We cannot expect such bosses to be instruments for social responsibility.
Google employees must feel embarrassed to work under such fearful executives with such poor memories. One London journalist wrote the President of Google earned around $2.5 million per week.
Change in corporate behaviour will come through sustained social and political pressure. – not from corporate executives and employees, and certainly not through corporate based mindfulness workshops or Google Wisdom 2.0 conferences.
I would like to extend an invitation to any Google executive to attend one of my seven day residential retreats on mindfulness, insight meditation and awakening. For a start, the executive would develop their powers of memory.
We cannot offer the executive an honorarium but I would certainly offer time at the end of the retreat for the Google boss to be an honoured guest presenter on our wisdom retreat to explain Google ethics to the participants.
I am not expecting Google to respond to this invitation. It is a long way to come from Cyberspace down to Earth. I do not expect Google to invite me in the future to be an ‘honoured guest presenter.’