Every year, for the last ten years, a significant movement has been brewing in the heart of Silicon Valley. It started, in part, with a spark of imagination from a man named Soren Gordhamer. Around 2006, he was at a low point in his work and personal life, eking out a meager existence from a little trailer in New Mexico. He had been reading a lot, and listening to Eckhart Tolle recordings. He was trying to figure out what he wanted to do next, but Tolle nudged him to ask instead, “What does life want from me?”
One day he took a walk, and was suddenly struck with a big question: as the digital age progressed, would society be wise enough to maintain what is most human about us? He engaged the question by writing a book called Wisdom 2.0, which later turned into a conference. He realized we all love technology, and yet it was making us crazy. He also saw there was a community of people, from within and outside of the tech world, that wanted to live a more mindful and purposeful existence in the digital age.
Now, in its 10th year, many thousands of people from over 30 countries have attended Wisdom 2.0, an annual conference that takes place in San Francisco. This year, I was one of them.
From technology leaders at companies like Google, Twitter, Slack, Pinterest, Medium, Uber, and LinkedIn, to global mindfulness masters and digital wellness-based entrepreneurs, to professors and researchers, and even ordinary people who had experienced extraordinary life events – Wisdom 2.0 held us all. Over the span of three days, personal status seemed to melt away as the community of over 2,000 attendees shared their whole-hearted stories, vulnerabilities, and life lessons. As famed Buddhist monk Jack Kornfield encouraged, each of us brought “a loving awareness to the whole tainted experience of humanity.”
I want to share three lessons I took away from my experience at Wisdom 2.0.
“Look for microcompassions, not just microaggressions.”Jack Kornfield, Wisdom Teacher
Many of us today have become overwhelmed by the doom and gloom that bombards us daily – often by way of a screen. We are filled with fear about global warming, war, terrorist violence, mass shootings, sexual assault, disease, and more. And, yet, we may need a gentle reminder to notice all the good that is rising to meet these challenges, both within and around us.
Jay Shetty, viral content creator, advised us to “share good, follow good, and create good.” Famed cinematographer and producer Louie Schwartzberg left us awestruck with scenes from his forthcoming work Fantastic Fungi, reminding us that, “Mother Nature doesn’t waste a single molecule, and only uses what she needs.” And, Doctors John and Julie Gottman, Co-Founders of The Gottman Institute and world-renown relationship experts, reassured us that when it comes to our most intimate relationships, “repairing is as good as it gets” and encouraged us to learn to “love better over time.” In each of these examples, we are called to look for the good – even (and perhaps especially) in the small.
In one instance, attendee Amy Giddon took something as small as a sticky note on a subway wall and is now turning it into an app called Daily Haloha (dailyhaloha.com). She explained to me that in the fall of 2016, in the days following the election of President Trump, she emerged from the Number 6 train at New York City’s Union Station to find a blanket of sticky notes with messages of hope, connection, and humanity. This “Subway Therapy” worked because it was a tiny glimpse into the vulnerable hearts of over 50,000 people. Now, Amy is launching an app that will allow people to share responses to heart-centered prompts without the judgement traps often experienced through social media. Through Daily Haloha, she will be shining a spotlight on micro-compassion.
“Conflict is a generative force.”Richard Strozzi-Heckler, architect of Embodied Leadership
Few words have been uttered more in the Trump era than “divided.” Our political landscape has pushed people to the edges – either becoming deeply entrenched on one side or choosing to disengage altogether. Neither strategy is helping us solve our most pressing global problems. It may not seem like it, but there are infinitely more options than these.
From the main stage, John Gable, CEO of AllSides.com and Joan Blades, Co-Founder of LivingRoomConversations.org, gave us incredible tools for stepping outside of our filter bubbles and into civil discourse with others across ideological spectrums. They pointed out that tribalism often leads to other-ism, and encouraged us instead to courageously move towards connection.
None demonstrated the courage of connection more than the panelists from Parkland, Florida who experienced the terror of a mass shooting last Valentine’s Day at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. Fred Guttenberg, father of 14-year-old shooting victim Jamie Guttenberg, spoke about the tragic and unlikely bond shared by the 17 families who lost loved ones. “We hate the fact that we know each other,” he said, “but we love each other anyway.” Shelly Tygielsky, Broward County Community Organizer, went on to explain how so many in the community have channeled their grief into action. “Grief is just love with nowhere to go,” she shared, “When we channel a place for the love to go, we start the journey to healing.” Teacher Ivy Schamis continues to teach her students to be upstanders, not just bystanders, and insisted to us all that “pain should not be wasted.” Students Alex Alhanti and Alayah Eastmond described their experiences of courageously responding to what happened by organizing March For Our Lives. “When we weren’t busy,” Alex said, “we had each other. [It didn’t matter that] each of the individuals were from different groups – different cliques.” Finally, Fred affirmed that “We have levels of resilience that we don’t know until they’re tested. There’s nothing we can’t move forward from, as long as we do it with love.”
“Learn to change the narrative.”Nancy Douyon, Human Experience Designer at Uber
Wisdom 2.0 takes place each year in the heart of Silicon Valley, which means there are many local attendees who spend their days inside a sort of tech industry bubble. So, it came as such a surprise for this Nebraska-born writer to hear Ev Williams, Co-Founder of Twitter and Founder of Blogger and Medium, recount to David Simas, CEO of The Obama Foundation, about his life growing up on a farm outside of Clarks, NE (population 364). He recalled buying Issue #2 of Wired Magazine at the Conestoga Mall in nearby Grand Island in 1993 and felt a sudden surge of connection to this burgeoning tech world. Not only did this farm kid go on to change the narrative about tech founders but, in a very real sense, our entire global narrative.
Another narrative-shifter I met was Nancy Douyon, Human Experience Designer at Uber and one of Silicon Valley’s rising stars. She was born in the U.S. while her Haitian family had been on a tourist Visa. She and her family returned to Haiti, where she spent her early years on a farm. By age 8, it was noted she exceptionally bright, and needed better educational resources than her home country could afford. She was moved to the United States and, before age 18, was placed in eight different foster homes. This could have been the beginning of a sad story for Nancy but, on the contrary, the experience became jet fuel for her growth.
At age 12, Nancy was taken underwing by MIT Professor Dr. Mitchel Resnick who ran a program teaching tech skills to inner city youth. “My saving grace through foster care was just playing around with tech stuff,” Nancy explained. “I got a very, very early start. By 16 I was teaching Computer Science in a few tech centers, by 18 I was at Harvard working on Information Systems Risk Management (i.e. Cyber Security), and by age 20 I was a Human Factors Engineer at Intel.” Nancy went on to work for other large tech companies like IBM, Cysco, Google, and Uber. “I’m well respected, but it’s been an interesting journey because I’m a young black woman who looks like this.”
Nancy’s look, in fact, is a huge part of the way she is changing the tech game. In her early career, Nancy did what she could to fit in and code switch to be accepted. But, she explained, “After I couldn’t do the “bro” thing, I had to recognize my own worthiness. I had the talent, and here I was spending my entire life trying to prove to folks my value.” At one point in her career, after a painful “last straw” incident of racial and gender bias at a major tech company, Nancy made a silent pact to herself. “From that moment, I decided I was going to be seen. And, if you’re going to see me, I’m going to leverage the hell out of that. [I’m going to wear] bright colors, big hair, different weaves – you won’t recognize me from one day to the next. If you have to keep asking to see my badge, well guess what, I will switch it up, wear glasses, trick you up to make sure you know that black people do work here.”
Today, Nancy says, “I’ve gotten to a point that I decided the truth of my worth cannot be argued with. I’ve decided to honor my truth, my mind. I understand people will see me and not recognize my value when I walk into a room. But, I’m blessed to enter rooms my ancestors never had an opportunity to walk into. I understand there is implicit and unconscious bias, but by the time I leave this room all of you will know who I am. And, hopefully this will shift the way you see other people like me.”
Between sessions, I connected with even more inspiring humans. During one guided meditation session, I was paired with a complete stranger for a practice that involved staring into each other’s eyes for ten minutes! After experiencing one of the most profound moments of my life (no biggie), I was able to meet my co-meditator, Amy Hong, a 2nd-generation Korean-American and product designer living in San Francisco. Since we were now instant best friends, Amy easily shared her story of growing up straddling culture, race, and class. “I think a big part of my journey was informed by the pull of two worlds. Helping my parents at the dry cleaners, fitting in with upper class school mates, being the “twinkiest Korean” amongst my college friends, and sometimes forgetting I’m another race only to be reminded in the most unexpected ways.” Amy was set to start her first day at a major tech company the Monday after the conference.
The cherry on top of this amazing weekend, for me, was having a brief, wholehearted conversation with David Simas, CEO of The Obama Foundation. After our talk and a warm hug, I floated out of the ballroom on a cloud of universal love, connection, and hope.
The next sparkling crumb…
Perhaps, dear reader, you too have been feeling a deep sense of dread and disconnection in the digital age. Maybe you’re afraid we are becoming a society of heartless, soulless tech zombies. If so, perhaps you can step outside and take the kind of walk Soren Gordhamer took over a decade ago. Maybe, like him, you’ll look inside yourself and ask what life wants to do through you. If you’re not sure where to begin, consider this last nugget of Wisdom 2.0 from mindfulness and racial equity champion Jeneé Johnson, “Follow the next sparkling crumb, and the path begins to light up.”
Andrea Bazoin (say “Bah-Zwah”) is a CCK higher education professional turned entrepreneur, wellness advocate, and writer. She is the Founder of everHuman, LLC (www.everhuman.io), a technical education company that helps individuals and teams delight in their digital lives. Her family ties stretch across the United States and beyond including Chile, Argentina, Australia, and France. Andrea currently lives in Fort Collins, CO with her French husband and their culturally-fluid son.