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  • So we humans have an extraordinary potential for goodness,

  • but also an immense power to do harm.

  • Any tool can be used to build or to destroy.

  • That all depends on our motivation.

  • Therefore, it is all the more important

  • to foster an altruistic motivation rather than a selfish one.

  • So now we indeed are facing many challenges in our times.

  • Those could be personal challenges.

  • Our own mind can be our best friend or our worst enemy.

  • There's also societal challenges:

  • poverty in the midst of plenty, inequalities, conflict, injustice.

  • And then there are the new challenges, which we don't expect.

  • Ten thousand years ago, there were about five million human beings on Earth.

  • Whatever they could do,

  • the Earth's resilience would soon heal human activities.

  • After the Industrial and Technological Revolutions,

  • that's not the same anymore.

  • We are now the major agent of impact on our Earth.

  • We enter the Anthropocene, the era of human beings.

  • So in a way, if we were to say we need to continue this endless growth,

  • endless use of material resources,

  • it's like if this man was saying --

  • and I heard a former head of state, I won't mention who, saying --

  • "Five years ago, we were at the edge of the precipice.

  • Today we made a big step forward."

  • So this edge is the same that has been defined by scientists

  • as the planetary boundaries.

  • And within those boundaries, they can carry a number of factors.

  • We can still prosper, humanity can still prosper for 150,000 years

  • if we keep the same stability of climate

  • as in the Holocene for the last 10,000 years.

  • But this depends on choosing a voluntary simplicity,

  • growing qualitatively, not quantitatively.

  • So in 1900, as you can see, we were well within the limits of safety.

  • Now, in 1950 came the great acceleration.

  • Now hold your breath, not too long, to imagine what comes next.

  • Now we have vastly overrun some of the planetary boundaries.

  • Just to take biodiversity, at the current rate,

  • by 2050, 30 percent of all species on Earth will have disappeared.

  • Even if we keep their DNA in some fridge, that's not going to be reversible.

  • So here I am sitting

  • in front of a 7,000-meter-high, 21,000-foot glacier in Bhutan.

  • At the Third Pole, 2,000 glaciers are melting fast, faster than the Arctic.

  • So what can we do in that situation?

  • Well, however complex politically, economically, scientifically

  • the question of the environment is,

  • it simply boils down to a question of altruism versus selfishness.

  • I'm a Marxist of the Groucho tendency.

  • (Laughter)

  • Groucho Marx said, "Why should I care about future generations?

  • What have they ever done for me?"

  • (Laughter)

  • Unfortunately, I heard the billionaire Steve Forbes,

  • on Fox News, saying exactly the same thing, but seriously.

  • He was told about the rise of the ocean,

  • and he said, "I find it absurd to change my behavior today

  • for something that will happen in a hundred years."

  • So if you don't care for future generations,

  • just go for it.

  • So one of the main challenges of our times

  • is to reconcile three time scales:

  • the short term of the economy,

  • the ups and downs of the stock market, the end-of-the-year accounts;

  • the midterm of the quality of life --

  • what is the quality every moment of our life, over 10 years and 20 years? --

  • and the long term of the environment.

  • When the environmentalists speak with economists,

  • it's like a schizophrenic dialogue, completely incoherent.

  • They don't speak the same language.

  • Now, for the last 10 years, I went around the world

  • meeting economists, scientists, neuroscientists, environmentalists,

  • philosophers, thinkers in the Himalayas, all over the place.

  • It seems to me, there's only one concept

  • that can reconcile those three time scales.

  • It is simply having more consideration for others.

  • If you have more consideration for others, you will have a caring economics,

  • where finance is at the service of society

  • and not society at the service of finance.

  • You will not play at the casino

  • with the resources that people have entrusted you with.

  • If you have more consideration for others,

  • you will make sure that you remedy inequality,

  • that you bring some kind of well-being within society,

  • in education, at the workplace.

  • Otherwise, a nation that is the most powerful and the richest

  • but everyone is miserable, what's the point?

  • And if you have more consideration for others,

  • you are not going to ransack that planet that we have

  • and at the current rate, we don't have three planets to continue that way.

  • So the question is,

  • okay, altruism is the answer, it's not just a novel ideal,

  • but can it be a real, pragmatic solution?

  • And first of all, does it exist,

  • true altruism, or are we so selfish?

  • So some philosophers thought we were irredeemably selfish.

  • But are we really all just like rascals?

  • That's good news, isn't it?

  • Many philosophers, like Hobbes, have said so.

  • But not everyone looks like a rascal.

  • Or is man a wolf for man?

  • But this guy doesn't seem too bad.

  • He's one of my friends in Tibet.

  • He's very kind.

  • So now, we love cooperation.

  • There's no better joy than working together, is there?

  • And then not only humans.

  • Then, of course, there's the struggle for life,

  • the survival of the fittest, social Darwinism.

  • But in evolution, cooperation -- though competition exists, of course --

  • cooperation has to be much more creative to go to increased levels of complexity.

  • We are super-cooperators and we should even go further.

  • So now, on top of that, the quality of human relationships.

  • The OECD did a survey among 10 factors, including income, everything.

  • The first one that people said, that's the main thing for my happiness,

  • is quality of social relationships.

  • Not only in humans.

  • And look at those great-grandmothers.

  • So now, this idea that if we go deep within,

  • we are irredeemably selfish,

  • this is armchair science.

  • There is not a single sociological study,

  • psychological study, that's ever shown that.

  • Rather, the opposite.

  • My friend, Daniel Batson, spent a whole life

  • putting people in the lab in very complex situations.

  • And of course we are sometimes selfish, and some people more than others.

  • But he found that systematically, no matter what,

  • there's a significant number of people

  • who do behave altruistically, no matter what.

  • If you see someone deeply wounded, great suffering,

  • you might just help out of empathic distress --

  • you can't stand it, so it's better to help than to keep on looking at that person.

  • So we tested all that, and in the end, he said, clearly people can be altruistic.

  • So that's good news.

  • And even further, we should look at the banality of goodness.

  • Now look at here.

  • When we come out, we aren't going to say, "That's so nice.

  • There was no fistfight while this mob was thinking about altruism."

  • No, that's expected, isn't it?

  • If there was a fistfight, we would speak of that for months.

  • So the banality of goodness is something that doesn't attract your attention,

  • but it exists.

  • Now, look at this.

  • So some psychologists said,

  • when I tell them I run 140 humanitarian projects in the Himalayas

  • that give me so much joy,

  • they said, "Oh, I see, you work for the warm glow.

  • That is not altruistic. You just feel good."

  • You think this guy, when he jumped in front of the train,

  • he thought, "I'm going to feel so good when this is over?"

  • (Laughter)

  • But that's not the end of it.

  • They say, well, but when you interviewed him, he said,

  • "I had no choice. I had to jump, of course."

  • He has no choice. Automatic behavior. It's neither selfish nor altruistic.

  • No choice?

  • Well of course, this guy's not going to think for half an hour,

  • "Should I give my hand? Not give my hand?"

  • He does it. There is a choice, but it's obvious, it's immediate.

  • And then, also, there he had a choice.

  • (Laughter)

  • There are people who had choice, like Pastor André Trocmé and his wife,

  • and the whole village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon in France.

  • For the whole Second World War, they saved 3,500 Jews,

  • gave them shelter, brought them to Switzerland,

  • against all odds, at the risk of their lives and those of their family.

  • So altruism does exist.

  • So what is altruism?

  • It is the wish: May others be happy and find the cause of happiness.

  • Now, empathy is the affective resonance or cognitive resonance that tells you,

  • this person is joyful, this person suffers.

  • But empathy alone is not sufficient.

  • If you keep on being confronted with suffering,

  • you might have empathic distress, burnout,

  • so you need the greater sphere of loving-kindness.

  • With Tania Singer at the Max Planck Institute of Leipzig,

  • we showed that the brain networks for empathy and loving-kindness are different.

  • Now, that's all well done,

  • so we got that from evolution, from maternal care, parental love,

  • but we need to extend that.

  • It can be extended even to other species.

  • Now, if we want a more altruistic society, we need two things:

  • individual change and societal change.

  • So is individual change possible?

  • Two thousand years of contemplative study said yes, it is.

  • Now, 15 years of collaboration with neuroscience and epigenetics

  • said yes, our brains change when you train in altruism.

  • So I spent 120 hours in an MRI machine.

  • This is the first time I went after two and a half hours.

  • And then the result has been published in many scientific papers.

  • It shows without ambiguity that there is structural change

  • and functional change in the brain when you train the altruistic love.

  • Just to give you an idea:

  • this is the meditator at rest on the left,

  • meditator in compassion meditation, you see all the activity,

  • and then the control group at rest, nothing happened,

  • in meditation, nothing happened.

  • They have not been trained.

  • So do you need 50,000 hours of meditation? No, you don't.

  • Four weeks, 20 minutes a day, of caring, mindfulness meditation

  • already brings a structural change in the brain compared to a control group.

  • That's only 20 minutes a day for four weeks.

  • Even with preschoolers -- Richard Davidson did that in Madison.

  • An eight-week program: gratitude, loving- kindness, cooperation, mindful breathing.

  • You would say, "Oh, they're just preschoolers."

  • Look after eight weeks,

  • the pro-social behavior, that's the blue line.

  • And then comes the ultimate scientific test, the stickers test.

  • Before, you determine for each child who is their best friend in the class,

  • their least favorite child, an unknown child, and the sick child,

  • and they have to give stickers away.

  • So before the intervention, they give most of it to their best friend.

  • Four, five years old, 20 minutes three times a week.

  • After the intervention, no more discrimination:

  • the same amount of stickers to their best friend and the least favorite child.

  • That's something we should do in all the schools in the world.

  • Now where do we go from there?

  • (Applause)

  • When the Dalai Lama heard that, he told Richard Davidson,

  • "You go to 10 schools, 100 schools, the U.N., the whole world."

  • So now where do we go from there?

  • Individual change is possible.

  • Now do we have to wait for an altruistic gene to be in the human race?

  • That will take 50,000 years, too much for the environment.

  • Fortunately, there is the evolution of culture.

  • Cultures, as specialists have shown, change faster than genes.

  • That's the good news.

  • Look, attitude towards war has dramatically changed over the years.

  • So now individual change and cultural change mutually fashion each other,

  • and yes, we can achieve a more altruistic society.

  • So where do we go from there?

  • Myself, I will go back to the East.

  • Now we treat 100,000 patients a year in our projects.

  • We have 25,000 kids in school, four percent overhead.

  • Some people say, "Well, your stuff works in practice,

  • but does it work in theory?"

  • There's always positive deviance.

  • So I will also go back to my hermitage

  • to find the inner resources to better serve others.

  • But on the more global level, what can we do?

  • We need three things.

  • Enhancing cooperation:

  • Cooperative learning in the school instead of competitive learning,

  • Unconditional cooperation within corporations --

  • there can be some competition between corporations, but not within.

  • We need sustainable harmony. I love this term.