Bonjour! Exponential Happiness in France

May 15, 2017

Last couple days, I participated in a TED-style event in France -- L'echappee Volee. In a gorgeous setting in Chantily, the event brought together entrepreneurs, innovators and investors for an idea-filled, 3-day event. This year's theme was Exponential Happiness. Most of it was in French, but there were various English speakers as well. It turned out that Emmanuel Macron was also invited, but he texted saying he was a bit busy, considering that he had to deliver the President's inaugural address. :)

The speakers had a very Singularity-esque flavor of technology solutions for society's progress. One speaker spoke about curing humanity of "disease of aging", another gave a live demonstration of "AI replica" to communicate with someone as if they hadn't passed away, another spoke on hacking someone's memory to make them forget past experiences, another on colonizing Mars. Most of them had companies dedicated to the cause. Although all their narratives invariably led with a humanitarian intent, I couldn't help but ponder the alarming ethical dilemmas. Instead of contemplating theories of change, though, I suspected that most of these entrepreneurs enjoyed solving problems. Still, I dreamed about a future dialogue on: "Yes, we can. But should we?" :)

I was the closing speaker of the conference. In the Kurzweil-Fukuoka spectrum, ServiceSpace is working on the Fukuoka end of things while this audience anchored itself on the other end.  And that offered a fantastic opportunity to skillfully build bridges. The essence of my remarks focused on how we can use generosity to reconnect, at the personal, inter-personal and trans-personal level. It was quite illuminating for many who hardly had any exposure to non-market innovations that can uplift humanity.

Skillfulness also keyed various 1-on-1 interactions, where I frequently used questions to evoke deeper nuance without necessarily imposing a world view. A very-sweet young man who is mobilizing 30 thousand volunteers in France came up and said, "I've never been able to explain what I'm doing. Today, for the first time, I get it." As we probed deeper, I asked him if scale can be thought of as an externality and not a destination. With another young entrepreneur (who has built a really cool app that does live transcriptions of audio on your mobile so deaf people can be part of conversations) I posed the question of "big data" versus "deep data" (data that is deeply contextual, and hence perhaps partly subjective and unmeasurable) -- which he hadn't considered before. At lunch, I sat with a gentleman who is the founder of a 30-year-old company (publicly traded company on Nasdaq) that does "gene editing". Back of his sweat shirt read: "Editing Life". He introduced me to his wife and raved about the talk as the "best I've heard". Given our philosophical differences, I was a bit surprised and asked him what resonated with him and he pointed to themes of simple living and abundant giving, which he also tries to practice. "Less stuff, more happiness." Building on that, we then pondered renouncing mental accumulations like our ideas and beliefs.  It opened up a beautiful conversation.

Generosity generates tons of heart warming ripples too. One woman came up to me, with her husband, and said, "My husband is a giver. But I'm more of a matcher. Today, I've decided that I want to start becoming a giver." I suggested that they may like to do a 21-day kindness challenge and share stories at dinner everyday. They got so excited about it that they are even going to email me the story everyday! So sweet. The organizers also gave all attendees a Smile Card, so I'm sure the ripples will continue on.

Underneath all this, as always, there were ample waves of serendipity. Like, after dinner one night, I was attempting to beeline straight to my room but ran into one of the performers, Valencia, near the exit.  We said our hellos. Amidst live background music and hundreds of people talking to each other, our conversation unexpectedly turned deep. At one point, she opened up about this sacred experience she had in her teens: "I was dancing, and all of a sudden I lost myself. I felt like all my movements were led by a gentle wind as I swayed with a tender lightness. I've never experienced that since then, but I can't forget that, because in a very real way, I felt like I was being guided by my roots." You can imagine where our conversation went after that. Forty minutes later, we said goodbye and she added, "You know I had a cab waiting outside. I was just heading out as we met. But some things are meant to be." Indeed. To top of it, she happens to be moving next month and will be my neighbor. What are the odds!

Then again, what are the odds that I would've gone to this conference. It happened because many moons ago, two college-going kids attended the Awakin Circle; they were studying "collective intelligence" and we had a short, agenda-less chat. One of those young women was now the curator for this conference, and she remembered that evening.  Eight months ago, when she invited me and referenced our Awakin Circle hug, I knew I didn't have to think twice. :) 

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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."