It's not an email you expect to get at 7 p.m. on a Thursday night on vacation in a small Australian coastal town. "Danielle we have made some time available for you to meet His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, tomorrow. Be at the convention center at 10 a.m."
I must have stared at that email for 20 minutes before I snapped back to reality. A meeting with The Dalai Lama, a spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. #awesome
Like millions of others around the world I follow the Dalai Lama and respect his endless work of spreading the message of a compassionate life. It's a message that's resonated from Buddhists to businesspeople around the globe. A charming and dedicated world leader, he advocates a simple purpose for us all -- to be happy humans.
Beyond that, though, and a big reason why I had for a number of years wanted to talk with the Dalai Lama, is that he's a super digitally connected octogenarian. At age 80, His Holiness boasts more than 24 million followers on social media -- #impressive -- and so I wanted to find out how and why he has so successfully embraced today's digital universe.
I spend my days teaching, writing, and talking about how we integrate technology with communications and behaviors. I am pro-technology, yet pro-human. In other words, I believe that if we want to connect with each other successfully online then we need to first understand the human on the other side of the screen.
Obviously His Holiness has this topic pinned. He is not only connected in terms of understanding the essence of the human spirit, he's digitally connected and wired big time into the online highway.
That may seem like a contradiction coming for the 14th among a centuries-old dynasty of spiritual leaders. But, as His Holiness later explained to me, technology allows him to widely share his teachings. Hopefully, he told me, the ease of consuming that message doesn't lessen its value.
The next morning -- after a 5-hour drive back to the city and a mad scramble to find something other than a bathing suit or beach cover-up to wear -- #beachvacationpretendingtowritemybook -- I was holding hands with this incredible man (#itshappening) and talking about the positive and the negative effects that technology has had on the way we build relationships and communities. And, most of all, we talked about how we can continue to be human and connect with each other when so often we are alone with only our digital screens.
I asked His Holiness how we can achieve this human connection amid digital isolation. He looked me very carefully in the eyes, paused, nodded, and then said:
This is a human problem, not a digital issue, so it must be solved with a human answer.
I wanted to come back with something very clever, smart, and insightful. But I had nothing; I just smiled, trying to cover up that I had nothing. I thought over so many conversations that I have had with incredible innovators all over the world about this same issue. Their answers have always been the same on how their platform, device, or tech invention "fixes" this problem when in fact it doesn't. If we want a more personal and connected experience online then we needed to be more personal and connected, a more human involvement, not just more features. The solution is not one dimensional. His Holiness had nailed it.
Technology can strip us of the connections and compassion that are so essential to our human beings. So many unhappy people try to find their happiness online, but end up only adding an extra screen. With every post, every tweet, every digital interaction, we are building a community. So I reflected that to make that community work, we must be a little bit more conscious of what we take into the community online and what our expectations of getting from it.
This is an important issue that affects us all, he told me. Therefore, we all need to be involved in the solution, to be more active and speak up about how we want our world and our societies to interact physically as well as digitally. Instead, we're going about it backwards, he said. We must stop looking at the whole world and complaining about the lack of compassion online.
The solution, he carefully explained, requires a grassroots human approach. We all must be a part of the change. Each individual must look after his or her own self -- own person, in the Dalai Lama's words -- do what's necessary to be happy and whole, and then, help the person next to them (whether friend, partner, parent, child, or someone else) to build his or her happiness and wholeness. Next, those two people go to their families and help each to be happy and whole, then that family goes into their community... and so it grows.
In this way, the Dalai Lama said, we can rebuild our human villages that are so important to a successful connected digital future. Though the landscape has changed -- in the virtual space our tribe may not be physically seated around us -- but each of us still can have what's required to be the best versions of ourselves. If we start with our own happiness, then we can be just as connected through a keyboard as at a campfire. (#sotweetable)
I thought about how often we complain about people who use social media to create a perceived better version of themselves. Maybe if Shakespeare had been around in the Internet age, his great line from As You Like It would have been revised to:
How bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's Facebook post.
The Dalai Lama's ageless advice -- as was Shakespeare's -- is brilliantly simple in today's complex digital age: Be real to yourself to create a real environment online. Read: Be human.
But the trick is that we each have to be involved. It's a people movement, not a tech upgrade.
His Holiness definitely has the inside track. He's connected to the human spirit and we can all be connected to him -- either through silent meditation or (my preference) through a tweet.
Be whole, be happy. #behuman