The World Bank and Thich Nhat Hanh say ‘Omm … ‘

September 23, 2013
Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (Photo: Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images)
Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images)

We’re hearing World Bank President Jim Yong Kim is shaking things up big time at the World Bank, axing some longtime senior staff and pushing a thorough overhaul  of how the 69-year-old bank operates.

Word is he’s even trying to change the internal evaluation system on bank development projects. Seems the old system mirrored the report cards of those Lake Wobegon students who are all deemed better than average.

And he’s had a “Failure Fest,” where employees gathered in the huge headquarters atrium  to  focus on projects that didn’t turn out very well — or maybe not at all.

All this, needless to say, has caused much stress, angst and confusion among employees about what’s going on and about their own futures.(It’s much easier to toss senior people than the grossly overpaid mid-level staff, we were told. Still, when long-time, vice presidential-level people are hit, everyone starts to worry.)

So it was welcome news when the staff got a recent internal e-mail declaring Sept. 10 to be a  “Day of Mindfulness Meditation.” It was a full-day program in the huge headquarters atrium  to be led by Thich Nhat Hanh, “an internationally acclaimed Zen Buddhist monk, teacher  and peace activist.”

It’s part of a bank effort to help staff “manage and balance the stresses of daily life,” the e-mail said. Not a bad idea these days.

Hanh, a famous 87-year-old Vietnamese Zen master and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, has been invited to address members of Congress, Google, the House of Lords, the Parliament of India and other folks, the invite said.

An updated e-mail said “space capacity was filled very quickly,” and that “managers are encouraged to allow registered staff to attend for the entire day” to listen to Hanh, who brought along about 20 other brown-robed monks, with shaved heads, talk about “mindfulness practices” and “being mindful.”

We’re told about three hundred staff attended. “It was all very Zen,” one source observed.

There was also a “walking meditation,” from headquarters down 19th Street NW to Constitution Gardens Pond a few blocks away.  (Never done this, but we’re told you can keep your eyes partially open and you walk very slowly.)

Apparently a police escort hadn’t arrived when the walk started, making for some disturbing, tension-producing honking from drivers as they walked. (The police escort on the way back allowed for a more peaceful stroll.)

Probably best if folks can chill out amid the changes.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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Emily Heil · September 23, 2013