Mindfulness or abdication of mind?

Leon Wieseltier’s critique of Google’s “emotional intelligence” curriculum (“The Tao Jones Index,” The New Republic, May 24) is worth reading and rereading. In a few words he nails what’s wrong with the concept of workplace “mindfulness” (as put forth by the Google engineer Chade-Meng Tan) and points to larger problems as well:

“Pay[ing] attention moment-to-moment” is a renunciation of the critical temper. The pure present is for infants and mystics. The serenity that Meng teaches is a go-along, get-along quietism, an organizational submissiveness—a technique designed to strip the individual of any internal obstacle to the ungrumbling execution of his tasks. … Meng and his authorities—“happiness strategists,” “leadership scholars”–insist upon the “non-judgmental” character of the mindful ideal. This is one of the great American mistakes. Instead of teaching people how to judge, we teach them not to judge—but there is no circumstance or context in which the absence of judgment is not a judgment, specifically one of accommodation and acquiescence.”

In other words, mindfulness of this sort amounts to abdication of mind. Read the whole piece.

I see this play out in school curricula and policy: “Instead of teaching people how to judge, we teach them not to judge.” We give judging a bad name, equating it with knee-jerk reaction. At its best, judgment is anything but knee-jerk. In fact, if we do not know how to exercise judgment well, we are all the more susceptible to impulsive reactions, both our own and other people’s.

I have attended PDs where everyone was supposed to create quick “art,” put it up on the wall, and then take a “gallery walk” around the room, writing “nonjudgmental, observational” comments on Post-its and placing them upon the rushed piece in question. Nonjudgment of this sort should have its own circle or pouch in the Inferno. My guess is that Dante would have included it in Malebolge, the Eighth Circle, which has ten pouches for ordinary fraud.

Update: A number of commenters below seem to have taken Wieseltier’s article (and  my post) as an attack on mindfulness itself. As I see it, Wieseltier is criticizing a particular sort of workplace spiritual doctrine and its attendant jargon.