The Dalai Lama Supports a Unique Opportunity

A Case for the Center for Ethics

At the end of this month, a host of influential people will be coming to MIT to speak at the opening of the Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT. The opening event will be headlined by the Dalai Lama and influential composer Philip Glass. The speakers cover a wide range of disciplines, including ethics, political science, environmental policy, psychology, neuroscience, economics, music, theater, religion, and spirituality. The educational focus of the Center for Ethics is to be similarly multidisciplinary.

I’d like to explain why the opening of the Center is critically important for MIT, and why the support of both MIT and the Dalai Lama is vital for MIT to derive the most benefit from the Center’s existence.

As our world becomes increasingly interconnected, future leaders need access to more than just the skills necessary for technical and managerial leadership. Awareness of the larger global landscape and of the far-reaching impact of every decision will provide leaders with the resourcefulness, the wisdom, and the social responsibility to build stable, sustainable enterprises. As a top-tier university, it is in MIT’s interests to provide its students with access to such awareness.

The Center for Ethics is intended to promote this global, multi-disciplinary perspective. As a technology-focused school, MIT trains students primarily for technical leadership, to create innovations that make the world a better place. However, truly great technical leaders guide their organizations to sustainable success by also being aware of how their innovations impact other aspects of life around the world, and to balance technology-centered improvement against any potential costs to culture, economy, and environment.

This is not meant to discourage innovation or progress, but to initiate dialogue and to provide awareness of the complex interactions between disciplines. The hope is to enable people to choose principles for themselves that allow them to select the best innovations to pursue in a balanced manner. Ideally, this balance will enable individual leaders to not only succeed in the short-term, but also to assist each other in building a more sustainable world, socially and environmentally. MIT’s support for the Center for Ethics is a critical step in supporting such awareness, both for the sake of its students and for the sake of the world.

Having the support and the name of both MIT and the Dalai Lama is another key component of promoting this awareness. Nobody doubts that MIT excels at science, technology, and all things intellectual, and can thus bring the finest technical minds together to improve the state of the world. What the Center for Ethics adds to this is the clout to add highly-regarded experts in non-technical fields to the discussion. Having the Dalai Lama’s support and name allows the Center, and thus MIT, to engage with a larger selection of highly-regarded policymakers, spiritual leaders, and influential thinkers. Likewise, having the direct support of three Nobel Peace Prize winners — the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Betty Williams — brings further credibility and makes it clear that the theme of this effort is to encourage sustainability and coexistence. This confluence of minds will provide students with opportunities to join in dialogue with leaders and thinkers from all fields.

As MIT continues with its mission to train the greatest leaders of the future, it behooves us to bring awareness of global impacts in all dimensions, whether social, spiritual, or environmental, into the educational program. MIT’s inception and continuing support of the Center for Ethics is a very encouraging step in this direction.

Kai-yuh Hsiao is a member of the Class of 1999 and received his PhD in Media Arts and Sciences in 2007.