To me, a life lived with love means that if you bring love and operate from your heart versus operating from your head there is a profound difference in the world you experience and create.
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
My son Russell asked me a question: ‘Are you sorry that you didn’t put all of your energy into public policy change and working on a larger stage instead of confining your efforts to working at the bottom end of society.’
I think it’s a very good question and a core issue in the development field. How can we expect to effect change for those consigned to the outer edges of a society unless the top end is willing to give over some of its power and control and to share its boundless resources? I think the answer may lie in the gap between the two groups. It is very rare that someone from the bottom end can rise to a position of power. Certainly that possibility, which was the core of the American dream, is now generally acknowledged as untenable. It’s been really interesting over the last few years to see the election game being played out between Clinton, political aristocracy in the making, Trump with inherited wealth and economic power purporting to be a man of the people and Sanders the outsider socialist Jew who is acting as the conscience of America and its possible future as a more ethical place to live and die in.
One of the few ways today that someone can come from nothing arise in the worlds of music, cinema, sport and fashion and that is why so many young people are desperately trying to make it in these fields rather than in the arena of politics. I am convinced, however, that as our world of new energy and technology arises to replace the dying world of oil and fossil fuel power, that the opportunities for the young people of Africa to showcase their potential for innovation and creativity will expand exponentially.
I believe that real change does indeed come from the ground up. It is part of the law of nature. Growth happens on this planet through nurturing life in the soil and the water beneath our feet, not in the echelons of power that are fickle and uncertain. The US elections of 2016 and 2020 and the other elections happening all over the world are moving I think very slowly towards real transparency and accountability. A greater percentage of independent representatives are beginning to be elected and the stranglehold of power and control by the traditional parties are on the wane. Moreover, the cry is coming from the people for leadership. More and more people are becoming aware of the world they live in as controlled not by superpowers but by the super elites (a.k.a the feral rich) and people on the ground are finding ways to use the new technology towards demanding good and accountable and ethical leadership. As Steve Jobs said: ‘Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful, that’s what matters to me.’ And ‘We don’t get a chance to do that many things, and every one should be really excellent. Life is brief, and then you die, you know? And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.’
I am still in communication with Shingirirai Trust women. I still ask for reports on what is happening and am still sending money from time to time for specific purposes. I still value the work we have accomplished together. It is what it is; flawed by lack of attention to details and follow through; by continuing and increasing levels of stress in a dying economy; by demands on individual people that you or I would not countenance. It continues because the light that was lit in 2003 by women coming together to decide to do something still has its own powerful force. It is not a force that is fueled by lots of money or power or position but by love and dreams and hope. Those are the most powerful forces on this planet. They are in every community just waiting to be discovered and uncovered. There are people out there in every community who are unknown visionaries who when allowed to connect together can be powerful forces for change.
All of us who work in the field of development look back at our accomplishments with a mixture of satisfaction and regret at opportunities missed. I think that we made a great start in the ECD curriculum with the training we gave on children’s development designed by Diane Smart and the work we did in The Inner Child but that we didn’t always ally the children’s curriculum with the training for the adults. In trying to work out where we went wrong I came across a book called Destructive Emotions by Daniel Goleman serendipitously.
This book chronicles the meeting between the finest western minds in psychology, philosophy etc. with the foremost thinkers in the Buddhist world such as the Dalai Lama and Matthieu Richard. This took place in Dharmsala in March 2000 as part of a series of meetings between west and east promoted by the Mind Light Institute. This series of dialogues over a period of seven years were carried out with the aim of bringing the best of both traditions of thought together in the spirit of growing interconnection. In this book, Destructive Emotions, there is a chapter called ‘Schooling for the Good Heart’ that encapsulates the concept of Loving Kindness and brings out the main differences between western and eastern thought about how we deal with each other. The concept of lovingkindness is integral to the Tibetan Buddhist worldview with its focus on the other.
In the West we have the Christian concept of loving your neighbor as yourself that has been practically obliterated in the past four decades of rising materialism and celebrityism. As the tide of consciousness begins to swing the other way we are now witnessing the beginnings of new approaches to how we raise our young and what values we deem to be the most valuable for them. We are beginning to realize that academic excellence is not the Holy Grail for our children. More importantly is our need to focus their attention on understanding the importance of emotional intelligence to support them in the challenges of life. As we face the critical challenges of the 21st century, the non-sustainable aspects of rising populations; the last gaspings of the cold war being played out in the middle east that have given rise to unprecedented numbers of refugees; and the beginnings of possible water wars exacerbated by climate change. These and many other reflections of being human in an ever- changing world and expanding universe are allowing us to appreciate that what happens in one part of our world directly or indirectly affects each one of us. We are still a long way from universal consciousness but that is coming too. We are beginning to see more with our hearts and to recognize that the heartmind is the next level of thinking and being.
Part of the discussion in the chapter ‘Schooling for the Good Heart’ deals with the presentation by Dr. Mark Greenberg of Pennsylvania State University of PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) a curriculum initially developed to help deaf children learn how to deal with their emotions. This approach has now developed into a full social and emotional learning curriculum that is being used in many schools in the US and worldwide. I would like to see a curriculum for all children that is modeled on the PATHS program. This curriculum is mainly focused on education for kindness and compassion, wherein self-esteem is based on appreciation for altruistic acts towards others, rather than children being praised for their appearance or their own accomplishments. We need to praise children so that they can learn through their own mistakes- “you’re so smart that you’ll be able to correct this’ as the Dalai Lama put it in the Mind Light meeting in 2000.
Each day in the PATHS program a different child is picked to be the teacher’s helper, stands in front of the room and shows the pictures etc. Two of the underlying concepts in the PATHS approach are ‘praise makes the child happy and enthusiastic” and the importance of the teacher smiling to make the children learn easier- if children suffer afflictive emotions they can’t learn well.
‘Destructive emotions get in the way of our ability to perceive reality’ and for the Dalai Lama the importance of acquiring knowledge ‘is to reduce the gap between distortions in our perceptions and reality. It is ignorance and our inability to perceive reality as it is that get in the way of us fulfilling our aspirations.’
Teacher training curricula do not contain training in the social and emotional development of children- this gap is now being expressed in more frequent violent attacks on teachers and kids in schools in the US and Europe
On another front early childhood development experts across the word agree that since the breakthrough work of Bruce Lipton on epigenetics we understand that no child is programmed for violence. We literally have the ability to change the world we live in by addressing our core belief systems. This logic can be applied to our deeply held beliefs that human beings are wired for violence, which the science of epigenetics refutes completely. Human behavior is much more a product of our environment and conditioning than it is dictated by genes. This understanding points directly to child-rearing practices, and the ways that it affects the developing brain.
Harsh, punitive, and cold environments along with chronic stress cause the brain to release a neurotoxin known as cortisol. Cortisol literally destroys brain cells in the area of the brain connected to emotional regulation and impulse control causing the prefrontal lobes to atrophy. Whereas, loving supportive connection in a safe environment causes the brain to secrete oxytocin, which develops these centers and cultivates the capacity for empathy, which is the neurological foundation for peace. The conclusion is that Violence is a Preventable Brain Disorder.
In a recent Uplift blog post titled, How to Stop the 6th Mass Extinction Bruce Lipton talks about the great change in his life when he started living from the heart and not limiting himself to the scientific mind. He talks about the possibility of spontaneous evolution or punctuated equilibrium with sudden dramatic upheavals as charted in the work of Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldridge and exemplified in this era in the fall of the Berlin Wall. He says, ‘the realization (is)that we can change the whole story right now. We don’t need to try to fight the old story. We simply need to walk outside the old story and build a new story. People will leave the old story when they see a new story working. Every individual who changes their own story, is changing the vibrational environment within which we live. We can have the spontaneous remission of the planet’s ills and we can change the environment by just changing who we are.’
Clearly, we are living in a potent time where science and spirituality give us the tools to change our ways of creating and interacting with the world around us. In an enlightening TED talk from Robin Grille he says that he sees his work as unlocking the peace code in the brain and moving towards a world of peace. In his presentation Robin Grille also explores the fascinating historical and cultural roots of our story of violence along with a 7-step plan to re-write the code and create a peaceful planet where we are less violent to each other and towards our environment. Grille says that there are 10 empathy centers in our brain and that these grow when properly stimulated. However, in situations of extreme stress, trauma etc. these synaptical connections do not happen. Furthermore, children who are abused etc. have ‘large areas of the cortex or prefrontal lobes atrophied or missing’. Chronic violence is a direct result of damage from childhood and ‘violence is a preventable brain disorder.’ Loving interaction between parent and child cause the secretion of oxytocin, the love hormone that also acts as fertilizer for the developing brain of the child. The love and affection of the parent literally helps the empathy centers in the child’s brain to grow.
He proposes seven steps to a more peaceful world:
- Generous parental leave as exemplified in Scandinavia
- Increased support for early initiatives and especially attachment oriented support for parents
- Maternity hospitals to increase emphasis on psychological support for new parents including an increase in focus on natural births etc.
- Support for full term breastfeeding – more production of oxytocin enlarges empathy centers of the brain
- Prohibit all corporal punishment and enforcement of article 19 of UN Convention of The Rights of The Child
- Prohibit all advertisements to children
- Increase use of ‘emergent educational models’- children learning through the pursuit of their passions