Educating our Hearts and Minds to Bring More Compassion to the World
With our democracy quickly descending into fear and clashing ideologies, I’ve begun to hunt for long-term survival techniques. Instead of shouting matches, are there more effective ways to resolve our differences? Now would be a good time to focus on educating our hearts and minds by integrating compassion, creativity and respectful listening into our actions.
I intend to stay alert and question the alternative facts threatening to turn our world upside down over the next few years. I’m more than a little concerned about a newly-elected regime leading our country away from democratic ideals like freedom of expression and human compassion.
Starting inward and moving outwards to neighborhoods, schools, and communities, let’s begin the process of educating our hearts and minds to respond – by default – with creative compassion.
Educating our Hearts and Minds
I stumbled on a Peace Summit video from several years ago in Vancouver, BC. These essential nuggets of wisdom contain a powerful message that may be helpful for our world right now more than ever.
On this all-star panel were some visionary big hearts such as Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle and Desmond Tutu. Joining were other amazing thinkers, educators and authors such as Murray Gell-Mann (1969 Nobel prize winner), Dan Siegel (director of Mindsight Institute), Sir Ken Robinson (professor Emeritus Warwick school), and two Blue Men stars Matt Goldman and Chris Wick.
The task of the Peace Summit panel was to discuss ways for educating our hearts and minds by teaching more compassion and creativity to youth as a way to bring about a more peaceful future. I believe these concepts would also help the young at heart and those of us who could use a reminder.
To start the panel discussion, Murray Gell-Mann told a story by the late Kirk Varnedoe, an American Art historian, who said that in modern art you don’t play by the rules but instead you play with the rules. He goes on to compare art to theoretical science. In both you ponder a contradiction using a process of creativity and sometimes a simple slip of the tongue can solve the problem.
What’s really responsible for educating the heart is the deeper part of the mind. Gilman stated that our search for forgiveness and compassion often involves parts of the mind that are somewhat outside of human awareness.
Compassion and Creativity are Healthy for the Brain
Dan Siegel developed a concept called mindsight. He defines this as our human capacity for more empathy and insight into ourselves and others. It is the ability to develop the internal integration necessary to relate to all.
Siegel explained that having compassion and creativity together are healthy for the brain. Unfortunately our educational process has focused solely on reading, writing, and arithmetic. This has trained our brains narrowly for learning fixed skills.
Developing creativity, he explained, helps us to develop more novelty in our minds and move beyond a fixed way of thinking. He suggested that we start by making a practice of training our mind about reflection. In this way we would be able to liberate ourselves and become more resilient as a species.
The Dalai Lama noted that compassion and creativity are different but very much connected. While we have the potential for creativity because of the brain, the more challenges we experience the more active and creative our intellect becomes. Without contradictions, creativity will not develop.
He explained that realistic creativity tends to be more positive while an unrealistic method is more destructive. To open the mind, we need to know reality fully. Compassion is a warm heart that can open our mind. In this way our mental state will remain calm which will enable more peaceful solutions.
The Power of Creativity is Unique to Humans
Eckhart Tolle compared our creative essence to that moment of scoring a goal in a soccer game. Studies have shown that players who hesitate for a few moments tend to score more. He compared this moment of going within as the essence of creativity. It’s the redirecting of attention when you touch a different level of your being to tap the place where power resides.
At that moment when you touch that power, all conception of me goes away and an intentional self that is deeply alive takes over and stillness remains. A kind of universal power kicks in which can be channeled into a form of creativity.
Sir Ken Robinson, with a delightfully understated sense of humor, emphasized that the power of creativity is unique to human beings. “If you take a small child into the garden and point to the moon, he’ll look at the moon. If you take a dog into the garden and point to the moon he’ll look at your finger and wonder what your problem is exactly.”
In our current system of education we teach facts instead of fostering and mentoring creativity. Even though we have the power through imagination to propel ourselves into the future with this creativity, this process needs to be cultivated. He asserted the importance of reviving real education (which is rooted in the principles of industrialization) to help make our minds work.
“Creativity is one of a nexus of ideas which will deliver us a more humane education that we don’t just need but our children are yearning for,” said Robinson.
The Way Forward for a Harmonious and Sustainable World
Matt Goldman and his blue man brothers started a school called the Blue Men Creativity Center (or The Blue School).“Our job is now to translate creativity into the classroom and apply it to the education of the children…we feel creativity needs to be sewn into every single part of the education process.”
Goldman asserted that social and emotional learning and skills of compassion should be sewn into everything including literacy, math and science. Through this process of educating our hearts and minds, the school hopes to build a more harmonious and sustainable world.
Dalai Lama said as long as there is still a concept of we and they, there will be problems. In order for this century to become focused on peace, we must respect the rights and views of others. Of course, he said, there will be always be compromise but this is unavoidable.
As a final nugget of wisdom, the Dalai Lama suggested: “Before our final goodbye from this life, we must show something to the next generation.”
Author: Kathryn Thomsen
Founder of Hundredgivers, a social enterprise supporting sustainability initiatives benefiting local and global communities. When not dreaming of urban farming, Kathryn wears multiple hats: entrepreneur, consultant, project manager, researcher, analyst and writer. She has collaborated with individuals and organizations to evaluate, develop and improve energy conservation and behavior change programs, sustainability initiatives, carbon mitigation and climate change risk strategies.
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