Getting to the Heart of It: A Primer on Doing Right and Good

May 27, 2017

“It’s the hunger to write a new story that drives them to overcome their limited circumstances,” writes Carmine Gallo in his book, “The Storyteller’s Secret.” As I read this sentence—about how individuals change for the better and achieve greatness in their lives—I realized it had broader implications: It’s the hunger to write a new story that drives us to overcome our limiting circumstances.

“The Storyteller’s Secret” is about people who are making the world a better place through meaningful work and inspiring speeches. These folks have one thing in common: They lead with, come from, and give of their heart. And so do you, when you do. And so do we, when we do.

Meaningful positive change takes root only in the heart. Harmful change is driven by something outside the heart. If you closely examine significant pivot points in your life—when things went from bad to good or good to great—you will find that the shift started in your heart. When closely studied, it is apparent the same thing applies for us as a community, be it a small town, state, country, or world. Simply, positive change starts in hearts.

American independence was not born of the brain. It was hatched from a deep-rooted desire for life free of royal encumbrance. Slavery ultimately was not abolished for economic reasons. It was because we knew in our heart that it was not right to condemn and control others based on skin color; and we now know the same of other injustices such as those wrought by religious or ethnic differences. Women did not earn the right to vote through a series of academic papers that swayed public opinion. It was because a small—then a large—group of people illustrated that fairness emanates from the heart. And laws against abusive child labor practices were put into place and continue to be enforced because we ache when innocent kids are mistreated. These and so many other positive changes illustrate that we instinctively know what is right.

The categorical imperative, an idea posited by 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant, essentially states that “right” really does not need to be defined. Knowing what is “right” is as much a natural part of us as breathing. This knowing of right comes from our heart, not our head. It is a common and shared understanding that we humans have, and cannot ignore. It can only be shrouded by ego, greed, excluding ideologies, or hate.

Right lives in a narrow center of the spectrum of choices we make, but should always be where we turn to make good decisions. Outside of this narrow band, unconsciousness, fear, dogma, or apathy form culturally and individually harmful pulls. Decisions made outside this center lead to troubling acts. We know this because these actions often require us to irrationally justify or apologize for unjust behavior, individually or as a society. Think the “reservationing” of Native Americans, polluting of Erie Canal, and drugging and incarcerating of mentally ill.

When we examine true right—and its offspring of healthy and helpful actions—we intuitively know it is from the heart. It is our responsibility—and a perpetually beautiful opportunity—to listen to and heed this imperative. It is an obligation to not give attention to deceptive inner voices or those who seek to grow discord by manufacturing things outside the band of right, things powered by ego, greed, or capitalizing on fear.

The merchants of the economics of fear want us to follow them without us listening to our hearts. Let’s not do this anymore. Let’s listen to our hearts in order to end this practice, this administration of angst and anguish. Let’s honor our instinct and disallow a body politic bent on promoting and exploiting fear. History bears out the weakness of these approaches, as evidenced by the end of slavery and abusive child labor practices, and our growing recognition of the right to freedom for all. Over time, those who have bought from the merchants of fear see how much better it is to return their purchases, as these “goods” ultimately limit growth and happiness.

Let’s have trust and kindness and generosity and compassion guide and help us all. Let’s overcome limiting circumstances. Let’s lead with, come from, and give of our hearts. Let’s write a new story.

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