Becoming the Village: the Tipping Point

By Melody Schalm

I had the great privilege this week of attending both the Heart-Mind Youth Dialogue at John Oliver secondary school, in which the Dalai Lama spoke with students about their personal experiences with heart-mind learning, and later the same day, the Heart-Mind Summit with community and thought leaders at the Vancouver Convention Centre. 

In each event, the panels explored what each of us can do to ‘educate the hearts’ of children and youth.

The day opener appearance by spoken word artist Shane Koyczan was a powerful ‘wow’ moment for me.  Although he was there to perform his beautiful poem “Instructions for a Bad Day,” it actually wasn’t the performance itself that moved me so.  It was Shane himself.  He stood on stage as your best friend might stand in front of you:  openly vulnerable, sharing how, when initially asked to work on this poetry project to help a grieving BC community, he only thought: “What could I have to offer?” His heart-to-heart connection with each of us in that school gymnasium was a powerful heart-education moment for me, a potent reminder that each of us has something beautiful within to contribute.  

And then there was the Dalai Lama himself.  He kicked-off our afternoon event with his characteristic knack for explaining things with child-like simplicity: There are 7 billion people on this planet, no one wants problems, and yet there are problems.

Yep, that about sums up the issues, I thought.  To the Dalai Lama, the only real solution to this state of affairs – our individual and collective conflict and strife – is educating hearts and minds.  We are biologically wired for compassion, and research clearly shows that compassion and the related positive human qualities necessary to create happiness and a better world can be fostered and taught. Heart-mind education of children and youth is therefore the chief tool available to us to effect widescale and long-term change.  

Other take-home gems from the Dalai Lama’s wisdom included his reminder to emphasize our common humanity over outward differences.  When we forget this we create a ‘we and they’ world, the source of much of the conflict and sorrow in our playgrounds, workplaces, communities and countries.

The biggest takeaway of the day for me was the palpable feeling that we are at the tipping point in our movement to spread heart-mind learning and create a more compassionate world.  By and large, we no longer need to convince the ‘powers that be’ that heart-mind learning is beneficial and necessary.   The evidence is clear, the evidence has been presented and taken, and blessedly we’re now moving forward into action.  

35,000 youth participated in Tuesday morning’s dialogue through live-streaming to schools across the province and beyond.  That’s a lot of potential changemakers.  Each was asked to take a personal challenge to promote heart-mind well-being throughout their school. If even a quarter of those kids take up that challenge, that’s a whole lot of compassionate action and change.

So, does this mean we’re there, we’ve reached our destination? Of course not.  Are we anywhere near where we need to be? Well, no.  I still hear things coming out of parents’ mouths across my kids’ soccer pitches that make my stomach tense and my heart hurt. Although most schools now recognize the need for social and emotional learning (SEL), recognition and implementation are two different things.  Educators do their best, but with competing priorities and demands on their time, SEL is often the first to go. Kids still form cliques and ostracize others on the playground, and adults and nations continue to demonize and war with each other as we speak. 

So yes, we have a long way to go.  But we’ve come a very long way, and we need to celebrate that.     

During a moment’s lull near the end of our day, I was contemplating what my own personal challenge to promote heart-mind well-being should be. As I pondered this, the Saint James Musical Academy kids choir re-emerged on stage, singing “For Good.” As their pristine voices rang through the hall with “I do believe I have been changed for the better because I knew you… Because I knew you I have been changed for good,” I couldn’t help but think:  Well, maybe it’s that simple.  

We often think that complex problems need complex solutions, but I don’t think that’s always the case.  If we all made and lived the pledge to be that person – the one who affects others for the good – many of our supposedly complex problems would dissolve.  In fact, I think I’ll pen that pledge now.  

It was an inspiring day, and I thank Shane Koyczan, the Saint James Musical Academy, the Dalai Lama and all others who contributed to the day’s events for helping me to grow in this way.   

Melody Schalm is the principal of Kind Kids . She teaches kindness, mindfulness and related social & emotional learning to kids in school and after-school programs in greater Vancouver.  She is the parent of three elementary school-aged kids, who teach her as much about  being mindful and living life to the full as she teaches them.   


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