Bringing Human Passion into Sustainability Education and Bridging Cultures

Human passion, it can be argued, is the source of all human life and progress. It can also be argued that human passion, when misguided, misunderstood and developed along unhealthy, aggressively competitive paths or solely for material greed is the source of much of the suffering, conflict, cruelty, pain and destruction that humans cause one another. In reality, the creative and destructive sides of human passion are deeply integral to what it means to be human, but as an educator I increasingly wonder how can we differentiate between the two sides? How can we learn or, more poignantly, relearn to overcome our own deeply felt and historically reinforced fears of difference and change? How to develop the human passion of the newly discovered brain centres of empathy, care and loving communication1 -- the areas of emotional and social intelligences2 that most productively bridge difference and different cultures -- in learning how to best achieve sustainable living on this planet? In doing so, we could potentially create the type of education for sustainability that would reinforce how to passionately care for ourselves, each other and our planet, in order to ultimately save humanity itself.

Interestingly, the answer to these complex questions already exists in the human child and appears to exist innately in the structure of the human brain. We are beginning to better understand human brain development and how the human child learns. Neuroscience now points to new and necessary education of more than just rational/cognitive and empirical facts disassociated from deeper motivating and emotional values. Increasingly more critical to human and planet sustainability is how the human brain learns emotional intelligence, which constructs3 to override the less evolved, older areas of the human brain based in the fear/survival brainstem. We must foster an education that integrates the rational brain with the universal values of the human heart best understood by these emotional brain centres.

Understanding this process goes to the very heart of how the human animal was created and its development as a social animal that is dependent on others to both live and thrive. For all our dominance, humans are, ironically, born the most helpless animal in the world. We lack instinct and the ability to care for ourselves and are largely dependent on those around us for survival. However, what we lack in independence and animal prowess we make up for with something far more incredible —a brain designed for learning and thus innovation, set up with the highest motivation to connect with those around us on whom we depend for our very survival, be it our parents, tribal elders, teachers, mentors or other protectors.

Apparently, this was done by emotion-reinforced neuron connections that deeply strengthened survival ties to other human beings, thus fostering reproduction and longevity. As the human species thrived, it expanded across the whole planet and humans began to interact with each other in ways that increased the competition for resources and often engendered inequity, conflict and cruelty in our demand for one way above others. Resources were stolen, hoarded and concentrated many times for the few unfairly privileged while developing complex rationalizing philosophies of difference and superiority to justify this innately-resisted human unfairness.4

The problem was not actually in the difference of one group from another. The problem was in the fear exaggerated and developed about difference in general. In times far in that evolutionary human past, when far fewer humans roamed this planet and more rarely ran into one another, one's own tribe was known and understood, providing a very literal sense of social security. A different tribe was unknown, not necessarily understood, and it represented a potential threat. Thousands of years later after growing, spreading out and innovating technology and sciences to maintain tribal security, the world has changed. Today the globe has become increasingly interdependent with interconnected problems that threaten the security of the entire planet. In this world, as in any complex ecosystem, diversity may turn out to be our saving stabilizer, forcing us to reclaim the moral and socially encoded basis of fairness that spans that very diversity.

Science and technology are two of the greatest products of human passion and rationality. They not only allowed humanity to spread across the globe and prosper, but have offered unparalleled insights into our very nature and the world around us, though at a price. In codifying, reducing and quantifying nature in a way that so dominantly reinforces only the rational-computing areas of the mind, we ignored and even damaged5 the areas of passion and emotional understanding that defined our values and internal moral compasses. These were values developed across different cultures of shared ecological and socially based systems that our human brains reinforced as care, service and ties to one another and supported with strong group cohesion, thus engendering positive emotion. Denigrated as a form of lower intelligence or even as a valid part of the educated mind at all, these "emotional, social and natural intelligences"6, nonetheless, have remained critical to all successful child rearing and are thus the best outcomes of healthy societies. Interestingly, in most places of the world, this work was relegated to females, mothers and caregivers to teach individually, and to spiritual and religious leaders, to teach societywide.

Social and emotional education delivered to individuals at the youngest ages where it is most critical became primarily a female responsibility in its teaching role and purpose, undervalued by the more technologically and scientifically oriented thinkers of a predominantly male society. Emotionality and passion itself became gendered and denigrated as a feminine, childish and even inferior trait, especially in its overt and loud demonstration, while rationality was canonized as the new stoic, impersonal religion of the mind. Disconnected now in many ways from spirituality and other moral/ethical human values of natural being and living, increasingly technologized societies became separated from nature and increasingly from each other, while nonetheless claiming greater impersonal connectivity. Emotionality became even further reduced by this logic to just simple irrationality, and along with it the loss of the critical distinction between rational and healthy emotion, and irrational and unhealthy emotion.

In the world we have created, human passion, long the source of real life and most human art and creation, even of invention, was increasingly reduced to unseemly displays of emotion. These were best reserved for individual arenas of personal preference or increasingly mass-marketed personal entertainment for trivialized distraction in the developed industrialized parts of the world.7 In more underdeveloped and communal-based but socially inequitable areas of the world, this emotionality and irrationality often became more unseemly, with unlawful displays of conflict, riots and ultimately terrorism.

Reduced and unsupported by healthy education and tutoring, human passion often became twisted into psychological and individual disease, communicated too often in the lowest forms of developed human communication—aggressiveness, violence and bullying—within cultures, between cultures, and as part of that modern culture's subverted, repressed and marketized emotion. Pornography and addictions, both of obscene consumerism as well as deepest personal human interconnection, rapidly expanded over this new medium to keep this emotional-social human need satisfied in a vacuous, unhealthy and increasingly socially costly way.

What force replaced the interpersonal female mother/teacher role and the roles of the priests, imams and shamans? Impersonal electronic media and advertising has become the new religion of consumerism and waste propagated by media priests. These new churches were organized around a value of greed that knew no material limitations and shared no emotionally driven sustainable visions. The elite business schools took over, as philosophy and sociology leaders taught and focused on quarterly returns and profits at the expense of human values, as well as planet and species survivability. This was sold as a mix of monetized and alienated human passion and the new sexy way to think and be.

Ironically, the very first to utilize emotional intelligence and explore the deep primacy of felt values over cognitive values were corporate advertisers, mostly men, utilizing it to make the needed transference of values from human love to love of cars, furs and iPhones. This new education of destruction of integrated rational, social and emotional intelligence8 reached down to far younger ages as women in the developed world entered into the globalizing economies' demand for two-salaried households to buy all commoditized toys for misdirected human passion in industrialized societies. Meanwhile, women in the developing world and their children continued to work full days just to survive in the burgeoning city/slum economies that supported this worldwide material value over human value economy.9

Yet, in order to truly problem solve these interdisciplinary issues, current neuroscience research is telling us that the human brain works better the more emotionally-rationally connected it is. In a simplistic model, the left-brain rational/ linear/verbal hemisphere is literally connected across the corpus callosum to the right brain emotional/creative/non-verbal centres. Dispassionate, intellectualized discourse divorced from humanly felt realities, and also increasingly divorced from natural realities, has led many to marginalized angry passion in reaction against the hypnotic mantra that technology and markets will solve all. It can be argued that the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, the World Trade Organization protests, among others, may be understood as attempts to articulate this growing human resentment and despair that deeply question that premise.

However, actions still speak louder to deep parts of the human brain than words ever will, and true, authentic human caring for one another and our shared planet still speaks loudest of all. We can still educate to re-connect the empirical facts of what many corporations and politicians or governments and dominant groups are actually doing to that world of human caring, despite the fancier and fancier pyrotechnics and smoke and mirrors of deceptive advertising. The teaching of emotional and social intelligence is this very enhancement of brain connectivity across the corpus callosum of what we feel is true, what is actually empirically observable to be true, and what we want to be true for the best social outcome, both for ourselves and for the sustainability of our societies. This type of education, including human moral/value principles10 reactivating the core emotional areas of compassion, altruism, empathy and human caring of the many over the few, is central to any integrated education for a sustainable world.

Healthy human passion, reflecting the hope and drive for a caring and harmonious world, needs to be reinforced in these educated ways; connecting the whole brain as we connect the whole world on paths of sustainability and reduced conflict for ourselves and each other. We must educate with this newly understood human passion for true sustainability. To reinforce and remember that we are all one species socially and biologically connected by that caring passion and very much dependent on our different cultures and different intelligences and ways of seeing and being,11 in order to get us to that shared, thriving, sustainable world together.


1 (CCARE) Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education: The origins of Project Compassion can be traced to Dr. James Doty, a Stanford University neurosurgeon, entrepreneur and philanthropist who originated the concept of a rigorous multi-disciplinary scientific effort at Stanford directed at understanding the neural, mental and social bases of compassion and altruism and who provided the initial funding for the endeavor. This can be traced to his longstanding interest in the fundamental motivations of individuals to do good. This interest was further spurred by the historic visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Stanford University in October of 2005, a visit hosted by the Stanford School of Medicine through the leadership of Dean Philip A. Pizzo and the Stanford Office of Religious Life headed by Rev. Scotty McLennan. A highpoint of this visit was a scientific dialogue between scientists—representing such diverse fields as neuroscience, psychology, and medical science—with the Dalai Lama and other contemplative scholars on a range of questions pertaining to human suffering, especially depression, as well as the problem of craving and addiction.

2 Howard Gardner Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, (New York, Basic Books, 1983).

3 Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence; Why it Can Matter More than IQ, (New York, Bantam Books, 1995) and Daniel Pink, Why Right-Brainers will Rule the Future, (New York, Penguin Group, 2006).

4 Paul Bloom, "The Moral Life of Babies", The New York Times Magazine, May 9, 2010.

5 June Gorman, "Emotional Intelligence and Instructional Technology", Review Journal of Philosophy and Social Science: The Philosophy of Instructional Technology, Vol. XXII, No. 2, 1997 (

6 Julie Johnston, "Naturalist Intelligence", GreenHeart Education,

7 Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, (New York, Penguin Books, 2006).

8 Ken Gnanakan Integrated Education, (Oxford, England, Oxford Press, 2012).

9 Annie Leonard, "Story of Stuff" website and video,

10 Transformative Education Forum, "Principles of Transformative Education"

11 Mary Belenkey, Blyte Clinchy, Nancy Goldberger and Jill Tarule, eds, Women's Ways of Knowing (New York: Basic Books, 1986).