How Do We Cultivate Heart?
People of mature character will live according to their values and make them into personal virtues. Both parents and teachers carry the responsibility of being moral exemplars. The first part of education concentrates on the development of heart so that the individual exhibits a dependable and reliable character in all future relations and dealings. Cultivation of heart - which balances and integrates thinking, feeling, and doing - is the first dimension of education, bearing fruit in a mature character.
Our heart begins to develop from the moment we are born. However, it is not an automatic process like the growth of the human body, but it is something that must be cultivated as a plant must be cultivated with love and care in order to become healthy and beautiful. A person needs experiences of love to encourage the heart to open and to make an internal connection with others. Because a cultivated heart is a moral one, a person must see moral examples that are held up as role models. In addition, a person must make effort to practice caring for, appreciating, and valuing others. A cultivated heart is an unselfish heart.
The best environment for this growth is usually provided by the family, but the school can also play an important role. Teachers can be significant influences in the development of heart in children and young adults. This occurs when the teacher relates to the children with a parental heart of concern and love that creates a safe environment for learning.
Focus on Others
When we have a mature, cultivated heart, our desires focus more on the well-being of others than on our own comfort. When we have been educated in heart, we experience great joy through expressing love; vices have no appeal to us. However, when our body's desires are undisciplined and self-centered, our heart remains uncultivated.
The highest focus of education and the core of culture is the development, or cultivation, of heart. The cultivation of heart is set in motion by early experiences with parents and caregivers. Numerous studies have shown that the warm, responsible love of parents nurtures the child's moral center. [i]
Parents cultivate their child's heart through feeding and caring for the child's physical needs. With their eyes, voice, hands, and entire body, parents reach out in love to their child and stimulate the child's response.
We all have an inner mechanism that aligns our heart with the standard of goodness. This is the guidance of our conscience that acts as our moral compass by guiding us in the direction of true love. Like heart, the conscience is innate. It is naturally responsive to truth. It is also cultivated and shaped through education, first by parents and then by teachers and other people in a position of influence.
Our conscience urges us to place priority on our commitments and responsibilities to others rather than focusing on our selfish desires. It points us towards the highest good. It is the conscience that issues this call to a higher duty and responsibility and urges us to use our talents and energies for the benefit of all.
When we think, speak and act for the benefit of ourselves at the expense of others, our conscience sounds a warning. If we repeatedly ignore our conscience, we become less sensitive to its voice. Those who never experienced nurturing and guidance may pursue desires that are destructive both to themselves and society. Social norms, community standards, and laws set boundaries in an attempt to limit such destructiveness.
[i] Berkowitz, M., “Fostering Goodness: Teaching Parents to Facilitate Children's Moral Development,” Journal of Moral Education, 27:3, 1998, pp. 371-391; D. Solomon, D., Watson, M., & Battistich, V., “Teaching and Schooling Effects on Moral/Prosocial Development.” Virginia Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teaching, 4th edition, Washington, D.C.: American Educational Research Association, 2002. pp. 566 -603.