The Focus of Education
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.
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. Individuals whose childhood was lacking in love and trust may express themselves in immature and selfish ways. Their self-centered desires may be destructive to themselves and society.
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.
Habits of the Heart
Heart and conscience are intimately related to each other, and they join forces in the pursuit of true love. Heart is like an emotional and intuitive propeller, while conscience is like a rational and instinctive rudder. Heart motivates us to relate to others with true love, while conscience steers a safe course through expanding circles of connections with others.
When parents look upon their children's actions with love, they tend to see truth, goodness, and beauty in them because of their love, even when the children's actions may not have been intended to demonstrate those values. The true love experienced in the family will generate what some have called the “habits of the heart.” These habits of the heart serve as the basis for relating to others.