Learning From The Heart
Our education system focuses entirely on sharpening the intellect. The enrichment of the quality of the emotions has receded to the background. This produces incomplete human beings.
“And certainly we should take care not to make the intellect our god… the intellect has a sharp eye for methods and tools but it is blind to ends and values.” These were the words of caution from the most towering intellect in science in the 20th century—Albert Einstein. Mahatma Gandhi remarked: “And I know that man is guided ultimately not by the intellect but by the heart.” He continues: “Man often finds reason in support of what he does or wants to do.”[level-subscriber]
But the modern education system hardly pays any heed to their insights on this vital aspect of human development. The discipline of management is no exception. Since the very beginning of the academic life in a management institute or a business school, the incumbents are made to pass through a grind that enhances the sharpening of their faculty of logic, reason and intellect. This is extolled as the “rigour” of the system, and the faculty of the heart is either displaced or misplaced from the main curriculum.
Let us visit the words of wisdom from two stalwarts from the East and the West.
Bertrand Russell began his career as a mathematician and evolved to be a philosopher of rare eminence. The element of surprise reached its climax when he was awarded the nobel prize for Literature. Here are his precious words: “even more important than intellect is the life of emotions… unless men increase wisdom as much as knowledge, increase in knowledge will be increase in sorrow.”
We take a turn to Swami Vivekananda. His fiery and inspiring speeches ignited men and women from USA and Europe more than a century back. More importantly, he was an institutional leader, the founder of Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1898. Western devotees in numbers came and joined his movement with the twofold purpose of spiritual transformation and social development. Here are his words of wisdom:
“The intellect is blind and cannot move of itself. It is an inactive secondary help. The real help is feeling… love.”
in the light of the above, let us get back to some basics. every human being is endowed with two sets of faculties—of the head and the heart. The faculty of the head concerns the development of our logic, reason and intellect. On the other hand, the faculty of the heart is about enrichment of our domain of emotions, feelings and impulses. Both are equally important in the process of human development. And one cannot substitute the other as the development processes of our rational and emotive faculties.
Reason gives us direction as to “what” to do, whereas feelings give us the dynamism or motive power to engage in any arena of action. We often lose sight of a simple fact—all the letters in the word “emotion” except the first one has to do with “motion” or action. Inspiration is not just an outcome of our rational spark but also an expression of our emotional effulgence. One has to spend an hour of direct contact with someone like a Rabindranath Tagore, a St augustine or a Nelson Mandela to experience this ignition from within us.
Let us take the example of Swami Vivekananda. He belonged to an aristocratic family of North Calcutta. He was a product of Western education. He was an illustrious student of philosophy who had correspondences with such illumined minds like John Stuart Mill. But he consecrated his entire life to his spiritual master Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa to fulfill his mission. Towards the end of his life, the Swami was asked a question by his chosen disciple Sister Nivedita, an irish lady. How could he dedicate himself completely to a person with a rural background and no formal education? In other words, his very antithesis! The Swami gave a one line answer: “I felt his wonderful love.” Now let us contemplate—where did this love rise from—head or the heart? The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart!
This is the crux of our lesson in any learning situation—management or otherwise. From the first day in our schools, the modern education system has emphasized the sharpening of the intellect. The enrichment of the quality of the emotions has receded to the background. Even if we admit the importance of emotions in our life, work, relationships and organizational culture building, our approach to the theme of emotions is primarily along the line of intellect. When one of our colleagues in the organization is suffering from an emotional crisis that is hampering his or her performance and effectiveness, we often tend to offer our counselling from the rational standpoint. When there is a problem at the centre of the heart, messaging the head does not deliver the goods. The problem must be addressed from the level of the emotions and the solution also needs to be offered from the realm of feelings. Well, it may be difficult, but still possible.
Over the last two decades, the field of management education has been enriched in this area by research and training on cultivating emotional intelligence and enhancing emotional Quotient. But the modules of training still gives a thrust to a rational approach to the issues in question. One needs to expand the frontiers of knowledge and wisdom in management to include literature from classical texts of time-tested relevance. Exploration of alternative and non-conventional sources and methods of learning will throw new light and fresh air in an education system that is bogged down with stereotypes.
Let us take a few examples that may sound out of the structured curriculum.
The Bible comes clear in its pronouncement: “Blessed are they that are pure in heart.” The sacred text does not say that blessed are they who are brilliant in intellect! We ought to consider this before we make any tall claims about holistic human development in our organizations.
The Quran makes it sharp and bold: “greed robs a learned man of his wisdom.” A learned man has developed his logical and intellectual faculties. But greed springs forth from the realm of our feelings. “We feel greedy”. We do not “think” greedy. We need to transform ourselves at the level of emotions to create a wholesome and inspiring organizational culture.
In the Bhagvad Gita, Krishna advises his disciple Arjuna to embark on “chittashuddhi” or purification of emotions prior to engagement in action.
Now the question comes—how do we enrich our emotional space? Let us first make it abundantly clear that intellect or reason has a significant role to play in our development process. By no means do we intend to underplay that role. The intellect generates alternatives in a decision making process, weighs the options from multiple perspectives and gives us direction to action. But the final momentum to action often comes from the world of feelings. That is why Gandhi would often rely more on his “inner voice” rather than calculations.
In order to enrich the quality of our emotions, we need to create space and time for ourselves in our daily life. This is a space where we must be in touch with noble thoughts from great minds— East or West, past or present. They develop in us the faculty of intuition and charge us with the light and fire of inspiration. attunement with the forces of nature helps a lot in this regard. We find our living resonance with the rhythm of nature and direct our thoughts and decisions so as not to degrade or deplete nature in our rush for material progress, money and power.
The direct soothing effect of flowing water, blowing wind and glowing sun makes an impact on our mindspace that no book or website can achieve. It springs forth in us the flow of natural and spontaneous ethicality and enlivens in us a concern for our fellow beings and the planet at large that is beyond the reach of any conventional pedagogical method in the classroom.[/level-subscriber]
In time, we may get back to the centre of the heart where there is a zone of silence. Silence is the mother tongue of humanity—the space from where all our thoughts emerge. One must learn to be in intimate and intense touch with our inner silence so that the best of thoughts may emerge and spread to humanity at large for our well-being now and forever.
The author is a Faculty of Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility at IIM Shillong. He has been invited to speak at several pres- tigious forums—the Aspen Institute, the Oxford Roundtable, the Global Ethics Forum (Geneva), and International Wisdom Conference at CEIBS, Shanghai, among many others. At IIM Shillong, he is the Chairperson of the Annual Interna- tional Conference on Sustainability.
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