At Heart We’re All The Same

In heart we’re all the same… maybe.

As eighty kindergarten children eagerly get off the school bus at the NWLA Cultural Center, sparkly-eyed and jostling to join in the big circle, we sing the GCP theme song: “In Heart We’re All the Same.”

Our program manager, Maria Ellis, wrote these fun lyrics as we needed a song to bring the profound goals of the program forward for the five and six year olds in a way that could be meaningful to them. In the program, we explore different cultures, one at a time, through engaging activities, side-by-side with native presenters from each culture. We learn and experience the marvelous variety and diversity of cultural customs, and eventually, we discover that at heart, we’re all the same.

Of course, what we mean by this is the recognition of common humanity. That beyond cultural, social, political and individual differences there should be something more real, a core center to what makes us human, that should unite us. Unite, as in “be on the same side,” not in conflict.

We refer to the “heart” as the seat of these things. Love, joy, appreciation, trust, compassion, kindness, are the things that we believe make life worth living. And let’s not forget honor, integrity, and courage (the word “courage” comes directly from the Latin cor, and from corage meaning “heart” in old French)

We distinguish the “heart” from the “mind,” classically identified as the seat of the “concept maker”. With our concept-making apparatus called the brain we look at reality through the ideas-about-reality that our cultures give us. A culture is essentially a group of people that share similar ideas.   The ideas-about-reality are mistakenly labeled “reality,” and somehow we are confounded by the fact that other people, especially other cultures, see “reality” differently. And not only differently, but often in ways we find offend us. Our minds produce endless diversity of meaning and opinions, which give rise to the kaleidoscope of complexity, conflict and chaos that we see reflected in the world today.

But are we somehow, all the same, at heart?

Certainly, we all have one, and we all bleed. The heart is the first organ to develop in the human embryo. If someone is “brain dead” but heart still going – they are still recognized as living.  “I used to think the brain was the most important organ in the body, until I realized who was telling me that,“ goes a famous joke..

Perhaps we can say that, just as a violin is a violin because it has a particular resonance chamber and set of strings, so is a human being a human being because we have a heart, which we could think of as a sort of instrument, intended to be played. As with a violin the quality of the results and the experience would depend on the tuning and the skill and intentions of the player.

What do we tune to? What do we choose to play?

There is a Cherokee story about a young boy who, having witnessed some evil deeds, goes to his grandfather asking why is it that sometimes people act in such awful ways. The grandfather tells him that inside each one of us there are two wolves, and they are fighting fiercely, trying to dominate. The good wolf stands for kindness, bravery and love. The other, the bad wolf, stands for greed, hatred and fear. The boy stops and thinks about it for a second and then asks, “Grandfather, which wolf will win?” The grandfather answers: “The one you feed.”

Every culture has its own “instructions” for tuning the heart and endeavors to pass them on: we call these “core values.”

When we at NWLACC invite native presenters to work with us on the Global Cultures Program, we ask them: “What core values and principles of your culture do you think are important to share with our students? “

Our Chinese presenters said: We value family, and being together in everything we do, with mutual support and especially respect for elders. We believe in always finding the middle way, the way of balance. And we know that diligence and industrious persistence are very important.

Our Japanese presenters told us that their children learn from their earliest days that human fulfillment comes from close association with others, and that they are part of an interdependent society. To live requires great courage – as described by the Daruma principle – seven times down, eight times up. And they said that the Japanese aesthetic known as wabi-sabi is centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection, that beauty can be “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.

Our Arab  presenter said that modesty, simplicity and frugality are the finest expressions of gratitude, and that recognizing the awesome abundance and beauty in life is the best way to ensure the continuation of plenty. Excess and wastefulness lead to lack of contentment and dissatisfaction, and also engenders greed, which ends in disappointment and the loss of honesty.

Having a heart then, being a human being, is not a guarantee of anything other than the possession of a very special instrument, and the opportunity to choose how and what to play.

Tuning the strings is essential if we want harmony. Discord is the opposite: “dis,” the Latin prefix meaning “coming apart,” op or “ asunder” and cord, which you will remember from above, meaning “heart”.

Today, we believe that people need to interact with each other much more, human to human, heart to heart. Through such cultural exchanges there can be greater understanding that other values and norms are as valid as our own, often containing sides to the truth that we may have lost or forgotten.

We must all work for global solidarity, and struggle against injustice and for the protection of the rights of human hearts. Global solidarity is necessary for the safeguarding of our common home, and in order to respond to the calamity that centuries of discord have created. To achieve this, one needs an international perspective and outlook – and not a narrow nationalism, which is inadequate to address global environmental concerns, concerns for common values, or concerns of the human heart. Ischemic heart disease  is the number-one cause of death worldwide. In that too, we are the same.

By Josette Hendrix, NWLACC Founder and Director
Photo credit: David Welton