Warm heart, cool head, bright future

Ms Jan O’Sullivan, Head of Griffith House

How do we grow a good person?

This question was posed at the Young Minds conference at Sydney Town Hall, held in June this year. A wide variety of leading thinkers and inspirational speakers challenged an audience of over 1700 people — including educators, psychologists, parents, students and youth workers — to explore the possibility of empowering our youth to reach their full potential in character and intellect, and ultimately to lead a happy, fulfilling life. We examined the nature of the current world our teenagers are growing up in, and focused on the goal of ensuring that our youth have a ‘Warm heart, cool head, bright future’.

For me, the most inspirational speaker was His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, who engaged, and frequently entertained, the diverse audience in addressing the question, ‘How do we grow a good person?’ His dialogue with a panel of world-renowned childhood advocates and educators emphasised the important point that, as educators, we are teachers of human beings, not just a subject area, and as such we are responsible for enhancing the development of ‘good people’ above all else.

Quote1So, what exactly is a ‘good person’? The Dalai Lama defined a good person as one who is warm-hearted and has peace of mind and contentment — ‘a beautiful mind feeling inner peace’ — and observed that this state of mind not only serves the individual well, but also serves those around them. Furthermore, he espoused the notion that in order to have peace of mind, human beings, especially children and teenagers, need true affection which cannot be shown through materialistic objects. Whether individuals are able to live a happy life depends on the nature of the society in which they live. We are social animals and a good person can only be ‘grown’ in a family or community of people who demonstrate genuine affection.

Panel member Professor Carla Rinaldi from Italy, an internationally renowned advocate for children and childhood, conversed with the Dalai Lama in response to the question, ‘Does a baby have the peace of mind belonging to a good person or does it have to be achieved over the course of a lifetime?’ Professor Rinaldi believes that all children have the capacity to become good people, but that this depends on those around them who are caring for them. Interestingly, she contends that the child can become a good educator to the parents as they then become a community of learners who grow together. If children do not have a ‘good’ mother and a ‘good’ father, then one ‘good’ parent may be enough, or they might have a network of ‘good’ people around them to support them and assist their development. She emphasised the importance of the educator’s role as part of the network.

The Dalai Lama’s comments on this question of parenting resonated strongly with the audience. He explained that he was physically separated from his mother at five years of age, but mentally she remained very much with him. The people he was surrounded by when he was growing up were constant, supportive and affectionate, and they also taught him how to play. He emphasised the impact that consistent and emotional relationships have on children’s development, and specifically stressed the importance of trust and affection.

Another panel member was Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Young Queenslander of the year 2010. Born in Sudan and educated in Queensland, she is now a mechanical engineer and founder and President of Youth Without Borders. She discussed with the Dalai Lama the question, ‘Does technology intrude negatively upon relationships?’ Ms Abdel-Magied does not believe that technology detracts from human connection, but acknowledges that family values dictate how children view this situation. For example, technology would never replace a hug from her mother because of the importance placed on emotional relationships within her family.

In regard to technology and human connection sitting side by side, the Dalai Lama asserted that modern technology within contemporary society seems very useful, but the amount of time spent immersed in technology takes away from time spent with the child’s parents and family, which is when the family’s values are modelled and imparted to offspring. As a result of this predicament, he supports the idea of schools including Values Education in the curriculum as values are vital in children’s lives, especially today.

Values are the key to a healthy mind, a healthy body and a happy life; these values can be taught to all children, regardless of their background. The Dalai Lama made the important point that religion is not universal, but the values that underpin religion — such as tolerance, acceptance, love, forgiveness, compassion, integrity, and honesty — are essential for developing a warm-hearted person with ‘a beautiful mind feeling inner peace.’ Growing a good person relies upon the stability of relationships for a child. It also depends on the availability of a supportive framework for all children to look forward to a bright future through learning in schools that are open to young people from all faiths or even no faith.

The Dalai Lama concluded his discussion by answering a variety of questions asked by a range of young people aged from 5 to 25 who assembled on stage. A sample of three provides a glimpse of the interactions, the first of which was greeted by much laughter from the audience.

How do you control your temper?

Well, what is the value? Your peace of mind will be destroyed and you will create more trouble. Anger clouds our view, so even if you decide you are going to hit someone, you will do it more effectively if you find a weak spot first, if you have a calm mind!

How can we become good leaders?

Being intelligent, truthful and honest is the most important thing, as you will become a good leader if people trust you.

How can you maintain the determination to reach your goals in the future, while sustaining peace of mind about what you have achieved in the past?

By achieving our goals, we gain warm-heartedness, which brings self-confidence, self-respect and determination.

As simple as it may sound, the Dalai Lama’s own words exemplify the message that emerged from the discussions and interactions at the Young Minds conference:

If there is love, there is hope that one may have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, real peace. If the love within your mind is lost and you see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education or material comfort you have, only suffering and confusion will ensue. (1999, p. 132)


Dalai Lama & Cutler, H. (1998). The art of happiness. Sydney: Hodder.

Dalai Lama. (1999). The little book of Buddhism. London: Rider.

Dalai Lama & Chan, V. (2012).The wisdom of compassion. London: Bantam Press.

Dalai Lama. (2013, June 17). How do we grow a good person? Symposium conducted at the Young Minds conference, Sydney, Australia.

Rinaldi, C. (2013, June 18). Re-imagining childhood. Symposium conducted at the Young Minds conference, Sydney, Australia.


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