We live at a time of transition. The twentieth century, which has been recognized as the most turbulent in the history of the human race, has come to a close. This past century has seen an old world dying and a new and not yet clearly understood world struggling to be born. At this threshold, we have witnessed the mind-boggling expansion of a material civilization that has brought into sharp contrast the limitations of our understanding, which has fallen far behind our knowledge of the material aspects of the universe.

We are members of a human race that possesses the knowledge required to feed itself and to provide education and a life of relative health, comfort, and cooperation for all in the context of a globally peaceful and ecologically sustainable planet. Yet, we are still polarized and compartmentalized, torn by racial, ethnic, and class hostilities, religious and sectarian antagonism, and competing special-interest groups and ideologies and steeped in politics as usual, lacking the collective will to extricate ourselves from this quagmire.

Excerpt from Critical Consciousness: Study of morality in global historical context.

So what, then, is social health?

Since 1947, the World Health Organization has recognized the importance of social health alongside physical and mental health. It has been understood to mean equal opportunity for all and access by all to the goods and services essential to full functioning as a citizen. On an individual level, social health has been defined in terms of social adjustment and social support, which enable a person to perform normal roles in society.

Yet what psychological processes underlie such healthy social organization, which builds social capital, and creates balanced and interconnected communities? And what psychological processes account for the fact that social health is still such a problematic issue in the world?

The main underlying psychological process that I have recognized in my work is the value-driven split between analytical minds and the spiritual wisdom of hearts, which still characterizes societies, social institutions, education, the media, public policy, political process, foreign relations, and international development. In some cultures (and micro-cultures), the passions of the heart are favored at the expense of reasoning, which often breed intolerant and even fanatical attitudes. In other cultures, the cultivation of analytical reasoning is favored far above and beyond the cultivation of the corrective of a discerning heart, which ends up breeding arrogant alienated intellectual competition.

As a result of this values split, we see decisions, which govern social life, being made more on the basis of mindsets than of an integrated understanding of human life. The harmonious and balanced education of both analytical mind and discerning heart throughout the human lifespan is a precarious balance, which few people seem to achieve, as cultures have not yet come to value the integration between these two main human faculties and to foster their balanced and interdependent development. The conversation has only just begun on mindful education and governance (see Mind and Life Institute at www.mindandlife.org). It is a paradigm shift of values and priorities under way.

As this shift gathers momentum, the realization is growing upon us of the oneness and interdependence of the human family and of all life, of the oneness of Spirit as it manifests through the full diversity of cultures and traditions. That realization is compelling us increasingly to re-think the ways we have organized our societies, and to search for greater balance and justice.

Meet the minds: Dr. Elena Mustakova

Papers on the subject:

Beyond Competing Identities and Ideologies: Building Resilience to Radicalization in a World in Transition
Paper presented at a NATO Advanced Research Workshop held in Budapest, Hungary, March 2008; Published in NATO Science for Peace and Security Studies, Vol. 60, Home-Grown Terrorism: Understanding and Addressing the Root Causes of Radicalization among Groups with Immigrant Heritage in Europe.

A Whole-Person Approach to Educating for Sustainability

Published in International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education (2010)

Clash or Meeting of East and West: An Analysis Post 9/11 Challenges

Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology, 2006

Addressing Racism as a Psycho-Spiritual Disorder

Paper Presented 108th APA Annual Convention, August 4-8, 2000

Social Health and the Heart-Mind Split
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