Manifesto for a Moral Revolution | Reflections & Notes

Jaqueline Novogratz. Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World. Henry Holt and Company, 2020. (259 pages)



Leadership is still popularly understood fundamentally as the ability to achieve, the fact that one has skills to attain a goal. I am persuaded that leadership must also be known by what one achieves, the kind of goal that is actually set. In other words, intrinsic to the definition of leadership is a moral imperative that drives and informs our work, the framework by which we operate, and the outcomes for which we strive. With this understanding, dictatorships, corruption, and destructive practices are, by definition, not leadership.

Now, one might argue with the philosophical underpinnings of such a proposition. Does this not still leave open the possibility of interpretation? What truly defines “leadership,” then” according to whose moral imperative? To that demurral, I commend Manifesto for a Moral Revolution, a brilliant, story-driven, and passionate articulation of this vision and is a must-read for any leader in our current moment. In these pages, Novogratz provides the foundation upon which all leaders can build their practice towards leadership that exemplifies the very best of who we are and the very best of what we can become.

For a season the delinquencies of our various revolutions—scientific, industrial, technological, and informational—have been veiled by the tremendous advancements, progression, and developments of these various aspects of our era. No longer is this the case, nor should it be. Extractive, greedy, and deterministic philosophies of business and work are wreaking havoc on our ecologies, and our souls. What is more, it doesn’t have to be this way. What is even more than that, various religious, spiritual, indigenous, and philosophic traditions have been telling us this truth for millennia. The imperative to act has always been there. The will to do so has always been elusive.

But perhaps, no longer.

It is my hope and prayer that the vision found in the pages of this book truly becomes reality, for all sectors of our life and work. I say again, this is a must-read for us all. I commend it to you wholeheartedly.



We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot

We are made from what came before. We make ourselves out of the promises that lie ahead. And we are always in the process of becoming. (5)

We need a new narrative. We are too entangled to abide worldviews based on separation, nor can we look to simple technological or market solutions. Those stories have run their course. We will be so much richer, productive, and peaceful if we learn not only to coexist but to flourish, celebrating our differences while holding to the understanding that we are part of each other, bound together by our shared humanity. That narrative will come not from above but from all of us. (6)

| What we need is a moral revolution,… By “moral,”…I mean a set of principles focused on elevating our individual and collective dignity: a daily choice to serve others, not simply benefit ourselves. I mean complementing the audacity that built the world we know with a new humility more attuned to our interdependence. (6)

…cynics don’t build the future. Instead, they often use their jaundiced views to justify inaction. (7) And never before have we more desperately needed their opposite—thoughtful, empathetic, resilient believers and optimists on a path of moral leadership. (8)

Change is the domain of all of us. (8)

I wrote this book because I believe that our fragile, unequal, divided, yet still beautiful, world deserves a radical moral rejuvenation. This revolution will ask all of us to shift our ways of thinking to connection rather than consumerism, to purpose rather than profits, to sustainability rather than selfishness. We must awaken to see workers not as inputs, the environment not as our personal domain, and shareholders not as all-powerful. And we need to move away from old models of doing what is right for me and assuming it will turn out right for you. (9)

Each of their stories makes manifest the kind of moral leadership that looks to the future not with blind optimism but with a hard-edged hope. (10)

A manifesto is a public declaration of intentions. This one is for all who hear the call of moral leadership—guiding principles to dream and build a better world, coordinates of a moral compass set by those already leading this journey of change. (10)

1. Just Start

I was at once wildly bold and quietly frightened, feeling that a bull and a dove coexisted inside me, worried that I lacked the skills or the know-how to pull off my ambitions. (11)

Just start—and let the work teach you. (12)

[via: What I call “ready, fire, aim.”]

Yet the decision we face is not to chart the perfect way forward; it is simply to embark on a journey. … Purpose does not reveal itself to those sitting safely at the starting block. In other words, you don’t plan your way into finding your purpose. You live into it. (12)

The Jesuits have a powerful saying: “Go where your deepest yearning meets the world’s greatest need.” I yearned to contribute to the economic development of low-income people, to learn about the world, to live in a new culture. (16)

…I learned from my failures, and came to understand that to rule out failure is to rule out success. (17)

…what separates those who dabble in feel-good endeavors and those who actually nudge the world forward has nothing to do with intellect, connections, or specific skills. The ones whose actions and ideas produce positive consequences are the ones who stay in the game. (17)

Try. Fail. Then try again. Follow the thread as it unspools. Just start. (17)

We grow when we stretch, when we are willing to embrace the uncomfortable. (18)

So, just start. Find mentors you can learn from, whether in person, online, or in print. And let your experiences teach you what you have to do next. (19)

You may not yet have a crystal-clear sense of your purpose. That’s okay. It will grow with you. But if you have an inkling that you’d like your life to be about something bigger than yourself, listen to that urge. Follow the thread. The world needs you. (21)

| Just start. (21)

2. Redefine Success

Success doesn’t just wait for us on a distant horizon. Success is within all of us, waiting for us to live into it. It exists int he beauty we create, the goodwill we offer, the ideas we spread, the causes for which we stand, and the lives we help transform. (30)

Of course, the notion of redefining success rubs against the status quo. Humans are status-seeking beings. We yearn to be accepted, respected, loved. Our current systems (economic, political, and social) reinforce a definition of “winning” based on money, power, and fame. Rather than being rewarded for what we give, we’re too often affirmed by what we take. (31)

| What if our Golden Rule were not only “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” but also “Give more to the world than you take from it”? That would change everything. (31)

The point is this: We are the system. We decide how to define success, and we can reject purely individualistic terms. (31)

Setbacks are inevitable, yet as most anyone who has ever tried to change anything will tell you, it is the difficult, not the easy, that underlies those accomplishments that ultimately imbue our souls with the kind of success that sustains. (32)

* * *

Sometimes, when we are pursuing intrinsically-driven accomplishments, progress can feel so unbearably slow that even those who have already redefined success for themselves must reevaluate before renewing their commitment to the work they know is right for them. (32)

Despite meaningful progress, there are times in every change-maker’s journey when questions and doubt grow, multiplying like weeds until you feel you might suffocate. (33)

“the Dip,” that moment (which can feel like forever) when the thing you think you want to do has gotten so hard that you don’t know if it will ever work or become enjoyable. (35)

| Problems seem much easier to solve from a distance. New jobs seem easier to obtain; new organizations, easier to navigate. But that is not how most turn out to be. When confronting on-ground realities, our expectations regarding not only results, but also rewards, both psychological and financial, diminish. (35)

Dips are an inevitable part of life as an agent of change. The key is to use them to enliven and inspire a better future. (36)

No matter who you are, the world offers you a thousand opportunities for deeper success. … At the end of your life, I hope the world says that you cared, that you showed up with your whole self, and that you couldn’t have tried harder. I hope they say you helped those who had been left out; that you renewed yourself, living with a sense of curiosity and wonder; learning, changing, and growing till you took your last breath. (39)

3. Cultivate Moral Imagination

Moral imagination means to view other people’s problems as if they were your own, and to begin to discern how to tackle those problems. And then to act accordingly. It summons us to understand and transcend the realities of current circumstances and to envision a better future for ourselves and others. (43)

| Moral imagination starts with empathy, but it does not content itself simply to feel another’s pain. Empathy without action risks reinforcing the status quo. Rather, moral imagination is muscular, built from the bottom up and grounded through immersion in the lives of others. It involves connecting on a human level, analyzing the systemic issues at play, and only then envisioning how to go beyond applying a Band-Aid to making a long-term difference. (43)

What is needed, whether you are working in high tech or in low-income communities, is the moral imagination to ensure that our future solutions and institutions are inclusive and sustainable.. That takes a particular kind of capability, one driven by empathy, immersion, connection, and the willingness to challenge the status quo. (44)

A spiritual connection is one way to transcend lines of difference and locate commonality. (52)

What happens to the earth if we see it as a resource but not a responsibility? (54)

We will partner only so long as our project does not disturb our balance with nature. If we lose the balance, we will end the partnership. Do you understand?

This was a negotiation based not on extraction or profit alone. The agreement between the Arhuacos and the company (54) was more covenant than contract, a moral commitment to remaining accountable to each other, to showing up, to listening. … For Cacao de Colombia, it was the opportunity to build a successful business that valued human and natural resources, not only financial rewards. (55)

Moral imagination offers a powerful lens through which to see the world’s potential, recognize its disparities, and work to address them. Use it widely and practice it wisely. (55

4. Listen to Voices Unheard

Privilege can deafen us to those who feel less worthy or valuable. Those for whom the system “works” can easily become accustomed to the world rolling out a welcome mat and learn to behave as if every place were our exclusive domain. (60)

| Meanwhile, outsiders or those deemed “other,” who’ve been told repeatedly that they are unworthy or don’t belong, often internalize negative beliefs imposed on them by others and make themselves smaller, unable to give voice to their true feelings, opinions, or desires. If we want to see someone more fully and demonstrate that we respect him or her, we must learn to listen not just with our ears, but with all our selves—our eyes, the emotion we sense in the other, our knowledge of their history, of their very identity. Listening deeply and hearing all that is unsaid is crucial to gaining awareness of self and of others. (60)

If privilege is a possible roadblock to deep listening, so is clinging rigidly to an outsider identity. We risk holding ourselves hostage to outdated stories of being unwanted or underappreciated, failing to hear even direct invitations to the proverbial table as an equal participant. … When individual listening is ingrained in collective culture, the whole community is more likely to shine. (61)

Active listening,…is one of the deepest forms of respect. (62)

When we dare to meet another as a friend, willing to hear painful and uncomfortable truths, we can discover the parts of our identities that overlap. We can acknowledge the other person’s—and our own—yearning to be seen. True listening is more than the act of hearing another’s words. It is the unspoken recognition of our shared humanity. (64)

Listening effectively can influence the way we perceive others in all directions. (64)

If you want advice, ask for money. If you want to raise money, ask for advice. – Stuart Davidson

Real listening is not a one-time event. If you want to build a solution for a group that has traditionally had no voice, be prepared to listen continuously. It may take you longer than you think to hear what people are actually saying, especially when they have no reason to trust you. (69)

Though this simple scene should be the norm in business-customer interactions, two human beings considering each other’s best interest—the level of mutual listening felt extraordinary to me. I’d become accustomed to witnessing people avoiding telling one another the truth. I’d seen too many low-income “beneficiaries” pander as privileged benefactors spoke with arrogant certainty. (71)

Listening is a lifelong process. It requires continual practice, especially when we’ve become too accustomed to believing that our own assumptions are correct. (73)

We miss so much by assuming we ave the answers. Instead, learn to listen with your whole body. Listen with your ears, your eyes, all your senses. Listen not to convince or to convert, but to change yourself, spark your moral imagination, soften your hardened edges, and open yourself to the world. When we fail to listen to those the world excludes, we lose the possibility of solving problems that matter most to all of us. But when we succeed at listening with all our attention and empathy, we have a chance to set others and ourselves free. (75)

5. You Are the Ocean in a Drop

If deep listening enables seeing beyond another’s words, understanding identity can provide potent tools to empower and unite. (76)

You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the ocean in a drop. – Rumi

Each of us contains a multitude. The more identities we carry within, the more chances to discover that we are at once unique and bound by commonalities. So, as the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie asks, ‘why, then, do we reduce individuals to a single story, a single identity that can too easily be infuse with our greatest fears about one another? (80)

According to [Amin] Maalouf, we each maintain a “hierarchy of identities” that rise and fall depending on whether a particular identity is threatened. (81)

If holding our multiple identities and recognizing tat all people carry myriad identities within themselves is a crucial step toward navigating difference in an interdependent world, a second essential skill is understanding how others perceive you, especially with regard to power and privilege. (82)

Without personal transformation, a moral revolution is impossible. (87)

First, know yourself. Second, be open to the multiple identities (87) others might carry within themselves. Third, the person or organization with greater power in a particular moment must be the bridge that extends understanding to those with less power. Without this bridge, real conversations won’t happen. (88)

| Keep in mind tat privileges tend to fluctuate depending on context. (88)

We grow not in easy times but in difficult ones. In our moments of greatest division and fear, we might all become less comfortable and forge more nuanced understandings of our own identities, thereby opening ourselves up to explore the identities of others? (88)

Malala is no hero of mine.

I’m from Sat, just near Malala’s village. We were one of the most progressive places in the country. We educated our daughters and sons in our valley. But after the 2004 earthquake, the Taliban came down from the mountains. They said Allah was punishing us for our evil ways and began to rule the area. Since then, we ave lived with violence and fear in our midst. Schools were shut. Life became more difficult for us. Yet the world sees Malala and thinks we are barbarians who need to be saved by the West. It is not right. Those same people who love her and despise us don’t want to acknowledge that the U.S. created the Taliban to fight the Russians in Afghanistan. And now the U.S. blames the Taliban for any of the violence to justify dropping drones on Northern Pakistan, on civilians. Why don’t we ever hear about girls who escaped U.S. drone attacks? Why dont’ we ever make them heroes?

…if you do not attempt to reduce me to a single identity, I will try to see you as a more integrated person as well. (91)

Being aware of and acknowledging the identities others hold is a key skill for navigating complex conversations. (93)

Ultimately, our future as a human race depends on all of us subscribing to a revolution of morals in which we each commit ourselves to something beyond ourselves. We spend so much time focused on what we believe to be true rather than opening ourselves to the ways others perceive the world. A peaceful, sustainable planet demands that we celebrate our individual multiple identities while recognizing the one thing we ave in common: we are all human beings. We are born equal by virtue of our precious, blessed, wild humanness—and that is enough to bind us to one another. Each of us is the ocean in a drop. (93)

| Our shared humanity is strong and vast enough to encompass our beautiful diversity. Thank of yourself as a bridge extending forward so that others might walk across. Commit to stretching beyond your comfort zone to meet those whose realities are different from your own. You might be surprised at what you find on the other side. (93)

6. Practice Courage

Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the ability to look fear in the face and continue to walk forward. (96)

Finding one’s own voice and using it is one of the most difficult kinds of courage to develop. (98)

…fear is conquerable if you confront it, understand what lies beneath it, and then face it, often repeatedly, until you make it a friend. As with most hard things, that takes practice. (99)

It took years to realize that I had it all backward. Rather than focus on myself, I needed to direct my attention to the audience. I was speaking, after all, as a messenger, not a protagonist. My job was simply to be an instrument of love, I’d remind myself, whether to inspire thought or provoke action. Rather than attempting to stare down my ego, I would try to allow my ego to dissolve. This approach turned out to be a grounding mechanism, enabling me to get out of my own way and do what I had come to do. (100)

…it is up to each of us to practice small acts of courage so that we build muscles to do the right thing. Regularly, we should ask ourselves, what is the cost of not daring? Of not trying? Of not speaking up when it matters? (101)

| Practice courage until you become courageous. Think of fear not as a bad thing, but simply as a mechanism to alert you to emotional or physical danger. The more you confront what lies beneath the fear, the more you can tackle it through repeated confrontations and small victories. Those wins, ultimately, will prepare you for the time when the world needs you to stand bravely in the fire and take on the seemingly impossible. (101)

…what separates those who are able to master their fears from those who run or hide is purpose. (101)

Leaders all over the world must contend with situations in which they must “navigate the gray” or look unflinchingly at ugly truths and make a decision anyway. The only way to survive and thrive is to acknowledge the imperfections, to say aloud that you could not be trying harder, and sometimes, to compare your outcomes to what would have been had you done nothing at all. (109)

It took years for me to recognize that I would defeat those demons not by using the fallback skills of my early identity … but by accepting my own vulnerability and self-doubt. It was only when I began to love the imperfect and broken parts inside of me that I could show up with my whole self. I’m still working on it. (110)

If we see ourselves only as victims, we risk failing to recognize our own fallibility, and this makes it impossible to accept the flaws of others. If we see ourselves or others only as perpetrators, we extinguish possibilities of redemption. If we refuse to see at all, we trap our diminished selves in darkness, relinquishing hopes for growth and renewal. In all such cases, we thwart our potential for wholeness. (110)

No one escapes life without broken parts. When we find the courage to repair what is broken inside ourselves, to reconcile the hurts we’ve internalized and the hurts we’ve inflicted on others, we can finally renew our fragile world. We can finally comprehend that our individual and collective wholeness is necessarily enmeshed. This kind of repair requires moral courage, the will to face fears and to fight for those who are unlike us, especially those outside our own families or tribes. (111)

| So, practice courage. It will prepare you for those times when you, and the world, need it most. (111)

7. Hold Opposing Values in Tension

Patient capital is an approach to early-stage investment in entrepreneurs who are stepping in where markets and government have failed the poor. … Reaching people with limited income and hobbled trust requires a balance that harvests the strengths of both markets and philanthropy. Finding that balance doesn’t happen overnight.

Those who see the role of business as solely to make a profit often employ either-or thinking. But presupposing that profits alone signal the existence of social good limits our ability to think creatively, collaboratively, and constructively, not to mention realistically. The mirror image, relying solely on charity or government, is limiting as well. In a world of interdependence, we will flourish only if we move to “both-and” thinking, integrating purpose and profit, generosity and accountability, the community and the individual. (117)

As the world becomes more entangled and institutions more diverse, the capacity to hold opposing values without rejecting either has emerged as a critical skill for solution building. Consider a simple mantra: “Use feelings of discomfort as a proxy for progress.” The disquiet may not make decisions easier, but it will help you identify the forces you are dealing with, buttressed by both conscience and reason. (118)

We will not have any hope of finding humane, effective solutions until we quiet ourselves enough to hold the truths that, though seemingly opposite, do exist on either side. What if we slowed down enough to reach out and identify a truth or even a half-truth in what the other was saying? Both sides, one hopes, would acknowledge that there are no easy solutions to immigration in a world besieged by poverty, inequality, and climate change; a world in which the populations in rich countries are shrinking while the number of people in poor countries is growing. … Only by daring to (125) recognize the uneasy truths that lie far, far apart will we gain the chance to solve our common problems. (126)

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there. – Rumi

A modern moral revolution demands that all of us hold contradictions, even stark ones, within ourselves as well as between ourselves and others. For each of us, the first step is to reach across the wall of either-or and acknowledge the truths that exist in opposing perspectives. (126)

First, seek, with eager curiosity, the truths in the other side’s argument. Second, take a figurative stride, even a small one, toward the other, acknowledging where there might be common ground. And third, hold tightly to the essence of your whole self, while embracing other aspects of your identity lightly. You must be open to change and learning if you expect the other side to be the same. (126)

A moral revolution demands that all of us do more to reach across the wall of either-or and to acknowledge the truths that exist at the opposite poles. Most of our solutions lie in the truths or partial truths on each side, “out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.” (128)

8. Avoid the Conformity Trap

Distance easily dulls our moral imagination. (131)

No matter how determined we are to do the right thing, we all fall prey to conformity traps within the system we’ve chosen. (132)

Our anxieties germinate in the systems we inhabit. (132)

Mustering the moral courage needed to do what’s right, not what’s easy, requires knowing when conformity is a force for good and when it instead muffles our conscience. (132)

Stay close to people who keep yo honest and who will stand by when you feel isolated, or worse. (133)

If you are a change agent, then you are by definition a non-conformist. You stand for something. Get used to the awkwardness of turning right when everyone else turns left, and pursue what you know to be true. (134)

[via: And make sure it really is true.]

Your greatest calling card is your reputation for integrity. Treat it like gold, though it is worth even more. (137)

Indeed, the urgent challenge for our times is to reimagine capitalism as a tool to enable our wholeness rather than to reinforce our separation. (146)

9. Use the Power of Markets, Don’t Be Seduced by Them

The result is a profoundly unequal society in which the wealthiest feel above the system and the poorest feel left out altogether. (148)

Acumen has always seen its patient capital investments as a means to solving problems, not an end. In other words, the end or purpose of money is not simply to make more money, but to create something of value. (151)

…human beings created the current systems that govern our lives. It is up to human beings to change and evolve those systems. (162)

| The current economic system keeps the attention on what we can count (profits) rather than on what we most value (our children’s health and education, the quality of the air we breathe, just compensation to the poorest, etc.). … only when companies regularly quantify and value nonpecuniary but fundamental human and environmental benefits will we see a more inclusive, sustainable market system. (162)

Imagine if more of us allocated our resources, placing (162) social and environmental impact on an equal footing with (or higher than) financial returns. Everything would change. (164)

10. Partner with Humility and Audacity

If you want to create or renew systems, small is beautiful but scale is critical. (165)

Let me keep my distance, always, from those / who think they have the answers. – Mary Oliver

Bring on the skeptics—we need them—but those of us who want a better world have little use for critics who armor themselves with rigid certainty, especially if they propose neither assistance nor solutions. (167)

…visionary builders who reshape entire industries perceive the big picture while working to get their initial operating model right, even if that model starts out small. These audacious individuals must possess the character to withstand naysayers and bullies. (167)

First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win.

First and foremost, be clear about your purpose and honest about what you bring to the table, as well as what you hope to take away. (175)

Partnering effectively takes time and commitment. If we believe that a moral revolution requires everyone, we must become skilled at building trusting partnerships across sectors. Honing this skill almost always requires a shift in both assumptions and behaviors. (176)

Be wildly cautious when an organization calls and says, “We love what you do. We should find ways to partner.” If they cannot articulate why to partner, how to partner, or, most important, to what end, you won’t have a partnership; you’ll have a mess. Ironically, sometimes those you see as least like you may be exactly who you need for what you want to accomplish. So, start again with your mission and an understanding (177) of which skills, markets, and communication outlets enable you to realize the good you are creating for those in need. (178)

individuals, not institutions, create the relationships that lead to change. (183)

Given that trust is our rarest currency, we have to choice but to teach our children, and one another, to be trusting and worthy of trust. You build trust by showing up, by listening to what someone else has to say, by keeping promises. You build trust through shared endeavor and by the consistency of your words and actions. You build it by admitting mistakes and by communicating both when things go well and when they fail. You build trust by knowing your values, living them, and being clear with others that you will not violate those values. (184)

11. Accompany Each Others

cf. The Social Contract, Rousseau

Accompaniment is a Jesuit idea, meaning to “live and walk” alongside those you serve. It is the willingness to encounter another, to make someone feel valued and seen, bettered for knowing you, never belittled. Guiding another person, organization, or community to build confidence and capabilities requires tenacity, a disciplined resolve to show up repeatedly with no expectation of thanks in return. This kind of accompaniment requires the patience to listen to others’ stories without judgment, to offer skills and solutions without imposition. It is to be a follower as well as a guide, a humble yet aspirational teacher-student focused on coaching another with firm kindness and a steady presence. With those you aim to serve or lead, your job is to be interested, to help make another person shine, not demonstrate how smart or good or capable you yourself are. (187)

The opposite of accompaniment is separation. To enable the violence of slum clearances and other systems that strip people of life’s possibilities requires a separation among and within ourselves. We reduce people to statistics in ways that dehumanizes them, keeping ourselves at a distance from the ugly realities of our decisions—or our inaction. We tell our-(190)selves there is nothing else to be done. We blame victims’ hardships on “the system” or characterize the poor as being unwilling or unworthy. We prefer not to know. (191)

The separation that divides human beings also creates divisions within people, making them feel that they are less than others, that they are not worthy, that they are not enough. In reconnecting and reconstituting our common bonds, in accompanying one another, we have the greatest chance for renewal in our work, in our communities, and also within ourselves. (191)

Accompaniment is a way of upholding your commitment to another’s success. (192)

In times of both success and failure, we can choose with whom we stand. Going beyond yourself to enable others not just to persevere but to thrive lies at the heart of accompaniment. (193)

Many models of accompaniment in the developing world are based on the understanding that people yearn to belong, to be cared for, and that individual communities thrive when they are parts of larger communities. In other words, human beings thrive when we believe someone cares about us. It isn’t much more complicated than that. (194)

People sometimes ask how “accompaniment” scales as a principle. I would say that how we support one another is an ethos, a way of seeing others—and ourselves. If we spread that ethos, and if we celebrate those who do it well, then accompaniments and the benefits from them will only increase. (197)

This is the secret of accompaniment: I will hold a mirror to you and show you your value, bear witness to your suffering and to your light. And over time, you will do the same for me, for within the relationship lies the promise of our shared dignity and the mutual encouragement needed to do the hard things. (198)

| Whatever you aim to do, whatever problem you hope to address, remember to accompany those who are struggling, who are left out, who lack the capabilities needed to solve their own problems. We are each other’s destiny. Beneath the hard skills and firm strategic priorities needed to resolve our greatest challenges lies the soft, fertile ground of our shared humanity. In that place of hard and soft is sustenance enough to nourish the entire human family. (199)

12. Tell Stories That Matter

The job of the moral leader—which is the job of all of us—is to learn to tell the stories that matter, stories that unite and inspire, reinforcing our individual and collective potential, and paint a picture of the future that we can build and inhabit together. Stories that matter are not stories that demean, deride, divide, ridicule, belittle, blame, or shame. We must take the harder path of telling stories that hold our truths, both the ugly and the beautiful, while remaining laser-focused on the possible. (204)

We will not build strong institutions or confident, capable people if we don’t tell the whole truth. And we diminish ourselves when we tell—or heed—stories that reinforce negative stereotypes. (209)

Our hope for a moral revolution rests on telling stories that unite, that challenge stereotypes and easy prejudices, and that ultimately reinforce our dignity. Telling those stories effectively, however, requires a humility that acknowledges the light and dark in all of us. When you dare to tell your full story, you will inevitably touch people who relate to your most vulnerable elements. And as you dive into the more painful stories from your past, you may find clues to help shape the story of who you want to become. (212)

Listening to people share stories of trauma or loss within their life trajectories is a profound reminder that our tragedies neither define nor destroy us. How we respond to our trauma (212) plays a much greater role; and therein lies the groundwork for the most important stories we can write, not with pen and paper but in the way we conduct our lives. (213)

Our collective story is a mosaic of narratives that inspire our better selves, counter those who would divide us, and reveal the hidden gifts and capacities that the world would rather not see. The story of us is ultimately that of love forever unfolding. And no story matters more than that. (216)

13. Embrace the Beautiful Struggle

…I understood then that skills and resources are not enough to solve our problems: we must ground our systems in a spiritual foundation big enough to sustain our astonishing diversity. Such a foundation is based on the notion of transcendence, that all living things are inter-connected, that we are deserving of dignity. (219)

…some mammals like chimpanzees, elephants, and orcas should be assigned certain rights to protect their survival. These new frameworks are manifestations of the belief that we can, and must, transcend our individual needs and desires to build structures that work for and sustain all of us. (220)

So, how do any of us sustain? Every change agent must find within herself the strength to carry on through the dark times and the courage to push against a resistant status quo, not just for a couple of years but, potentially, for decades. Anger can go a long way, yet it eventually whittles the soul. External awards may be reinforcing, yet whatever comfort they provide is fleeting. Any honor bestowed by others can be taken away. There must be something more, something that nourishes the spirit and makes slogging for years through the mud and grime of social change bearable. (221)

| I have found sustenance in a part of the journey that few talked about when I began: beauty. To paraphrase Dr. King, there is beauty in struggle. (221)

Beauty is an expression of human dignity. It resides in the work of showing up, of extending ourselves and bringing kindness when we feel like being anything but kind. Beauty lives in the narratives of those who are striving to overcome profound obstacles just to survive. It thrives in the bonds of human connection and the quiet moments of contemplative reflection. Let beauty be a powerful touchstone, not only to reinforce your own resolve, but to rejuvenate those you serve. (222)

We are most lovable when we are vulnerable. (223)

Remember, again, in those times that real love is a hard skill. I also hope you can find rituals, whether religious or decidedly nonreligious, to sustain and connect you more fully to the realization that we are on this fragile planet for a short time, that we are here together, that all we have is one another. And that you are enough. (226)

Poets trade in the universal, the transcendent, the awe-inspiring simplicity of the world. The silence between their words is almost a meditation itself. (227)

The theologian Howard Thurman has called that quiet recognition “the sound of the genuine.” When we reveal our most genuine selves, not (231) only do we invite the same from others, but the choice to work toward something beyond ourselves becomes inevitable. (232)

…there is sustenance in beauty manifested in service, in the arts, in rebuilding what has been destroyed. (232)

…there is dance. There is a new generation to teach. And in that new generation is a chance for rebirth. (233)(

Faith does not have to be religious, and prayer can take a thousand forms. We are on dangerous ground when “faith” becomes associated with political parties, or when nonbelievers are seen as heretics rather than seekers. A moral framework for an interdependent world has no place for religious practices that divine. What matters instead is that we agree to at least some shared moral principles that enable our collective human flourishing. In whatever form faith takes for you, I wish you a reservoir from which you can draw sustenance. May you find ways and rituals to remind you to be present in the world, to be grateful. (233)

| When you are broken or exhausted—and you will be—remember beauty, gratitude, faith, and love. Remember that in the struggle, there is a beauty that endures. Remember that there will be beauty in moments of tragedy as well as in times of shared celebration. But most important, remember that beauty is inside you, if you let it be. (233)

14. Manifesto

cf. Universal  Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

The (237) earth is witnessing the extermination of species at a shocking rate, imperiling our food supplies, our oceans, and the equilibrium and beauty of nature. A new declaration infused with the moral imagination of a new generation might consider not only our rights, then, but our responsibilities, recognizing that if we do not sustain the earth, human rights will die along with our species. (238)

Freedom does not exist without constraint. Saying aloud those values that bind us, whether we start with our families, our organizations, our communities, or our nations, is a start. Aspiring to live those values is the next step. Within each of us lies the basis for the only revolution that will save us: a moral revolution. (238)


It starts by standing with the poor, listening to voices unheard, and recognizing potential where others see despair.
It demands investing as a means, not an end, daring to go where markets have failed and aid has fallen short. It makes capital work for us, not control us.

It thrives on moral imagination: the humility to see the world as it is, and the audacity to imagine the world as it could be. It’s having the ambition to learn at the edge, the wisdom to admit failure, and the courage to start again.

It requires patience and kindness, resilience and grit: a hard-edged hope. It’s leadership that rejects complacency, breaks through bureaucracy, and challenges corruption. Doing what’s right, not what’s easy.

Acumen: it’s the radical idea of creating hope in a cynical world. Changing the way the world tackles poverty and building a world based on dignity.

When I was a child,
I learnt to count to five:
One, two, three, four, five.
But these days, I’ve been counting lives, so I count
One life.
One life.
One life.
One life.
One life.

– The Pedagogy of Conflict, Pádraig Ó Tuama

We are each other’s harvest. – Gwendolyn Brooks

…ubuntu, or ‘human kindness,’… (248)

…a “one-armed hug”—enough support to stand with someone, but not so much that you disable them. (248)

All of us are needed for a moral revolution. (249)

Critically, a revolution of morals requires each of us to rethink success, asking ourselves whether we are doing enough to serve others, whether we are enabling others to help themselves, whether we are kind. We must find the courage to recognize, integrate, and accept the light and dark sides of ourselves so that we can bolster and integrate our larger communities. Finally, we must have faith that we can solve our biggest (249) problems, trusting that we can bridge our divides because we are connected, because we can see one another, because our shared destiny is dependent on the dignity of every one of us. (250)

As Eleanor Roosevelt wrote long ago, the work of renewing a world based on extending dignity to every being on the planet begins in small places, close to home. As we go through life on this tiny, blue planet, the only home we know, imagine the changes that might arise if we each took a step toward making it a home in which all of us could participate, where each person could flourish with peace and justice and a sense of wholeness for many, many generations to come. (252)

| The world is waiting for you. (252)

About VIA


  1. Joyce Carlson

    This author needs to read some evolutionary psychology and find out about human nature. And read The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.

  2. Pingback: Jane Goodall: The Hope | Reflections | vialogue

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