Nearly 20 years ago, I had a thought. A single thought that birthed inside me and came to change the trajectory of my life and my work: What would it take to move the world—even an inch—from fear to love?

I believed then, as I do now, that life for most of us is an interplay between love and fear, and that too often fear gets the upper hand. I believe that love lies buried deep within our essence and that if we work to uncover and address our fears, we will find love underneath, waiting to greet us and waiting to create positive change.

A journey of discovery

To find out whether this thought had merit, and what it would take to uncover that love, I began working in the international development sector. I found there a tremendous amount of fantastic—and often heroic—work being done in challenging environments all over the world. Work that took love to undertake, and work that was having a positive impact far beyond the individuals it directly reached.

But I also found an important missing piece.

Even as billions of dollars were poured into healthcare, infrastructure, and basic education, there was little to no investment in evidence-based programs fostering emotional and social wellbeing. And there were few programs or organizations that sought to teach and nurture the universal human strengths of love, compassion, and forgiveness that were fueling so much wonderful work in the first place.

What would it take to move the world—even an inch—from fear to love? #resilience #measurable #change Click To Tweet

Turning the power of a single thought into action for change

CorStone and I set out to consciously and purposely educate the next generation in strengths like loving-kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. And we set out to learn about and evaluate what catalyzing effect such a shift could have on individuals, and societies—particularly vulnerable, marginalized youth in poverty or low-income settings.

This year, after 10 years of innovating, training, gathering evidence and evaluating the impact we have had on individual lives and in communities, CorStone launched a major scale-up initiative with the intention to not only uncover individual inner power but also serve as the catalyst to a chain reaction of positive societal change.

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The story of Nitu | A profile in personal resilience

Nitu lives in Bihar, India, one of India’s poorest states. Though she wanted to continue her education, when she was 14 years old her father forcibly married her to an older man. At her husband’s home, she was abused, beaten and burned with cigarettes and hot milk.

Nitu | CorStone’s Girls First Resilience Program
Nitu | A profile in personal resilience realized from the power of a single thought

Prior to her marriage, while she was still in school, Nitu had completed CorStone’s Girls First Resilience Program. She told us later that the program had a significant impact on her will to live and to pursue a better future.

Nitu added, “Sometimes I felt like I should commit suicide. But then I would always remember that I am special, I am worthy, and I have so many character strengths like persistence, prudence, and bravery.”

Armed only with belief in herself, Nitu eventually ran away and back to her family home. Her father insisted she return to her husband, but she refused and sought admission to high school. He then tore her books and beat her, but she held onto the hope that someday she would complete school.

Today, at the age of 21 years, Nitu is preparing for the 10th-grade exam. She is happily re-married to a young man from her village, who strongly supports her desire for education. Together they have a beautiful young daughter and plan to ensure she has access to education.

Going to scale in Bihar | India

Over the next 3 years, CorStone will conduct a scale-up ‘demonstration model’ of our Youth First and Girls First programs in approximately 1400 schools in Bihar, India–testing and refining our training and monitoring systems to ensure the program can be transferred successfully to the Bihar Education Department and sustained at a large scale. Once complete, these programs will reach over 2.5 million children in Bihar per year.

In addition, even as we work to reach scale in Bihar, CorStone is continuing to expand into additional states in India, while also executing a rollout of Youth First in nomadic Maasai, rural and urban slum populations in Kenya as well as two more low-income countries in Southeast Asia and Africa by 2021.

Lessons learned from within

What I’ve learned through our work, through the lives we’ve touched, and through the impact those individuals have had in transforming their communities, is this:

If we want to move the needle—if we want to change the status quo—we need to recognize that fostering individual wellbeing is intrinsically tied to advances we hope to make in education, in health, in girls’ and women’s empowerment, and ultimately to the reduction of poverty and the birth of thriving communities.
Steve Leventhal | CorStone, Executive Director

This is true in communities worldwide—in the highest income country and the lowest—and all settings in between including yours; wherever that may be.

Our common challenge

Nearly 20 years ago, I had a thought. A single thought that if we could move the world even an inch—from fear to love—we could change the lives of millions. I challenge each of us to commit to using our strengths in new and novel ways, finding new ways, new avenues, to bring the science of love and wellbeing forth to unexpected places, to unexpected populations, to unexpected venues.

Apply it to challenges you think you can’t tackle or address, to things that commonly come outside of the realm of your everyday focus, like climate change, poverty reduction, or racial prejudice or gender inequality.

Be a voice that galvanizes other voices into action. Help others to choose love over fear. With the power and conviction of a single thought, become a change agent. Our kids and our planet need nothing less from all of us.

Be a voice that galvanizes other voices into action. #resilience #positive #change Click To Tweet

Progress recognized

In July 2019, Steve Leventhal was awarded Most Outstanding Practitioner by the International Positive Psychology Association. Click here to learn more and watch his full opening plenary from the 6th World Congress on Positive Psychology.

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