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The journey of a self thought person

A Force for Good – Review* of book written by Daniel Goleman in collaboration with the Dalai Lama

In 2015, I read the book A Force for Good and that experience changed my life:

  • First, it helped me see how common the feeling of being insignificant was and how the reason most people didn’t try to make a difference in the world was not that they didn’t care, but that they felt too small to matter;
  • Second, it took that feeling of powerlessness away.

That doesn’t mean that I’ve been upbeat and working hard at changing the world ever since. I’ve had plenty of dark times these past two years and I know for a fact there are plenty more to come. But one thing hasn’t changed: my determination to not give up, keep re-framing the problems, get better at critical thinking and problem solving, and continue with baby steps knowing that, given enough time and practice, I’ll advance to toddler walk.


A Force for Good was a collaboration between the Dalai Lama and Daniel Goleman, well-known author of Emotional Intelligence and at least a dozen other books. Because of those credentials, I’ll say that it could have been a little better written, or a little better edited. It could have been more clear, better organized, and less repetitive. Those shortcomings, petty and subjective as they are, don’t take away at all from its powerful message, which is that,

“[…] as human beings, equipped with marvelous intelligence and the potential for developing a warm heart, each and every one of us can become a force for good.”

Daniel Goleman brings many stories and ideas about how to become a force for good. I’ll share here the four which had most impact on me and the message I got from them.

  1. Inspiration and positivity are important

In an article published in 2004, called “The Death of Environmentalism”, authors and researchers Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus argued that groups who had good intent (in this case the environmentalist) were becoming too negative. Instead of inspiring people to help more, they overwhelmed everyone with messages of doom-and-gloom.

To capture the hearts of millions, they said, Martin Luther King Jr. started his famous speech with “I have a dream,” not “I have a nightmare.”

In A Force for Good, Daniel Goleman uses that idea and explains that we’re often compelled to action if we are “guided by a positive vision, an image of what things could be like one day. Considering what life could be like invites originality, new ideas, innovations.”

“To survive”, he said, “we need to recognize what’s wrong. But to thrive we need a North Star to follow to better alternatives – a rebooted GPS toward a more optimistic tomorrow.”

To me, that was a powerful lesson/reminder. Somewhere, in the messier corners of my mind, I already knew that working towards a positive goal was much more motivating than working to get out of a mess, but I couldn’t explain in relatively clear terms why without feeling that I was fooling myself into taking some action.

Because I want to keep this review short and not lose focus, I’ll expand on this idea in a different post called “For a dream, not a nightmare.” I’ll link to it as soon as it’s done.

For now, I’ll just say that the message I got from Martin Luther King Jr.’s story was that we need to reframe our problems into positive challenges so we can get excited about figuring out the solutions and implementing them.

When we are honest, realistic, smart, hard working, and have good intent, there’s no problem too big to tackle. We’ll go from “this is a nightmare” to “I have a dream. Now let’s make it happen.”

  1. We matter

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is something scientists with too much time on their hands came up with. ?It is the process of figuring out the impact a specific “thing” has on the environment. For example, making a drinking glass involves almost two thousand (yes, thousand) steps, from gathering sand, to adding chemicals, cooking everything at high temperatures, and so on.

LAC measures how each of those steps affects our water, soil, and air, our health, and the social environment.

An eye-opening exercise, is figuring out the impact of making a smartphone. Most people are shocked to learn that it takes about 6,200 operations to create a smartphone. One of the first steps is the mining of rare elements in poor parts of China and Africa, usually in war zones and using slave labor. One of the last steps is the work to recover those rare elements for reuse. Villagers in poor parts of India spend their day in an environment of toxic chemicals to take apart circuit boards, and melt and recover the precious parts.

That piece of news creates guilt in many people. Sometimes, the guilt becomes overwhelming.

Daniel Goleman tells the story about students at Harvard who had to calculate their personal footprint – the impact of everything they owned and did. At the end of that project, many students felt the world would be better off without them.

I understand that feeling. I wrestled with it myself long ago, in my young days. But it’s been years since I had my aha moment and understood that guilt can be seen as an indicator, or a tool, and we should make the best use of it. Guilt shows we care enough to see there is a problem and want to not make it worse.

The students at Harvard and everyone else who feels guilt should be kinder to themselves. Their caring alone makes them valuable members of the ever growing team of people determined to solve problems and help create a better world .

So here’s a message that I hope reaches the minds and hearts of people who struggle with guilt: You do matter and the world is better off with you.

  1. Take action

Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live in; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything.”

I don’t agree with Einstein’s words about evil people, but I completely agree there are many evil human actions and that the people who can spot these actions should try their best to prevent them or, if prevention failed, to fix them.

This is another topic that deserves more attention that I can give it in this post, but I’ll say this: I believe that everyone deserves kindness. That doesn’t mean that I’ll ever agree that we should turn the other cheek in a conflict. In fact, the only time I would actually turn the other cheek, is when inspiration hits me. Other than that, my course of action is: do you best to avoid conflict but recognize that unfortunately, even in this day and age, force is sometimes the only way to prevent or stop harm.

I hope this little side note on kindness and not turning the other cheek didn’t confuse or take away from point I was trying to make from Einstein’s story, which is: people with good intent should take action to prevent or stop harmful actions.

  1. Success is not measured by results

In 1774, Captain James Cook was sailing the South Pacific for a second time. On Norfolk Island, an island between Australia and New Zealand, he found some trees that amazed him with how high and straight they grew. He thought those trees would be perfect for making masts – “a valuable commodity in those days and one that might save the lives of crews stranded by storms that had destroyed their ships masts.

As the story goes, Captain Cook gathered seeds of the Norfolk Island pine and, as he landed on other islands around the Pacific, planted them there thinking that in decades to come they might become life-saving masts.”

That is a very powerful lesson. Captain Cook knew he would never get to see those pine trees grow enough to be used as masts for his own ship. There was no benefit to him for planting the seeds. But he did it for future generations.

We can be like Captain Cook: the generation that plants the seeds for a better tomorrow.

We often get discouraged if we don’t see results when trying our best at something. And there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, we do want results. Results show that a goal was reached. But we have to start being more patient. More humble. More content with being the generation that plants the seeds yet might not get to enjoy the shade of the trees.

So, while I think that results are a useful indicator of whether or not we are on the right track, of whether or not a goal has been achieved, they are not the true measure of success. Effort and good intent are. If we give a goal our best effort and best intent, then we are successful.

As a side note, I also believe that, because of the amazing times we live in, we are the generation that gets to plant the seeds, nurture the saplings, and enjoy the trees. I’ll expand on my vision for the future, in a post I hope to finish in a few days.

For now, I’ll get back back to A Force for Good and summarize its four important messages:

  1. Dream a dream: be realistic about the nightmare you’re in, but, once you can put anger and fear away, use creativity to dream and dream, and smart thinking and hard work to make the dream happen.
  2. You matter: guilt is a sign that you care. Caring is an important part of problem solving. It motivates us to work harder. It helps as make better decisions about the final goal. When we are caring, our goals will be kinder and more fair.
  3. Take action.
  4. As a measure of success, effort and intent mean more than results.

To finish this post, I’ll use the Dalai Lama’s words again:

“[…] as human beings, equipped with marvelous intelligence and the potential for developing a warm heart, each and every one of us can become a force for good.”

It’s a message worth repeating. ?



(* this is the written review. If you prefer the video review, here’s the YouTube link for it. I stutter a bit and forget to say the word “sometimes” at an important part of the video, but I think it’s not a bad thing to watch. A little too long, maybe …).

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