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  • Scott Hatley

Changing Hearts and Minds

Change seems to be a constant in life. Simultaneously it’s everywhere and yet nowhere. Some change is easy to deal with, while other types can be really difficult. Change can also happen suddenly or take a very long time, if ever, to happen. And whether we like it or not, change is a certainty in life.

As we move through life, it’s all too easy to get so entrenched with our beliefs, attitudes and perspectives that fundamentally changing who we are becomes very difficult. As such, it should come as no surprise that one of the more complicated aspects of life is the task of changing hearts and minds. It’s mired in an intricate web of experiences, emotions and relationships which influences who we are and what we believe.

A part of our work at INCIGHT, the organization powering The Understanding, is focused on building a foundation of expectations and realization of what’s possible for individuals with disabilities and barriers to achieve their greatest potential in life. It also means building an environment of empowerment and accountability. This isn’t possible without first changing the hearts and mindsets of society at large.

We believe more potential resides in this demographic than has historically been realized, and most of this potential is unfairly locked up. We believe “stigma” is the primary factor which gets in the way and leads to limiting beliefs and unfair judgments. True culture change involves busting this stigma and breaking down these barriers. We need to reframe the conversation around disability and increase the comfort level of interacting with those with barriers. This type of change takes time.

Upon first glance, it’s difficult to know where the influence lies for change. Is it the brain (mind) or the heart?

Aside from the physical aspect of the heart's function, to pump blood throughout the body, it is the emotional and moral center of the body. Emotions such as excitement, fear, anger, and sadness, just to name a few, can control our bodies and how we respond. In fact, depending on the emotions we are feeling, the heart can beat and pump faster or slower. We live out our feelings and intentions in life through our “heart.”

The mind, on the other hand, is a person’s intellect or the element in our body enabling us to be aware of the world, our experiences, consciousness and thought. Our brains are the area where all the scripts, narratives and experiences have been drawn up over a lifetime. We scrub any “new” data and experiences past this “old” knowledge to see if it makes sense. This organ is where real change can happen!

So, which is it, the chicken or the egg? Which comes first in influencing true change? Is it the heart? Or is it the mind? Well…for some perspective, research shows the heart plays a central role in controlling the mind. Referred to as the “little brain” by some researchers, there are 40,000 sensory neurons relaying information to the brain from the heart. Moreover, “the heart emits an electrical field 60 times greater in amplitude (wavelength displacement) than the activity in the brain and an electromagnetic field 5,000 times stronger that of the brain” ( The electromagnetic field of the heart is strong.

As an example, Secretariat, the Triple Crown winning horse, was noted for his large heart, estimated to weigh 22 pounds or two-and-three-quarters times as large as that of the average horse. He is considered one of the best racehorses of all time, and was different from all the other horses. Secretariat was all heart in fact. He was big, unique and powerful. He had greater stamina and strength, which led him to go down in history for his great accomplishments. It further led to movies created in his honor.

Secretariat led with his heart, and beside the obvious body physics, the silver lining is that he changed people’s hearts and minds about what was possible. Is a horse the only being who can bring about this type of change? I sure hope not.

With the above in mind, reframing perspectives is more than purely heart surgery, or removing the diseased heart and replacing it with a healthy one. It’s more than just tackling the state of one of the body’s most important organs, the heart. It’s equally crucial to tackle our consciousness, the body’s “thinking core,” as much as our heart.

In the spirit of Secretariat, we seek to reframe the disability paradigm and conversation. We seek to cultivate a world of inclusion for those with disabilities to succeed and contribute to the community to their fullest. This starts by educating the hearts and minds of those in the workplace, in the education system, among parents and with individuals experiencing disabilities and barriers themselves. We believe it involves changing culture by busting stigma and breaking down barriers. Reframing the conversation includes increasing the comfort around those with disabilities and barriers. It involves providing a safe environment for employers to ask questions. It means getting people jobs and changing workplace culture. It further includes setting expectations, creating awareness and building an environment of empowerment and accountability.

Long-term success requires humility, tireless resilience and understanding. INCIGHT is up for the challenge. Will you join us on this journey?

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