The integration of heart, hands and head

Bill Dennison ·
3 September 2013
Science Communication | Learning Science |     1 comments

There are three things that the community needs to be able to say collectively in order to successfully confront an environmental challenge. The community needs to be able to say "We care" about a specific environmental issue, which comes from the heart. The community also needs to be able to "We know" what the right thing to do would be, which comes from the head. Finally, the community needs to be able to say "We can", referring to their ability to institute the appropriate actions. These three simple statements, "We care", "We know" and "We can" are expressions of community caring, community knowledge and community commitment - they are not first person statements, rather convey a sense of group ownership of the issue.

In order to to make social, economic and ecological change, three things are required: strong leadership, technical knowledge and management effectiveness.

Strong leadership is needed to develop the shared vision that results in the "We care" commitment. This leadership can be found both within and beyond political leadership. Various leaders can form strong alliances with community groups, scientific leadership can be found with those willing to practice praxis and phronesis, and political leaders can articulate an environmental cause and motivate people to care. A degree of technical knowledge is also needed to insure that the community fully understands the issues, including the tradeoffs and the consequences of various actions. It is common for this knowledge to be held exclusively by scientists and engineers with technical abilities, but the measure of success in the realm of environmental management is the level of widely shared community knowledge. Finally, the management effectiveness is the adoption of those actions which will deliver the desired results. With strong leadership coming from the heart, technical knowledge coming from the head and effective management coming the hands, the desired change can take place.

Various resources are necessary for social, economic and ecological change. Organized activities that motivate people require coordination and willing volunteers. Science is needed to provide insights as to the issues and possible solutions which requires resources. Finally, money is necessary to purchase the equipment, acquire the property or hire the people be able to enact the various necessary measures. While resources like money, facilities and institutions are necessary, they are not sufficient for change to occur - a commitment by community leaders and members, scientists and resource managers is a key component of an environmental program.

The use of the heart, head and heads trilogy is common in many religions; mind, body and spirit are often used in describing a spiritual goal. Louis Nizer (1948) summarized this integration in the following manner: A man who works with his hands is a laborer, a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman, and a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist. However, most of the previous focus on integrating heart, head and hands is on the individual. It is our contention that it is the integration of these facets of the broader community that makes for social, economic and ecological change. Passion that is only shared by a few, or knowledge restricted to the technically savvy or financial resources that are confined to a select few do not lead to good environmental outcomes.

Integration of heart, hands and head to make social and ecological change
Integration of heart, hands and head to make social and ecological change from Dancing with Dugongs.

This blog post is an excerpt from Dancing with Dugongs: Having fun and developing a practical philosophy for environmental teaching and research by Peter E. Oliver and William C. Dennison, which will be released at the 2013 Riversymposium in Brisbane, Australia.


Nizer, Louis. 1948. Between You and Me. Beechurst Press. 302 pp.

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

Next Post > It’s all Greek to me: The terms ‘praxis’ and ‘phronesis’ in environmental philosophy


  • 8 years ago

    This is really interesting, You're a very skilled blogger.
    I've joined your feed and look forward to seeking more of your excellent post.

    Also, I have shared your web site in my social networks!

Post a comment