09/09/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Radical Thought: You Can Make A Difference

In the immortal title of his bestseller, Steal This Book, Abbie Hoffman summed up the radicals of the 1960s. That era was about challenging the established way of doing things. And not always in the most, shall we say, peaceful ways (either on the part of the protestors or the authorities). If I had to sum up the "old radical" approach (still in use today by many people and organizations), it's about shaming, blaming, and attacking.

When I began researching my book, I wondered if there was another way to meet the world's challenges. Was there a "new" radical approach?

And the answer is a resounding "Yes!".

As I interviewed people -- and read accounts of hundreds of others -- I began to observe a common theme. I saw that the men and women I came to call the New Radicals believe in the pull of vision. They recognize the power of dialogue. They see the possibilities inherent in working together toward change. It is a profound shift, and one that is played out over and over again by people of all ages, in each field, every sector, and around the world. (For more on the New Radicals, see archived articles.)

New Radicals are, I realized, positive, constructive, and hopeful.

In fact, I began to think of "positive, constructive, hopeful" as a kind of New Radical credo. Which means that it's not just a phrase, but a tool we can actually use in our daily lives -- a reference point for all of our choices and actions.

Try this experiment. The next time you need to make a decision, when you're in a meeting and it's your turn to speak, or when you're filling up the car with gas or picking up the dry cleaning, run what you're about to say or do through the "positive, constructive, hopeful" filter first. I guarantee that something will shift. And you'll begin to see that we change ourselves and influence others even in the simplest ways. Forget the world stage; right now, in the middle of daily life, you can make a difference.

All of this musing about a New Radical credo made me wonder if there isn't a growing desire for a moral code. Something Bill Gates wrote in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal about his work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation came to mind, "This would do more than challenge our intellect. This would challenge our humanity."

And then Dr. Robert Coles appeared on my radar for the first time in many years. Remember him? Coles, a child psychiatrist and one of the best-known civil rights activists of the 1960s, has spent a lifetime studying morality: what it is, how it's created, and its place in our lives. (And, yes, he's still going strong!)

Now, Coles is describing morality as a kind of third intelligence. He says we've known about rational or cognitive intelligence for a long time. And that we have learned a lot in the last decade or so about emotional intelligence. But he believes that a third kind of intelligence -- moral -- is just as important, and that people want more of it in their lives.

Coles, I was glad to learn, remains optimistic about our world. What's more, he believes that being hopeful about the future is our moral obligation. And he takes the things that he's seen in his lifetime -- including civil rights -- as evidence that more positive change is possible.

Do you agree with Coles and the New Radicals? Are you confident that we can save the world? And have you had an experience of applying your own version of the New Radicals credo to an everyday moment? Did it work? Or have you ever noticed someone else doing their best to be positive, constructive, and hopeful -- and did it shift something in you?