13. Aspiration: To seek a fulfilling way of life that avoids harm 

In 1979, a teenager named Jadav "Molai" Payengwas distressed to find snakes dying of heat on a sandbar near his birthplace in the Assam region of India, and started planting seeds to bring them some shade. The forest department told him that nothing would grow there, but after over thirty years of solitary effort the once-barren sandbar is now a sprawling 1,360-acre forest, home to several thousand trees and an astounding diversity of wildlife - including birds, deer, apes, rhino, elephants and even tigers. Payeng still lives in a small hut in the forest with his wife and three children, and has dedicated his life to its upkeep and growth. Officials in the region only learned of Payeng's forest in 2008. Source: The Times of India.

The benefits of aspiration

Aspiration has the potential to:

  • Channel our time and energy in a way that brings meaning and satisfaction
  • Help us do things differently and play an active part in creating a better world
  • Connect us with like-minded people and helpful guidance that will help us realize our dreams

A 16 Guidelines view on aspiration

Aspiration is the profound longing for purpose and fulfillment, joy and happiness, which lies deep – and sometimes buried – in our hearts, and in the heart of every living being. It is the voice inside that urges us to use our life well and to make the best of whatever gifts and passions we possess. The way we choose to respond to that voice will determine all the choices we make in our lives.

Simply to read this page is to aspire. Aspiration is the fuel of change. It feeds on our hope that life could be better or more meaningful, and our willingness to do something differently to make this happen. It is a call to action.

Everyone aspires to be happy, and it is a natural human quality to include others in this aspiration. We want our family and friends to be prosperous and content. We want homeless people to find shelter, hungry people to have food, sick people to have medicine. We want the world to be at peace.

The happiest and most contented people are usually those who have found a way to put their aspirations for self and others into practice, and have thereby played an active part in creating a better world. This is a common characteristic of all the role models featured in this website. Their life stories may seem daunting and out of reach. In hindsight they are towering figures. Yet everything they did consisted of small choices and steps, many of which are possible for anyone.

What can we do to turn our aspirations into reality? How can we taste and realise our unique potential as human beings?

16 Guidelines resources and training for developing aspiration

Did you know?

Based on fMRI scans on the brain, arecent study found that sports or life coaching that emphasizes compassion for an individual's aspirations and dreams enhances behavioral change. It also activates parts of the brain that increase global visual processing – meaning you can visualize goals better.

On a separate study researchers at King’s College London concluded that girls are less likely than boys to aspire to science careers even though a higher percentage of girls than boys rate science as their favourite subject.


Jack, A. et al. Visioning in the brain: an fMRI study of inspirational coaching and mentoring, Social Neuroscience, 8(4):369-84, 2013.

Archer, L. et al. Aspires: young people’s science and career aspirations age 10-14, King’s College London, 2013.



We are the generation we have been waiting for” says Craig Kielburger, who although only in his thirties has touched the lives of countless young people in his native Canada and beyond. 

Craig’s commitment to free children everywhere from abuse and exploitation, and to help them achieve their aspirations, began with a newspaper article that he read at the age of 12 years old. The first organization he set up, Free The Children, is funded, driven and staffed entirely by children and young people, and has inspired more than a million young people to get involved with humanitarian activities. In 1999 he and his brother Marc established Leaders Today, which provides leadership training to hundreds of thousands of young people each year. His message is: “Find your gift. Find your passion. Put them together and you will change the world.”

For more on Craig Kielburger, see:

  1. www.freethechildren.com, www.leaderstoday.com and www.globalvoices.org: websites of organizations founded by Craig and his brother Marc
  2. Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World by Craig Kielburger (New York: Fireside: 2006)
  3. It Takes a Child: Craig Kielburger’s Story directed by Judy Jackson, 1998 (DVD/Video distributed by Bulldog Films)


A short reflection on aspiration from '16 Guidelines: The Basics' book

Find a quiet space where you can relax. Sit comfortably. To help you settle, focus your awareness on your breathing. Let go of any thoughts, images or feelings that arise. Whenever you become distracted, bring your awareness gently back to the sensation of the breath going in and out. Spend a few minutes enjoying the experience of coming to rest. 

Bring your awareness to the body. What is it made of? Think about the different parts like skin, blood, bones and organs, which in turn are made of cells, which in turn are made of atoms, subatomic particles and so forth. Reflect on how all these cells are moving, changing, dividing and dying. Try to feel the energy and movement within your body. 

Now take this awareness outside of yourself. Reflect on how the furniture, glass, floor and everything around you is also made up of tiny particles, which are constantly changing from one millisecond to the next. Open your senses to the world: listen to its dynamic energy and observe its constant process of transformation. 

Widen your awareness to include the billions of people and animals on this planet whose bodies are also moving and changing. Observe the concrete cities, countryside, mountains and seas; the sun, moon, stars and clouds. Can you find anything that is static?  

Next, imagine pushing a “stop!” button. Suddenly the world becomes still as a statue. Everything comes to a halt. What would this be like?   

Bring your awareness back to yourself. You too have come to a standstill. What would this be like? What effect would it have on your mind, your body, yourbehaviour? How could you dream, learn or grow? How could you fulfil your dreams and aspirations? 

Release the stop button. Everything starts moving again and you have your freedom back. Ponder the idea: if everything is changing, anything is possible. 

Close with the wish “May all beings be happy!”


Quotes on aspiration

  • Keep a green tree in your heart and the singing bird will come. - Chinese Proverb
  • Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you. - Maori Proverb
  • Aspire not to have more, but to be more.- Oscar Romero
  • Don't tell me the sky is the limit. There are footprints on the moon. – Dorothy Parker
  • Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined - Henry David Thoreau
  • You don't have to be tall to see the moon. – African Proverb.
  • Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else. – Judy Garland
  • To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to. – Khalil Gibran
  • If you have built castles in the air your work need not be lost. That is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. – Henry David Thoreau


Go to:

Next guideline: principles or Browse all guidelines