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Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence | Walter Wink

Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence | Walter Wink | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it

The belief that violence “saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience-unto-death.

 

This Myth of Redemptive Violence is the real myth of the modern world. It, and not Judaism or Christianity or Islam, is the dominant religion in our society today. When my children were small, we let them log an unconscionable amount of television, and I became fascinated with the mythic structure of cartoons. This was in the 1960s, when the ”death of God” theologians were being feted on talk shows, and secular humanity’s tolerance for religious myth and mystery were touted as having been exhausted.

 

I began to examine the structure of cartoons, and found the same pattern repeated endlessly: an indestructible hero is doggedly opposed to an irreformable and equally indestructible villain. Nothing can kill the hero, though for the first three quarters of the comic strip or TV show he (rarely she) suffers grievously and appears hopelessly doomed, until miraculously, the hero breaks free, vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next episode. Nothing finally destroys the villain or prevents his or her reappearance, whether the villain is soundly trounced, jailed, drowned, or shot into outer space.

 

Few cartoons have run longer or been more influential than Popeye and Bluto. In a typical segment, Bluto abducts a screaming and kicking Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend. When Popeye attempts to rescue her, the massive Bluto beats his diminutive opponent to a pulp, while Olive Oyl helplessly wrings her hands. At the last moment, as our hero oozes to the floor, and Bluto is trying, in effect, to rape Olive Oyl, a can of spinach pops from Popeye’s pocket and spills into his mouth.

 

Transformed by this gracious infusion of power, he easily demolishes the villain and rescues his beloved. The format never varies. Neither party ever gains any insight or learns from these encounters. They never sit down and discuss their differences. Repeated defeats do not teach Bluto to honour Olive Oyl’s humanity, and repeated pummellings do not teach Popeye to swallow his spinach before the fight.

 

Something about this mythic structure rang familiar. Suddenly I remembered: this cartoon pattern mirrored one of the oldest continually enacted myths in the world, the Babylonian creation story (the Enuma Elish) from around 1250 BCE. The tale bears repeating, because it holds the clue to the appeal of that ancient myth in our modern media.

 

In the beginning, according to the Babylonian myth, Apsu, the father god, and Tiamat, the mother god, give birth to the gods. But the frolicking of the younger gods makes so much noise that the elder gods resolve to kill them so they can sleep. The younger gods uncover the plot before the elder gods put it into action, and kill Apsu. His wife Tiamat, the Dragon of Chaos, pledges revenge.

 

Terrified by Tiamat, the rebel gods turn for salvation to their youngest member, Marduk. He negotiates a steep price: if he succeeds, he must be given chief and undisputed power in the assembly of the gods. Having extorted this promise, he catches Tiamat in a net, drives an evil wind down her throat, shoots an arrow that bursts her distended belly and pierces her heart. He then splits her skull with a club and scatters her blood in out-of-the-way places. He stretches out her corpse full-length, and from it creates the cosmos. (With all this blood and gore, no wonder this story proved ideal as the prototype of violent TV shows and Hollywood movies).

 

In this myth, creation is an act of violence. Marduk murders and dismembers Tiamat, and from her cadaver creates the world. As the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur observes (The Symbolism of Evil, Harper Collins 1967), order is established by means of disorder. Chaos (symbolised by Tiamat) is prior to order (represented by Marduk, high god of Babylon). Evil precedes good. The gods themselves are violent.

 

The biblical myth in Genesis 1 is diametrically opposed to all this (Genesis 1, it should be noted, was developed in Babylon during the Jewish captivity there as a direct rebuttal to the Babylonian myth). The Bible portrays a good God who creates a good creation. Chaos does not resist order. Good is prior to evil. Neither evil nor violence is part of the creation, but enter later, as a result of the first couple’s sin and the connivance of the serpent (Genesis 3). A basically good reality is thus corrupted by free decisions reached by creatures. In this far more complex and subtle explanation of the origins of things, violence emerges for the first time as a problem requiring solution.

 

In the Babylonian myth, however, violence is no problem. It is simply a primordial fact. The simplicity of this story commended it widely, and its basic mythic structure spread as far as Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Germany, Ireland, India, and China. Typically, a male war god residing in the sky fights a decisive battle with a female divine being, usually depicted as a monster or dragon, residing in the sea or abyss (the feminine element). Having vanquished the original enemy by war and murder, the victor fashions a cosmos from the monster’s corpse. Cosmic order requires the violent suppression of the feminine, and is mirrored in the social order by the subjection of women to men and people to ruler.

After the world has been created, the story continues, the gods imprisoned by Marduk for siding with Tiamat complain of the poor meal service. Marduk and his father, Ea, therefore execute one of the captive gods, and from his blood Ea creates human beings to be servants to the gods.

 

The implications are clear: human beings are created from the blood of a murdered god. Our very origin is violence. Killing is in our genes. Humanity is not the originator of evil, but merely finds evil already present and perpetuates it. Our origins are divine, to be sure, since we are made from a god, but from the blood of an assassinated god.

 

Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Order must continually be imposed upon us from on high: men over women, masters over slaves, priests over laity, aristocrats over peasants, rulers over people. Unquestioning obedience is the highest virtue, and order the highest religious value. As Marduk’s representative on earth, the king’s task is to subdue all those enemies who threaten the tranquillity that he has established on behalf of the god. The whole cosmos is a state, and the god rules through the king. Politics arises within the divine sphere itself. Salvation is politics: the masses identify with the god of order against the god of chaos, and offer themselves up for the Holy War that imposes order and rule on the peoples round about.

 

In short, the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favour those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favour of the gods. The common people exist to perpetuate the advantage that the gods have conferred upon the king, the aristocracy, and the priesthood.

Religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Life is combat. Any form of order is preferable to chaos, according to this myth. Ours is neither a perfect nor perfectible world; it is theatre of perpetual conflict in which the prize goes to the strong. Peace through war, security through strength: these are the core convictions that arise from this ancient historical religion, and they form the solid bedrock on which the Domination System is founded in every society.

 

The Babylonian myth is far from finished. It is as universally present and earnestly believed today as at any time in its long and bloody history. It is the dominant myth in contemporary America. It enshrines the ritual practice of violence at the very heart of public life, and even those who seek to oppose its oppressive violence do so violently.

 

We have already seen how the myth of redemptive violence is played out in the structure of children’s cartoon shows (and is found as well in comics, video and computer games, and movies). But we also encounter it in the media, in sports, in nationalism, in militarism, in foreign policy, in televangelism, in the religious right, and in self-styled militia groups. What appears so innocuous in cartoons is, in fact, the mythic underpinnings of our violent society.

 

The psychodynamics of the TV cartoon or comic book are marvelously simple: children identify with the good guy so that they can think of themselves as good. This enables them to project out onto the bad guy their own repressed anger, violence, rebelliousness, or lust, and then vicariously to enjoy their own evil by watching the bad guy initially prevail. This segment of the show – the “Tammuz” element, where the hero suffers – actually consumes all but the closing minutes, allowing ample time for indulging the violent side of the self.

 

When the good guy finally wins, viewers are then able to reassert control over their own inner tendencies, repress them, and re-establish a sense of goodness without coming to any insight about their own inner evil. The villain’s punishment provides catharsis; one forswears the villain’s ways and heaps condemnation on him in a guilt-free orgy of aggression. Salvation is found through identification with the hero.

 

Only the names have changed. Marduk subdues Tiamat through violence, and though he kills Tiamat, chaos incessantly reasserts itself, and is kept at bay only by repeated battles and by the repetition of the Babylonian New Year’s festival where the heavenly combat myth is ritually re-enacted. Theologian Willis Elliott’s observation underscores the seriousness of this entertainment: ”the birth of the world (cosmogony) is the birth of the individual (egogony): you are being birthed through how you see ’all things’ as being birthed”. Therefore “Whoever controls the cosmogony controls the children”.

 

The Myth of Redemptive Violence is the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has even known. Furthermore, its orientation toward evil is one into which virtually all modern children (boys especially) are socialised in the process of maturation. Children select this mythic structure because they have already been led, by culturally reinforced cues and role models, to resonate with its simplistic view of reality. Its presence everywhere is not the result of a conspiracy of Babylonian priests secretly buying up the mass media with Iraqi oil money, but a function of values endlessly reinforced by the Domination System. By making violence pleasurable, fascinating, and entertaining, the Powers are able to delude people into compliance with a system that is cheating them of their very lives.

 

Once children have been indoctrinated into the expectations of a dominator society, they may never outgrow the need to locate all evil outside themselves. Even as adults they tend to scapegoat others for all that is wrong in the world. They continue to depend on group identification and the upholding of social norms for a sense of well-being.

In a period when attendance at Christian Sunday schools is dwindling, the myth of redemptive violence has won children’s voluntary acquiescence to a regimen of indoctrination more extensive and effective than any in the history of religions. Estimates vary widely, but the average child reported to log roughly 36,000 hours of television by age 18, viewing some 15,000 murders. What church or synagogue can even remotely keep pace with the myth of redemptive violence in hours spent teaching children or the quality of presentation? (Think of the typical “children’s sermon” – how bland by comparison!)

 

No other religious system has even remotely rivalled the myth of redemptive violence in its ability to catechise its young so totally. From the earliest age, children are awash in depictions of violence as the ultimate solution to human conflicts. Nor does saturation in the myth end with the close of adolescence. There is no rite of passage from adolescent to adult status in the national cult of violence, but rather a years-long assimilation to adult television and movie fare.

 

Not all shows for children or adults are based on violence, of course. Reality is far more complex than the simplicities of this myth, and maturer minds will demand more subtle, nuanced, complex presentations. But the basic structure of the combat myth underlies the pap to which a great many adults turn in order to escape the harsher realities of their everyday lives: spy thrillers, westerns, cop shows, and combat programmes. It is as if we must watch so much “redemptive” violence to reassure ourselves, against the deluge of facts to the contrary in our actual day-to-day lives, that reality really is that simple.

Redemptive violence gives way to violence as an end in itself. It is no longer a religion that uses violence in the pursuit of order and salvation, but one in which violence has become an aphrodisiac, sheer titillation, an addictive high, a substitute for relationships. Violence is no longer the means to a higher good, namely order; violence becomes the end.


Via Jim Manske
Jaime Prieto's insight:

An eye opener: we are re-living an ancient myth over and over again, and violence perpetuates more violence...

 

"By making violence pleasurable, fascinating, and entertaining, the Powers are able to delude people into compliance with a system that is cheating them of their very lives."

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Why are humans so generous? The brain science of giving

Why are humans so generous? The brain science of giving | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it
Contrary to conventional wisdom that humans are essentially selfish, scientists are finding that the brain is built for generosity.
Jaime Prieto's insight:

The finding suggests that altruism and social relationships are intimately connected—in part, it may be our reliance on the benefits of strong interpersonal connections that motivates us to behave unselfishly.

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Empathy as a choice | The Moral Universe, Scientific American Blog Network

Empathy as a choice | The Moral Universe, Scientific American Blog Network | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it

About 250 years ago, Adam Smith famously described the way observers might feel watching a tightrope walker.  Even while standing on solid ground, our palms sweat and our hearts race as someone wobbles hundreds of feet in the air (you can test this out here).  In essence, we experience this person’s state as our own.

 

Centuries later, this definition does a surprisingly good job at capturing scientific models of empathy.  Evidence from across the social and natural sciences suggests that we take on others’ facial expressions, postures, moods, and even patterns of brain activity.  This type of empathy is largely automatic.  For instance, peopleimitate others’ facial expressions after just a fraction of a second, often without realizing they’re doing so. Mood contagion likewise operates under the surface.  Therapists often report that, despite their best efforts, they take on patients’ moods, consistent with evidence from a number of studies.

 

One tempting conclusion about automatic behaviors is that are also “dumb:” occurring whenever the right stimulus comes along.  On this view, empathy is the emotional equivalent of a patellar reflex: while observing someone’s emotions, you can’t help but take those emotions on yourself.  Intuitive as it may be, a “reflex model” glosses a vital feature of empathy: it is often a choice.  Even if others’ emotions rub off on us automatically, this process is only set in motion if we decide to put ourselves in a position for empathy to occur.  And that decision is anything but automatic.  Instead, people frequently make deliberate choices to avoid others’ emotions, in attempts to stave off the discomfort or costs of empathy.

One of my favorite studies on this topic—a long forgotten gem from 1979—measured empathy by circumference.  Mark Pancer and his colleagues set up a table in a busy tunnel at the University of Saskatchewan, and secretly measured the distance people kept from the table while walking past.  They manipulated two features of the situation.  The first was whether or not the table had a box placed on it requesting charitable donations.  The second was who was manning the table: (i) no one, (ii) an undergraduate, or (iii) an undergraduate sitting in a wheelchair.  Both the request to donate and the presence of a handicapped person were considered triggers to empathy.  Instead of approaching these triggers, however, students avoided them: walking a wider arc around the table in the presence of either trigger, and keeping the greatest distance in the face of both the handicapped student and donation box.

 

In a more recent study along the same lines, Daryl Cameron and Keith Payne examined the well-known “collapse of compassion.” Cameron and Payne told participants about the suffering of children in the wake of Darfur’s civil war, and showed them pictures of either one or eight of these children.  Critically, they told some participants that—after viewing these pictures—they would have a chance to donate money to help these children.  Participants who believed they would be put on the spot to donate felt less empathy for eight children than for one, consistent with the idea that they purposefully “turned down” their empathy when empathizing could prove costly.

 

Together, these studies suggest that instead of automatically taking on others’ emotions, people make choices about whether and how much to engage in empathy.  Pancer and Cameron’s observations at first appear bleak—people shut down empathy when it might cost them—but I think they paint a more encouraging picture.  For instance, Paul Bloom recently argued that empathy is a bad guide for decision-making, precisely because it is a slave to triggers such as images of others’ suffering.  On Bloom’s reasoning, this means that empathy will often drive irrational choices based on emotions: for instance, helping a single suffering child we see on television while ignoring countless others who receive less press.  Although Bloom is right in many cases, if empathy is a choice, then people can presumably learn to use it when they know it is most important.  For instance, people could decide to “turn up” empathy for victims with whom they might not immediately connect (a suggestion made earlier by Daryl Cameron as well).  Broadly speaking, empathy we can control is empathy we can co-opt to help others as much as possible.


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Empathy: The Missing Link to Solving the World's Most Pressing Problems

Every year come September I leave the Said Business School at Oxford University to spend a busy three weeks as an Adjunct Professor at Columbia Business School teaching a half-semester course entitled "Social Entrepreneurship: A Global Perspective." Last fall I experimented with a new assignment that the students fully enjoyed. To summarize, it involved my pre-identifying some 14 critical global issues the world now faces, having each student identify one they are particularly inspired to do something about, grouping students selecting the same issue with one another, and telling them to come up with an entrepreneurial solution to address it. The issues include the usual suspects: climate change, food security, access to quality health care, access to quality education, peace and security, corruption, etc. I was preparing to run the same assignment again this coming September, but a few serendipitous experiences and recollections over the last few weeks have given me pause for thought.

It was all triggered by an email I received from the World Economic Forum:

 

Dear Professor Hartigan

As an alumnus of the Network of Global Agenda Councils, we value your expertise to help us generate important new knowledge and opportunities for collaboration. We want to hear your views on what world leaders should be watching out for and thinking about in 2014."

 

The email asked me to complete a survey on the global agenda that ended up being very similar to the exercise I ask my Columbia Business School students to do: to select the issue that one considers to be the most pressing for corporate, political and civil society leaders to address. And that got me to thinking how dissatisfying it is to compartmentalize "issues" into discrete topics, as these issues are so interrelated -- but we all know that -- so why do we keep acting as if these issues are isolated from one another? Is there an underlying coreissue that might need to be addressed first, before we go on to tackle this litany of global threats?

 

I found part of my response in a second, wholly unrelated experience -- a conversation several weeks ago with Clay Christensen, the Harvard Business School professor who is best known for his seminal work on disruptive innovation. Last month, we were privileged at Said Business School to have Clay deliver outstanding one-hour lectures on three consecutive evenings to a packed conference hall of students and faculty.

 

I met up with Clay toward the last part of his week at Oxford, and among many things, we talked about the challenges we face in the United States, specifically around education. "We keep pouring billions of dollars into our school system to improve educational outcomes with very little to show for that investment," he noted (and I am paraphrasing here, as I did not tape our conversation). He went on to describe studies he and colleagues had conducted that conclude that a very strong predictor of educational outcomes is the degree of quality interaction children have with their parents during the first three years of life. Basically, how parents relate to their infants and toddlers- that is, the degree of interaction and the quality of that interaction -- make all the difference in the way these children develop in many spheres of their life.

 

The conversation with Clay got me to thinking about the work that my wonderful friend, Kyle Zimmer, co-founder and CEO of First Book, has dedicated herself to for the last 15 years after doing time as a Washington lawyer. Her "road to Damascus moment" occurred while volunteering in the early 1990s at Martha's Table, a soup kitchen and child care center in the heart of downtown Washington, D.C. that caters to low-income families. She found that the center, and thousands of similar centers in the U.S. like it, had very few age appropriate books. Digging further, she discovered that low-income families with children did not buy books because of the price barrier.

 

Why does that matter? Many studies concur with a massive longitudinal study examining the educational attainment of 70,000 students from 27 countries which found that having lots of age appropriate books in the home was as good a predictor of children's educational attainment as parents' education levels. In fact, access to books was more predictive than the father's occupation or the family's standard of living. The greatest impact of book access was seen among the least educated and poorest families.

 

But is it owning The Hungry Caterpillar or The Cat in the Hat that makes the difference, or something else? That "something else" was triggered by my conversation with Clay -- could it be that a book is a medium for enhancing the quality of interaction between a caretaker and a child, and it is in the act of sharing and developing empathy between them as the story is read that makes the difference in the development of a child? This was driven home last week in Australia visiting my daughter and her family and watching as she read to her identical twin two year olds. I recalled how since they were infants she has read to them -- and both boys have listened, transfixed. They now spend hours together pouring over their books and asking mom, dad. or grandma ... to read these again and again.

 

But is it the story or the interaction that is so critical to child development?

 

Or both?

 

Bill Drayton, the pioneering founder of Ashoka that identifies entrepreneurs with "pattern changing" ideas to transform unsatisfactory systems and practices, has been emphasizing for years that the key to unlocking the solutions to many of society's ills lies in the development of empathy.

 

One of the Ashoka fellows he singles out in this regard is Mary Gordon, a Canadian entrepreneur who founded Roots of Empathy, a highly successful program to develop empathy in pre-school and primary school children. Worried about the levels of bullying in schools, her solution was to recruit parents of 3-6 month old infants into the classroom. Each class "adopts" a baby who visits the classroom along with a parent and a Roots of Empathy instructor for 27 sessions that run the length of the school year. During a typical visit, the students observe, ask questions, discuss the baby's behavior, the sounds she makes, and her temperament, gaining insights into the infant's growth and development and learning to respond appropriately to what the baby is trying to "tell them" through physical cues. Instructors work with the students to recognize the baby's emotions, and as they become more comfortable identifying and labeling the feelings of others, they are able to explore and discuss their own feelings. This newfound "emotional literacy" helps them recognize the feelings of their peers and understand how violent actions like bullying affect others.

 

The Roots of Empathy program has been evaluated multiple times by different independent reviewers. The results show that children who participated demonstrated several qualities including a decrease in aggression, an increase in sharing/inclusive/helping behavior, and an increase in emotional perception. These effects appeared to be lasting.

 

Jeremy Rifkin, the author of The Empathic Civilization, notes that "Empathy conjures up active engagement -- the willingness of an observer to become part of another's experience, to share the feeling of that experience."

 

Today we have access to internet technology that connects us to one another and to the world. We hear of political, social and natural upheavals as they are happening directly from people "on the ground" who are experiencing these events -- whether it is Hurricane Sandy in the USA or the social uprisings in Egypt and Syria or the collapse of the Bangladeshi apparel factory . Yet most of us, I dare say -- and I include myself here -- certainly do not "feel their pain," as Bill Clinton famously noted.

 

But never has empathy been so important. We live in an unprecedented era of accelerated and unpredictable change. I completely agree with Rifkin that "the empathic evolution of the human race and the profound ways it has shaped our development... will likely decide our fate as a species."

 

I wonder whether I can single out the development of empathy as the most important issue that underscores all other issues in the World Economic Forum's Survey on the Global Agenda? I would love to hear global leaders discuss that topic! And now, how to reframe my assignment to my Columbia MBAs?


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Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People

Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it

If you think you’re hearing the word “empathy” everywhere, you’re right. It’s nowon the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential? Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

But what is empathy? It’s the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions. That makes it different from kindness or pity. And don’t confuse it with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes.” Empathy is about discovering those tastes.

The big buzz about empathy stems from a revolutionary shift in the science of how we understand human nature. The old view that we are essentially self-interested creatures is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that we are also homo empathicus, wired for empathy, social cooperation, and mutual aid.

Over the last decade, neuroscientists have identified a 10-section “empathy circuit” in our brains which, if damaged, can curtail our ability to understand what other people are feeling. Evolutionary biologists like Frans de Waal have shown that we are social animals who have naturally evolved to care for each other, just like our primate cousins. And psychologists have revealed that we are primed for empathy by strong attachment relationships in the first two years of life.

But empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. Research in sociology, psychology, history—and my own studies of empathic personalities over the past 10 years—reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us. Here are the Six Habits of Highly Empathic People:

 

HABIT 1: TALK WITH STRANGERS

Highly empathic people (HEPs) have an insatiable curiosity about strangers. They will talk to the person sitting next to them on the bus, having retained that natural inquisitiveness we allhad as children, but which society is so good at beating out of us. They find other people more interesting than themselves but are not out to interrogate them, respecting the advice of the oral historian Studs Terkel: “Don’t be an examiner, be the interested inquirer.”

Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own. Curiosity is good for us too: Happiness guru Martin Seligman identifies it as a key character strength that can enhance life satisfaction. And it is a useful cure for the chronic loneliness afflicting around one in three Americans.

Cultivating curiosity requires more than having a brief chat about the weather. Crucially, it tries to understand the world inside the head of the other person. We are confronted by strangers every day, like the heavily tattooed woman who delivers your mail or the new employee who always eats his lunch alone. Set yourself the challenge of having a conversation with one stranger every week. All it requires is courage.

HABIT 2: CHALLENGE PREJUDICES AND DISCOVER COMMONALITIES

We all have assumptions about others and use collective labels—e.g., “Muslim fundamentalist,” “welfare mom”—that prevent us from appeciating their individuality. HEPs challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them. An episode from the history of US race relations illustrates how this can happen.

Claiborne Paul Ellis was born into a poor white family in Durham, North Carolina, in 1927.Finding it hard to make ends meet working in a garage and believing African Americans were the cause of all his troubles, he followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Ku Klux Klan, eventually rising to the top position of Exalted Cyclops of his local KKK branch.

In 1971 he was invited—as a prominent local citizen—to a 10-day community meeting to tackle racial tensions in schools, and was chosen to head a steering committee with Ann Atwater, a black activist he despised. But working with her exploded his prejudices about African Americans. He saw that she shared the same problems of poverty as his own. “I was beginning to look at a black person, shake hands with him, and see him as a human being,” he recalled of his experience on the committee. “It was almost like bein’ born again.” On the final night of the meeting, he stood in front of a thousand people and tore up his Klan membership card.

Ellis later became a labor organiser for a union whose membership was 70 percent African American. He and Ann remained friends for the rest of their lives. There may be no better example of the power of empathy to overcome hatred and change our minds.

HABIT 3: TRY ANOTHER PERSON’S LIFE

So you think ice climbing and hang-gliding are extreme sports? Then you need to try experiential empathy, the most challenging—and potentially rewarding—of them all. HEPs expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”

George Orwell is an inspiring model. After several years as a colonial police officer in British Burma in the 1920s, Orwell returned to Britain determined to discover what life was like for those living on the social margins. “I wanted to submerge myself, to get right down among the oppressed,” he wrote. So he dressed up as a tramp with shabby shoes and coat, and lived on the streets of East London with beggars and vagabonds. The result, recorded in his bookDown and Out in Paris and London, was a radical change in his beliefs, priorities, and relationships. He not only realized that homeless people are not “drunken scoundrels”—Orwell developed new friendships, shifted his views on inequality, and gathered some superb literary material. It was the greatest travel experience of his life. He realised that empathy doesn’t just make you good—it’s good for you, too.

We can each conduct our own experiments. If you are religiously observant, try a “God Swap,”  attending the services of faiths different from your own, including a meeting of Humanists. Or if you’re an atheist, try attending different churches! Spend your next vacation living and volunteering in a village in a developing country. Take the path favored by philosopher John Dewey, who said, “All genuine education comes about through experience.”

HABIT 4: LISTEN HARD—AND OPEN UP

There are two traits required for being an empathic conversationalist.One is to master the art of radical listening. “What is essential,” says Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), “is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.” HEPs listen hard to others and do all they can to grasp their emotional state and needs, whether it is a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer or a spouse who is upset at them for working late yet again.

But listening is never enough. The second trait is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding—an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences.

Organizations such as the Israeli-Palestinian Parents Circle put it all into practice by bringing together bereaved families from both sides of the conflict to meet, listen, and talk. Sharing stories about how their loved ones died enables families to realize that they share the same pain and the same blood, despite being on opposite sides of a political fence, and has helped to create one of the world’s most powerful grassroots peace-building movements.

HABIT 5: INSPIRE MASS ACTION AND SOCIAL CHANGE

We typically assume empathy happens at the level of individuals, but HEPs understand that empathy can also be a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change.

Just think of the movements against slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries on both sides of the Atlantic. As journalist Adam Hochschild reminds us, “The abolitionists placed their hope not in sacred texts but human empathy,” doing all they could to get people to understand the very real suffering on the plantations and slave ships. Equally, the international trade union movement grew out of empathy between industrial workers united by their shared exploitation. The overwhelming public response to the Asian tsunami of 2004 emerged from a sense of empathic concern for the victims, whose plight was dramatically beamed into our homes on shaky video footage.

Empathy will most likely flower on a collective scale if its seeds are planted in our children.  That’s why HEPs support efforts such as Canada’s pioneering Roots of Empathy, the world’s most effective empathy teaching program, which has benefited over half a million school kids. Its unique curriculum centers on an infant, whose development children observe over time in order to learn emotional intelligence—and its results include significant declines in playground bullying and higher levels of academic achievement.

Beyond education, the big challenge is figuring out how social networking technology can harness the power of empathy to create mass political action. Twitter may have gotten people onto the streets for Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, but can it convince us to care deeply about the suffering of distant strangers, whether they are drought-stricken farmers in Africa or future generations who will bear the brunt of our carbon-junkie lifestyles? This will only happen if social networks learn to spread not just information, but empathic connection.

HABIT 6: DEVELOP AN AMBITIOUS IMAGINATION

A final trait of HEPs is that they do far more than empathize with the usual suspects. We tend to believe empathy should be reserved for those living on the social margins or who are suffering. This is necessary, but it is hardly enough.

We also need to empathize with people whose beliefs we don’t share or who may be “enemies” in some way. If you are a campaigner on global warming, for instance, it may be worth trying to step into the shoes of oil company executives—understanding their thinking and motivations—if you want to devise effective strategies to shift them towards developing renewable energy. A little of this “instrumental empathy” (sometimes known as “impact anthropology”) can go a long way.

Empathizing with adversaries is also a route to social tolerance. That was Gandhi’s thinking during the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus leading up to Indian independence in 1947, when he declared, “I am a Muslim! And a Hindu, and a Christian and a Jew.”

Organizations, too, should be ambitious with their empathic thinking. Bill Drayton, the renowned “father of social entrepreneurship,” believes that in an era of rapid technological change, mastering empathy is the key business survival skill because it underpins successful teamwork and leadership. His influential Ashoka Foundation has launched the Start Empathyinitiative, which is taking its ideas to business leaders, politicians and educators worldwide.

The 20th century was the Age of Introspection, when self-help and therapy culture encouraged us to believe that the best way to understand who we are and how to live was to look inside ourselves. But it left us gazing at our own navels. The 21st century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves not simply through self-reflection, but by becoming interested in the lives of others. We need empathy to create a new kind of revolution. Not an old-fashioned revolution built on new laws, institutions, or policies, but a radical revolution in human relationships.


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John Michel's curator insight, July 26, 2013 10:58 PM

If you think you’re hearing the word “empathy” everywhere, you’re right. It’s nowon the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential? Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

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Restorative Justice - News - Bubblews

Restorative Justice - News - Bubblews | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it

Restorative justice is a relatively newly coined school of thought in the approach to seeking justice in a crime ridden world and subsequently reducing the amount of existing crime. Van Ness & Strong (2010) purports that Johnstone and Van Ness view the term as “complex” and that it is widely seen as good but to give a definition to it is not readily available off the tongues.

 

Its complexity is due to its development especially in the latter years which is when it has begun to be looked at critically. In breaking up the term, restorative, from the root word restore, refers to getting something or in this case someone, back to a previous state. It is also synonymous to words such as heal, curate, renovate and repair. Justice refers to a state of fairness, being treated with equality and equity and in the process having the display of integrity, honesty and with respect. According to Zehr (2002) restorative justice is “a process to involve to the extent possible those who have a stake in a specific offense and to collectively identify and address harms needs and obligations in order to heal and put things as right as possible.”

 

There are numerous established practices of restorative justice all over the world. One reason for this is that the raw practice of restorative justice has been in existence long before the modern world as it was in this method that tribes and villages used to resolve matters that were deemed “criminal”. It has been in existence since the time of aborigines such as those tribes in places such as Africa, North America (including Canada), Australia, New Zealand and parts of Europe. To go beyond that, evidence of the practice in its unnamed format can be found having biblical roots (Van Ness & Zehr, 2007). Restorative justice in its current modern form is about 30 years old. The practices have transcended time to the modern world and have been proven to still work today.


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What Works: A Road Map for Unleashing Empathy in Schools

What Works: A Road Map for Unleashing Empathy in Schools | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it

"Over the last several months, those of us at Start Empathy – along with a core group of Ashoka Fellows, leading educators and partners – have worked to identify, distill, and categorize dozens of promising empathy building insights and activities. In short, we’ve been asking people: “What works?”

What we’ve received ranges from simple tips to group problem solving exercises to teacher training guides, and they all help advance our central goal: unleashing empathy as both an input and output of our education system.

Now we’ve compiled them into our “here’s stuff that works” guide, which we’re calling the Empathy Road Map. It’s by no means a comprehensive picture but rather a strong first step. It’s meant to be a living document – one that our community helps us enhance and refine over time."

 

By Start Empathy


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Peter Skillen's curator insight, April 20, 2013 8:19 AM

When I speak of being 'mindful' in education, there are three major components I consider:

- meditative mindfulness

- metacognitive awareness & skill, and

- being 'mindful of our surrounds'.

 

This work on empathy certainly aligns with the latter.

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Empathy: The Best Antidote for Messiah Complex - Forbes

Empathy: The Best Antidote for Messiah Complex - Forbes | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it

In this post, Ken Moriyama, an MPP student at the University of Oxford, reports from the Skoll World Forum.

 

...So what does this all mean and which skill do we need to develop to make it happen? According to Ashoka, empathy is the foundational skill that every individual has to relentlessly cultivate, if he or she hopes to drive impact beyond the sectoral level—direct service or pattern change—and achieve framework change at a global scale.


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The Rise of Compassionate Management (Finally)

The Rise of Compassionate Management (Finally) | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it
Why years of research are finally making a dent.
Jaime Prieto's insight:

Feeling hopeful that evolution is happening... when the needs of all stakeholders matter.

 

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Empathy, emotion and the customer experience

Empathy, emotion and the customer experience | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it

Surveys reveal 80 percent of companies believe they deliver superior customer experience, yet only 8 percent of their customers agree.

 
If you take someone out for a romantic dinner, do you wear a grungy outfit or ignore your date at the restaurant? Not if you want the relationship to continue. Yet, many corporations expend tremendous resources wooing new customers without a clear understanding of what it takes to create and sustain a positive customer experience.
 

 To create a great customer experience—one that encourages brand loyalty and advocacy—it’s essential to have a deep understanding of experiences that trigger the emotions and motivations that drive your customer’s brand preference and behavior.
 

By Daryl Travis, author, "How Does It Make You Feel?" and CEO, Brandtrust


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Are You Codependent or Compassionate? - World of Psychology

Are You Codependent or Compassionate?  - World of Psychology | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it

If a woman doesn’t want to have sex with her husband but does it anyway to please him, is she codependent or compassionate? That was the subject of debate a few days ago among some friends and I. Half said she was codependent and half said compassionate. 

The line between codependency and compassion can be fuzzy because the intentions of both appear the same. However, while compassion promotes effective communication and mutual respect, codependency destroys the foundation of healthy relationships.

By THERESE J. BORCHARD


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Maria Teresa Frezet terapeuta olistica's curator insight, July 28, 2013 9:02 AM

respect yourself first, and you will be able to build healthy relationships! 

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10 Odd Scientific Facts About Emotions - Listverse

10 Odd Scientific Facts About Emotions - Listverse | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it

While emotions can seem like the most un-scientific part of the human experience, it’s well established that science has a pretty decent understanding of how emotional responses are produced. Certain areas of the brain light up when subjects are exposed to emotional stimuli, causing the assigned glands to secrete certain compounds that produce specific emotional states—it’s pretty simple brain science (as opposed to rocket surgery, which is much more complicated).

 

In fact, the more that the scientific community studies the role emotions play in human behavior and development, the more it appears that that role was exceedingly vital in our evolution—and that emotions are even more complex, if not quite as mysterious, as we’ve always believed.

 

10 Negative Emotions Can Be Beneficial

 

Our culture insists that positive thinking is crucial (and negative thinking, therefore, detrimental) to achieving our goals and enjoying our lives. As with many ingrained cultural attitudes, however, this turns out to be a bit simplistic.

 

Recent research has suggested that the ability to successfully process negative emotions and thoughts is not only healthy, but key to mental health. Indeed, negative thoughts play a vital role in helping us to understand and assess our experiences, and attempting to supress or ignore them can end up having the opposite of the desired effect.

 

Moreover, past studies showing that people who think more positively are healthier haven’t proven any causation—that is, it may be that health leads to positive thinking, not the other way around. Some, like psychologist

 

Martin Seligman (author of a book on the subject), have even suggested that excessive optimism may “sometimes keep us from seeing reality with the necessary clarity.”

 

Which is not to say that lingering bad moods and a general negative outlook are good for you—it’s the ability to acknowledge and process negative thoughts and feelings that is thought to actually lead to a more positive outlook on life. So while some say that forcing a smile will eventually make you feel happy, this may not always be the case. Just don’t try forcing a frown instead, because . . . 

 

9 They’re The Hardest To Fake

 

Most of us probably think it’s pretty easy to spot fake cheer, and all of us have been guilty of feigning excitement over something at some point in our lives (like, say, last Christmas). But have you ever tried feigning anger?

 

How about sadness? Most of us don’t ever really find ourselves in circumstances where it’d be necessary to do so, and it turns out that’s a good thing—those are among the hardest emotions to fake.

 

The reason for this seems to be the conflicted nature of these emotions. For example, the quivering lip is associated with sadness and happens because two sets of muscles are pulling your face in different directions, with one part of your brain attempting to open the floodgates and another attempting to control them. Other negative emotions, like anger and fear, similarly cause tension between competing sets of muscles—or involuntary reactions of muscle groups that we have less control over (like the forehead and eyebrows).

 

Body language also plays a part in emotional expression, and positive body language (expressed when we feel confident and in control) is simply easier to duplicate than negative body language. Finally, the physical indications of emotional distress (like goosebumps, sweat, or tears) are practically impossible to produce on demand. Even professional actors have a hard time with it.

 

8 Sarcasm Makes You Smarter, More Creative

 

If your response to the title of this entry was “yeah, right” then congratulations. It turns out that the mental gymnastics required to successfully process sarcasm are of the very type that extremely smart and creative people must employ on a regular basis and that regular exposure to it can increase creativity and problem solving.

 

A 2011 study shed some light on why this is. Essentially, while a straightforward remark requires only basic comprehension, sarcastic remarks require multiple levels of comprehension—that is the listener must bear in mind the experiences, viewpoints, and biases of whoever is speaking and assimilate the information into the analysis of what’s being said. Also, since these types of remarks “echo .nbsp;.nbsp;.nbsp;established beliefs or social norms,” they stick with us longer and are more relatable.

 

This is important, because you may have noticed that sarcasm permeates our society. According to a different study, the phrase “yeah, right” was used sarcastically 23 percent of the time it was uttered. Also, it was found that the use of sarcasm soared when the conversation was taking place by computer, which we simply can not believe.

 

7 Emotions Might Help Predict The Future

 

A Columbia University study recently pointed to what they called the “Emotional Oracle Effect”—the phenomenon that those who trust their feelings are quite a bit more likely to accurately predict the outcome of future events. And not just any future events: as controls, the study used eight more unique studies involving a wide variety of events, including the 2008 US presidential election, the winner of American Idol, and the weather. Yes, the weather.

 

The study’s authors speculated that those with a high level of trust in their feelings seem to have access to what they called a “privileged window” into subconscious stores of information. This suggests that the emotional system may be capable of higher-level decision making and information processing than previously thought—that emotional impulses may be related to more than just survival, and are key in how we organize information.

 

Strangely, the opposite effect was not found. Subjects with low levels of trust in their feelings didn’t do any worse than those who were neutral on the subject. But those who trusted their gut did significantly better, whether they were being asked to predict how the Dow Jones would do next Tuesday or what movie would top the box office this weekend—apparent proof that cold rationality does not always make for the most accurate analysis.

 

6 Dreaming Helps Ease Painful Memories

 

While we sleep, our brains are still very active processing data, repairing connections, and (for some reason) producing inexplicable mind-movies about your Aunt Pat and that scary guy from the movie Machete. The refreshing qualities of a good night’s sleep go way beyond your mental faculties, though—it’s been shown that a good amount of quality REM sleep is critical in recovering from traumatic experiences.

 

During this type of sleep, the production of stress-related hormones decreases severely. Neuroscientist Matthew Walker of UC Berkeley, co-author of a study on the subject, believes that the brain’s processing of painful memories without the presence of these chemicals enables their emotional sting to be lessened—the memories become more factual, less immediate, and therefore less painful.

 

This is bolstered by the fact that reducing these hormones through medical means has been shown to assist in recovery from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—at one Seattle veterans’ hospital, a blood pressure drug with this unintended side effect caused improvements in patients’ PTSD symptoms. Says Walker, “We’ve heard all our lives that if we are troubled, we should get to bed. We’ll feel better tomorrow.” But there’s never actually been scientific evidence to support that, until now.

 

5 Animals Have Emotions, Too

 

As children, we freely ascribe emotions to animals, and we’re encouraged to. And not just our pets (although they love us, of course)—kids’ literature and movies are full of talking, laughing, singing animals of all types, from dogs and cats to pigs and cows. And that’s where it gets troubling, because at a certain point we realize that we are eating those pigs and cows, and the notion that they would have human-like emotions becomes horrifying. Unfortunately (unless you’re a vegetarian), it seems more and more likely that animals do indeed have feelings (mostly) like us.

 

One emotion is particularly easy to spot in the animal kingdom: grief. Grieving behavior is widely varied, with one common thread—it does not seem to provide any evolutionary advantage. Grieving animals tend to deviate from established behavior; some stop eating, some leave the pack for days at a time, some return to the carcass to protect it from scavengers. Since the behavior doesn’t seem to come from an instinct for survival, or indeed serve any purpose at all, it can only be surmised that animals exhibit grief for the same reason we do: lost love.

 

4 Emotions Dictate Our Sense Of Morality

 

It may seem intuitive to think that our sense of morality dictates our emotional response. That is, we know that hurting people is wrong, so when we see somebody hurt, it makes us angry or sad. Science, once again, is now suggesting that we have this completely backward: it’s not morality that dictates emotions, but our emotional response that shaped our morals.

 

Basically, researchers found that when presented with an image of one person injuring another, two different areas of the brain lit up before the one associated with morality-based decisions. The first (known as the TPJ area—we’ll spare you the long version) immediately evaluates whether the act was intentional; the second, the amygdala, is associated with emotion.

 

Only after the image was run through these filters (within about 250 milliseconds) did the “morality center” of the brain kick in.

 

This helps to answer an age-old question in philosophy: do we believe that, say, striking somebody in anger is wrong because we are taught that it’s wrong? Or do we intuitively know that it’s wrong, from the emotional reaction that’s produced when we see it? It appears to be the latter, which we must say is a much more comforting view of human nature than the alternative.

 

3 Sense Of Smell Directly Affects Emotions

 

Memories almost always occur to us (at least at first) as images, and there’s no denying the emotional impact that images can have. Likewise, we all know the response that a favorite (or not-so-favorite) song can produce. It’s surprising, then, to know that the sense most directly tied to the emotional center of the brain is the one we associate the least with emotion: smell.

 

One reason for this is that olfaction bypasses all of our brain’s filters. While visual, auditory, and tactile messages must be processed by our various sensors and herded through the thalmus, smells have a direct path to the olfactory cortex within the brain—specifically, within the amygdala (that place again), where emotions originate. Another has to do with the primitive nature of the sense: while we no longer rely on it the way our ancestors did, scent-based memories tend to cement themselves in the brain in ways that memories associated with other senses do not.

 

This is why certain smells can provoke such strong emotional reactions in certain people, even if they are not aware of the reason why. Scent-based memories can be created and stored very, very early in our lives—early enough to precede significant intellectual development—and retain their power much longer than other types of memories.

 

2 Controlled Exposure To Fear Can Make You Stronger

 

At a gigantic recruit training command center in Illinois, the Navy destroyer USS Thayer sits in a 90,000-gallon tank. Its purpose is to be under constant assault. Every year, thousands of recruits are subjected to hundreds upon hundreds of drills. They’re extremely realistic drills with one stated purpose: to scare the hell out of the participants.

 

“This is supposed to feel real,” says Michael Belanger, a Navy psychologist. “This is supposed to scare the recruits.” The idea is that with controlled exposure, the recruits will become more resilient soldiers who are better able to trust their training in high-stress situations—and it appears to work. By conditioning the fear response to kick in appropriately, make a risk assessment (while not clouding thinking), and subside when the danger passes, researchers may be helping not only to create more efficient soldiers, but also to negate the worst mental and emotional effects of war.

 

As an added benefit, research of this type may one day help to develop screening processes to identify those who are not mentally or emotionally suited for combat. Says neurobiologist Lilianne Mujica-Parodi: “You wouldn’t accept someone in Special Forces if he had weak legs. Soon we’ll be able to screen people for emotional weaknesses. A person with an incapacitating fear response is a danger to himself, his team, and the mission.”

 

1 Love Doesn’t Work Like We Think

 

Finally, here’s psychologist Barbara Fredrickson of UNC Chapel Hill. She’s spent quite a bit of time studying the nature of love, and she thinks she knows what it is: a “micro-moment of positivity resonance.” That does not sound particularly everlasting, nor does it sound like the answer Foreigner was looking for.

 

But what she’s really saying is that love is something we experience continually, on a daily basis, on a much smaller scale than we’ve been trained to think—that there are “smaller ways to experience love.” And that when we experience these “micro-moments,” our brainwave patterns sync up with the person we’re experiencing it with—even if it’s just the guy in line at the bank. Biochemically, it is this response within our bodies that defines love. The feeling of romantic love for another person, however, is due almost completely to the chemicals vasopressin and oxytocin.

 

To put it as simply as possible, sex stimulates the release of these chemicals in both humans and animals. The more receptors for these chemicals that are present in the brain centers controlling rewards and behavioral reinforcement, the more likely those animals are to exhibit monogamy.

 

That’s right, it appears that Robert Palmer had it right all along, and we might as well face it: we’re addicted to love.

 


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The Morality of Meditation: David DeSteno

The Morality of Meditation: David DeSteno | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it

MEDITATION is fast becoming a fashionable tool for improving your mind. With mounting scientific evidence that the practice can enhance creativity, memory and scores on standardized intelligence tests, interest in its practical benefits is growing. A number of “mindfulness” training programs, like that developed by the engineerChade-Meng Tan at Google, and conferences like Wisdom 2.0 for business and tech leaders, promise attendees insight into how meditation can be used to augment individual performance, leadership and productivity.

 

This is all well and good, but if you stop to think about it, there’s a bit of a disconnect between the (perfectly commendable) pursuit of these benefits and the purpose for which meditation was originally intended. Gaining competitive advantage on exams and increasing creativity in business weren’t of the utmost concern to Buddha and other early meditation teachers. As Buddha himself said, “I teach one thing and one only: that is, suffering and the end of suffering.” For Buddha, as for many modern spiritual leaders, the goal of meditation was as simple as that. The heightened control of the mind that meditation offers was supposed to help its practitioners see the world in a new and more compassionate way, allowing them to break free from the categorizations (us/them, self/other) that commonly divide people from one another.

 

But does meditation work as promised? Is its originally intended effect — the reduction of suffering — empirically demonstrable?

 

To put the question to the test, my lab, led in this work by the psychologist Paul Condon, joined with the neuroscientist Gaëlle Desbordes and the Buddhist lama Willa Miller to conduct an experiment whose publication is forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science. We recruited 39 people from the Boston area who were willing to take part in an eight-week course on meditation (and who had never taken any such course before). We then randomly assigned 20 of them to take part in weekly meditation classes, which also required them to practice at home using guided recordings. The remaining 19 were told that they had been placed on a waiting list for a future course.

 

After the eight-week period of instruction, we invited the participants to the lab for an experiment that purported to examine their memory, attention and related cognitive abilities. But as you might anticipate, what actually interested us was whether those who had been meditating would exhibit greater compassion in the face of suffering. To find out, we staged a situation designed to test the participants’ behavior before they were aware that the experiment had begun.

 

WHEN a participant entered the waiting area for our lab, he (or she) found three chairs, two of which were already occupied. Naturally, he sat in the remaining chair. As he waited, a fourth person, using crutches and wearing a boot for a broken foot, entered the room and audibly sighed in pain as she leaned uncomfortably against a wall. The other two people in the room — who, like the woman on crutches, secretly worked for us — ignored the woman, thus confronting the participant with a moral quandary. Would he act compassionately, giving up his chair for her, or selfishly ignore her plight?

 

The results were striking. Although only 16 percent of the nonmeditators gave up their seats — an admittedly disheartening fact — the proportion rose to 50 percent among those who had meditated. This increase is impressive not solely because it occurred after only eight weeks of meditation, but also because it did so within the context of a situation known to inhibit considerate behavior: witnessing others ignoring a person in distress — what psychologists call the bystander effect — reduces the odds that any single individual will help. Nonetheless, the meditation increased the compassionate response threefold.

 

Although we don’t yet know why meditation has this effect, one of two explanations seems likely. The first rests on meditation’s documented ability to enhance attention, which might in turn increase the odds of noticing someone in pain (as opposed to being lost in one’s own thoughts).

 

My favored explanation, though, derives from a different aspect of meditation: its ability to foster a view that all beings are interconnected. The psychologist Piercarlo Valdesolo and I have found that any marker of affiliation between two people, even something as subtle as tapping their hands together in synchrony, causes them to feel more compassion for each other when distressed. The increased compassion of meditators, then, might stem directly from meditation’s ability to dissolve the artificial social distinctions — ethnicity, religion, ideology and the like — that divide us.

 

Supporting this view, recent findings by the neuroscientists Helen Weng, Richard Davidson and colleagues confirm that even relatively brief training in meditative techniques can alter neural functioning in brain areas associated with empathic understanding of others’ distress — areas whose responsiveness is also modulated by a person’s degree of felt associations with others.

 

So take heart. The next time you meditate, know that you’re not just benefiting yourself, you’re also benefiting your neighbors, community members and as-yet-unknown strangers by increasing the odds that you’ll feel their pain when the time comes, and act to lessen it as well.

 


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Miklos Szilagyi's curator insight, July 7, 2013 11:56 AM

Actually, I like this very much...

Adrian Ivakhiv's curator insight, July 7, 2013 4:22 PM

The result -- that meditators are more likely to show empathy to a stranger -- is not surprising, but the proportion (three times as likely) is. The research base for this conclusion keeps growing...

Margarita Tarragona's curator insight, July 8, 2013 3:02 PM

Nueva evidencia de que la meditación nos ayuda a ser más compasivos.

#bienestar

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Study: Meditation Can Make Us More Empathetic

Study: Meditation Can Make Us More Empathetic | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it
Turning the inner eye outward activates the brain area responsible for empathy and improves our ability to read the facial expressions of others.
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Science of empathy continues to evolve

Science of empathy continues to evolve | Compassionate Transformation | Scoop.it
Evidence shows that empathy is wired into our brains evolutionarily, biochecmically and neurologically. Two scientists join us to discuss the latest research on empathy.

 

Empathy seems like a simple concept and an uncontroversial virtue. People use meditation to try to develop more of it. But empathy has stirred up disagreement about its origins and its nature, and even whether the ability to share the feelings of others is a good thing.

 

Author and essayist Phillip Lopate far prefers the idea of sympathy to empathy.

 

"To me, sympathy suggests a humane concern for others' positions or plights, based partly on a general ethic of compassion for all living things," he writes in his essay "The Limits of Empathy." "Empathy conveys, to my mind, a stickier, more ghoulish shadowing that stems from the delusion that one can actually take on oneself, or fuse with, another's feelings."


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