PsychCentral.com (blog)Hurricane Sandy: Gratitude, Empathy & EvolutionPsychCentral.com (blog)Jeremy Rifkin has written in Empathic Civilization that to empathize is to civilize, and to civilize is to empathize.
One of the principles of design thinking is that it requires empathy for users to inspire ideas. Normally we think about getting that from ethnographic style research. Diving deep into the lives of a relatively small number of people, understanding the environment they live in, their social networks, seeing things first hand. We have lots of evidence that this works but I sometimes wonder if we aren’t also missing something. The problem with looking deeply at a few people is that you miss the opportunity for insights that might come connecting more broadly across cultures.
How do we suffer with each other in our particular circumstances?
How do we suffer with people like the friends and family members who are grieving in Connecticut? How do we share in the suffering of people around us every day?
And how do we suffer with people like Adam Lanza, after and before they perpetrate such crimes?
To many, this sounds like giving in to defeat ... as if we're merely saying it's the poor who are blessed. I've been in too many business and personal situations in which everyone's intuition is flat wrong. That's reason enough to believe that the way of compassion might be worth a try.
Metta meditation is a core practice for many people, and if you meditate or participate in a contemplative tradition, the concept of “self-compassion” is probably very familiar to you. Most versions of metta begin with one’s self as the object of compassion. As the well-known meditation teacher Jack Kornfield explained, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
The logic of self-compassion is very sound. If you want to be compassionate to others, you must be compassionate to yourself first. You simply cannot give what you do not already have. As Pema Chodron has explained “in order to have compassion for others, we have to have compassion for ourselves.” Strong metta always includes the meditator in some sense.
Compassion, to me, is freely giving of myself to another with no expectation of return. True compassion is that which takes all those parts of us, such as love, humility, forgiveness, and binds us together through spiritual action. And therein lies the key; action.
Without action, compassion is nothing more a momentary pause; a hanging of the head, a tear, an ache in the heart. The momentary emotional pause, however, is only a first step. It is the pause which allows us to feel the need to act. Whether or not we act, is the next step, and where we many times fall short.
SHARING OUR COMMON HUMANITY When we hear the other person’s feelings and needs, we recognize our common humanity. ~ Dr Marshall Rosenberg
More than anything, your children want to be heard.
Listening to them with a focus on their feelings and needs is the essence of empathy. Empathy is giving the gift of your presence -- without judgment, analysis, suggestions, stories or any motivation to fix things.
When you empathize with your children, you listen for their feelings and needs even, and especially, when their words sound like criticism, blame or judgment. It is at these times that they (like all of us) need empathy the most. http://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/index.htm
It has been stated many times that survival is of the fittest, but when one reads Darwin closely this is not the case. Rather, the more accurate statement, coined by Dacher Keltner, Ph.D. and other leading social scientists, is “the survival of the kindest.” Paul Ekman, Ph.D., a leading expert on emotion describes an ever expanding body of scientific evidence that being compassionate affords significant benefit to oneself and society in his recent article in JAMA. In addition to evidence that survival may be enhanced by caring for others, there are now findings suggesting that the statement made by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “if one wishes to make others happy be compassionate, if one wishes to be happy be compassionate,” in fact, has great validity.
Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that acts as a hormone. Often considered a major player in the regulation of trust and morality, its study is revealing fascinating information about human behavior and relationships. Oxytocin is released in the body when we feel safe and connected and tells the brain, “Everything is all right.” Dr. Paul Zak has determined that the human brain naturally produces oxytocin during breast-feeding, orgasm, hugs, snuggling, holding hands, partner dance, massage, bodywork, and prayer
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As a nation of educators, parents, children and their family members – how can we come to terms with that event? Is there a response educators and communities could make that would help us all to heal? And is there a way to reduce the number of people in our world who are capable of taking actions like those Adam Lanza took?
These concerns brought me back to the question of whether compassion could be taught. From my spiritual training as a Buddhist in a Tibetan lineage, I knew beyond doubt that the answer is YES. Training in compassion has been practiced in the East for thousands of years. Practices to awaken and strengthen compassion for all beings, in all circumstances, are the foundation of every young monk and nun’s education – and even a middle-class, middle-aged guy like me can benefit significantly from them.
The actions of this small handful of individuals also offer an important lesson in the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy occurs when someone who is not experiencing and who has never experienced a certain element of suffering attempts to express concern for someone who is. Too often, sympathy devolves into something more akin to pity.
Empathy is entirely different; empathy requires us to feel the same emotions experienced by others before we can offer words of encouragement and hope. In short, you have to live it to feel it; you have to endure the suffering before you earn the right to say, "I know exactly what you are going through." To be fair, none of these advocates would claim to truly know what it means to be homeless; they knew that at the end of this one long night, they would be welcomed back into the arms and homes of loved ones. For those who are homeless, there is no immediate prospect that their suffering will have such a speedy or happy ending.
Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital find that participating in an eight-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress.