Sunday, November 08, 2009

Compassion from a Secular View

I may address compassion, using most of the TED talks from the Charter on Compassion, along with other sources in my religious journal during the holidays, but for now I'll just share these secular views of the evolution of compassion.

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Covers the genetic reasons for the Golden Rule, Game Theory, and economic interdepencies. Also introduces the concept of "moral imagination", otherwise known as the age-old adage of putting yourself in another's shoes.

The next talk shares some of the science research dealing with the psychology of compassion. This is a very engaging talk and quite enjoyable.


It is interesting that the research Dr. Daniel Goleman shows that while we are all neurologically wired for compassion, what determines whether we will do a compassionate act or not is usually how hurried or pre-occupied we are.

I am also stuck by the fact that neurological studies show that the act of doing something for someone else, usually triggers the circuitry of compassion in the brain. I can give several quotes and truisms from my youth and religion, which attest to this phenomenon, that I have found to be very true myself. Likewise, he shares an insight gained from a serial killer, who once said, "If I had felt their distress, I could not have had done. I had to turn that part of me off."

To expand your vocabulary, Goleman shares the word "pizzled" - the emotion one experiences in that moment when someone suddenly answers their cell phone, iPhone, Blackberry, whatever, and acts as if the first person no longer exists.

While I agree that the act of noticing is a major step towards compassion, it takes more than just noticing to enact effective compassion. As they say, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." To give quality compassion, one needs to take a little more time to find the root cause and not just do bandage compassion all of the time. A bandaid in the wrong place can sometimes be worse than no bandage at all, but it doesn't need to happen if, along with noticing, you also listen. Then you will better know whether the bandage needs to be here or there, or if maybe you need to help the person get to a doctor instead.

When I was young, I thought I was a compassionate person, and in my defense, I did strive to be one. But as I experienced more of life's obstacles, I realized that some of the acts of my younger self were not really as compassionate as I thought they were. As Carl Rogers was fond of pointing out, the only person who really knows what is going on inside a person, is the person themselves. So, listen as well as see, and you will increase your changes of giving quality compassion.

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