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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Soapbox: Hard-wired for Compassion?

I heard a phrase recently that really struck a chord with me and got me thinking.  Movie Director Tom Shadyak was being interviewed about his recent life-revisions. [He went from Hollywood mansion living, directing hit comedies with Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, and more to giving away most of his money and living in a comfortable but small trailer. ]  Shadyak's latest movie [a documentary title "I Am"] interviews all sorts of people about the nature of mankind etc.  The statement he made was that we [humans] are "hard-wired for compassion."

Hard-Wired for Compassion

Think about that for a moment.  What an amazing concept to contemplate.  We as humans hard-wired, built,  to be compassionate. My thesaurus says compassion is like empathy, but a dictionary shows a shading that to me is a crucial difference.  Empathy is the "ability to recognize and understand someone else's feelings and emotions, even their experiences." Compassion is more often defined as "sympathy for another's pain, often including a desire to help."  Sympathy is not neutral. Sympathy is more than recognition. To me, empathy does not require more than dispassionately recognizing and understanding someone else's pain.  Compassion is far more. Compassion means feeling, regretting that pain, and wishing to ease that pain.  Empathy does not seem to require action, but compassion calls for, cries out for action.

Empathy makes you wonder how tornado or tsunami victims can pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward.  Compassion leads you to send money, support... in some way to try to make things better. After Sept 11, 2001 there was an explosion of empathy and sympathy, but compassionate action was seen immediately too... in everyone from New Yorkers handing out water bottles on the street to the Nova Scotians who were so amazing to the passengers of planes diverted to and stranded at their airports.

I like the concept of being hard-wired for compassion....

More about the hard science behind this next week!

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