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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Catching up and a question for you...

I've been busy with the movement of life and all it entails (from the mundane to the profound, including snow shovelling - which is apparently both).

I'm heading to Ottawa today for Amnesty meetings - I have been told it's now minus
25 Celsius there, so I'm wondering about long johns, scarves and frostbite. Probably I'll have to solve it all with taxis... I think Ottawa is the coldest national capital city on earth - really.

From La Manzanilla, Mexico 2006

The question on my mind:

Some people seem to have a natural affinity for compassion and for feeling
the need to work in some way in their lives for the common good. These
people tend to be tolerant, open-minded and often are able to see the
world in the larger context (one place, one people). Many people don't
have a natural affinity for this - the range of perspectives is from
hateful and bigoted to apathy to fearful or to just plain too busy to
care much. There are other colours on the spectrum too...

There - I've simplified humanity so much that my blog should be closed down. (Maybe it is in China!)

Do you think people can be educated or influenced to shift towards compassion, openness and concern/passion for the common good? If so, how?

I think all people can be taught to have empathy! There are probably a multitude of ways to do it. It's good to start when they're children, though.
Boy, that's a good question. I guess off the top of my head I believe you are born with it or somehow acquire it along the way. You can be taught how to do it, but I don't know if you can be taught to actually feel it within your heart.
there is a spectrum of common good too, I think. there isn't one point called the common good. The common good of the People's Republic of China isn't the common good of the west, and the west isn't the same as the common good of central africa. Big, obvious examples but you see it in the smallest units, neighbour to neighbour, father to son etc.

There are a lot of forces pulling at each other, its a fine balancing act of several competing gravities and the common perception is; ''it's okay as it is'' - people fear change especially if they've invested heavily in the status quo. It could be argued that the state we have now is 'the common good' and what you're proposing is possibly something much more radical.

I don't know if compassion is innate but self-preservation certainly is. Advancement is born from self-preservation, compassion is afforded when people feel comfortably advanced. Any threat to self-preservation and compassion is dropped. Possibly the key is to make people believe that a compassionate world is the safest state possible and not actually any sacrifice. At the moment we have the counter-productive climate of fear.

If compassion isn't innate then it can be learned, after all we know it exists. I think it must be innate, we're a social species. You see evidence of compassion in lower orders of social species, like dogs. Do dogs receive instruction on compassion? Probably not.

So simply we begin with a self-preservation mode, only when we feel secure are we able to move into compassion mode, but the moment we sense a threat we revert back to self-preservation.

The common good - our perception of that varies with whatever mode we see ourselves in. Like taxes towards benefits aren't so bad - a privilege even - when we're in a secure, affluent society. But when times are hard, we want to hang on to the cash and the poor and needy are seen as lazy scroungers - a burden.

my thoughts off the top of my head, it's a ramble, I'm not clear about it myself - it's a complex problem.
Compassion gets a bad press; incorrectly perceived as a weakness.

Show too much compassion and your reputation for toughness is ruined. “Give war a chance”. This is particularly true of western style thinking. Psychology struggles to define emotion, hence until fairly recently little attempt was made to even measure kindness and compassion.

Although psychological tests exist for depression, anxiety and anger, we don’t test for compassion. Yet it has enormous effect on our individual wellbeing and society at large. Intellectual stupidity has blinded us, telling us its folly to try to measure compassion, assisted by an over reliance on the assertions of Freud.

Loving-kindness and compassion give us our feelings of happiness; what could be more important?
So when people are feeling burnt out a gentle tonic of compassion will often do wonders, and it’s also the best method of taking care of ourselves and gives strength to our convictions.

We can change individually and collectively to become more compassionate but compassion needs a better press.

From an evolutionary point of view there is evidence to suggest the theory altruism and co operation has been hardwired into our brains,
That is because such acts of kindness without the apparent reciprocal advantage give species advantage further down the evolutionary track. Hence species co operation, given its crudest form, overules self preservation.
Co operation has been a more powerful evolutionary factor than individualism, something not apparent or well understood.
Hence from a global viewpoint I think there are strong arguments to advance the cause of compassion universally but it does need a better press.

Best wishes
Thanks all. Yes, Jublu, we can lead kids to empathy - I hope!

PoP - I don't know either.

Ian - what a thoughtful, spontaneous response. I have worked in international disasters and seen that people generally pull together, rather than pull back to only meet their own (and their family) needs. Interesting...

Lindsay - what an interesting idea - to test and measure mental states for compassion. Let's do it!
Many bloggers tend to be very interested in Eastern Religions such as Buddhism. I imagine it seems novel to some. Apparently it is important to appear more spiritual than their neighbours and assume a superior position.

Panentheism is some people's cup of tea. This means they believe everything they read about any obscure religion or thought process.

As for my self, I believe in Common Sense and don't give a damn about spirituality.
let me get to that question later.. what I WILL say is (unfortunately too late for when you've posted this)..Ottawa IS the coldest capitol of the world. Be prepared to feel the hair in your nose and other parts of your body that will be effected by minus 25..LOL..oh yeah baby..those were the days when I suffered waiting for the bus. Wear good and waterproof boots!! Keeping those footsies warm is VERY important!

I'm here now and yes, I thought my nose was going to freeze and fall off in the street. I also thought my kneecaps were going to lose all ability to flex. You were a brave woman.
I know it's very complex, Gary. I don't think rebuilding a community and looking out for your family are necessarily mutually exclusive aims. what if a person was asked to help at the hospital and they still had family missing - would they have enough compassion to leave the search for the greater good?

there are at least three distinct codes of compassion here that I can think of.

Biological compassion which we may possess by way of evolution and probably safeguards our survival/self-preservation as a social species.

Then there follows Social compassion which protects the ''common good'' if you like. Religion plays a big part in this as does culture, tradition and evolved national identities. Rules are made to enforce these codes - anti-discrimination, welfare and benefits, education etc. People express compassion even against their biological instincts because of social collective, a sense of belonging and group identity. Of course, this can be negative influence as in nazi germany or rwanda.

then higher still is intellectual compassion which gives us conscientious objectors, radicals and people like yourself, Gary. Free-thinkers. This can be (perceived as) opposed to social compassion/the common (established) good - society could feel threatened - by this I really mean the establishment, the laws, culture, national identity etc.

It's probably contributory to the sense of a ''climate of fear'' we have now but is really only social evolution in the making.
Please do not forget Moscow for being the world's coldest capital!!!

Human beings I think are essentially good in nature until pressured by the external forces that generate different experience in different people.
And I think the answer is yes...by education and better environment a person's response can be changed as where there is less stress on human beings they behave in a better way.

I hope children can be taught. I am trying w/my own. I can tell you I always had it. I think certain events in peoples lives teach them to have it.
Hello, Gary. I wish I had good news for you, but the answer is, "No." Even the question itself is a bit overly reliant on the external nature of change concept-- it takes no consideration of self-determination.

Opportunities exist for us to acquire compassion, and for us to put into place what we've acquired, but still it is a choice on a most personal level. A matter of temperament, I suppose. Or, you might say, that although everyone has a fair amount of compassion, some would cling to it so tightly that you would never know they had any at all.

It's that competitive/cooperative thing on another level. You can compel people to be cooperative, but some will still insist on a bit of double-crossing there at the end.

I wish it were otherwise; but, sadly, no.
concentric expanding circles is the name of the game ...
sorry, bit late chiming in here - my gut reaction surprised me because generally I'm an optimist - but it was NO. I think you can influence children - somewhat - by the environment in which you raise them, and I think you can bring out a person's natural empathy that may have been repressed for any number of reasons, but I thing empathy, compassion etc require a level of spiritual maturity, which isn't something that can be taught, role modeled or given to someone, it has to come from within - in my opinion anyhow. Some people lack the spiritual maturity for true compassion, their journey in this life is to, perhaps deepen that level, I don't know. But surprisingly enough (to me especially) this is what I think - thanks for asking the question.
btw -23C in Chicago today....

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