"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Compassion and Empathy

It was Percy Bysshe Shelley, in his essay A Defence of Poetry, who wrote that empathy is different from and goes way beyond sympathy or pity, and requires well-developed imagination, “the great instrument of moral good.”

There is an emerging science of empathy that is demonstrating that we are actually wired for empathy and compassion, that empathy exists at a neurophysiological level and that we are not just the outcome of a selfish gene. We all have the natural potential for showing empathy or concern to others, and this can be nurtured or crushed by the circumstances of our upbringing. But we need that affection from birth. The development of our mind depends on interactions face to face. Neuroscience tells us that specific brain areas respond to kindness and compassion and there is a correlation between the size of a child’s brain and the attention or neglect he experiences. Children who have not received sufficient care and compassion can feel unlovable, and can be high in self-criticism. In other words our social and developmental psychology is affected by the way we are brought up. This of course gives us a totally different understanding of human nature and has enormous significance for our societies. While our religion might teach us to be compassionate and loving, our upbringing might very well take us away from the possibility of such behavior coming naturally to us. It then needs to be re-learned, nurtured and encouraged. And it should be the religions that are there to bring us back on track.

“Empathy and compassion
To the shame of all the established religions, it has taken a secular initiative to kick-start what the world desperately needs and what the world’s religions pretty much all teach through the Golden Rule; that we should all be loving our neighbors as ourselves, showing compassion for all.
The religions’ historian Karen Armstrong was frustrated that not enough was seemingly being done by the world’s religions to promote their own moral codes of love and compassion. Perhaps this was a fair indictment. Compassion manifests itself in the world, she says, not by thinking but by doing and she wanted to bring compassion back to the very heart of moral and spiritual life. So with the support of the Fetzer Institute and a multi-faith, multi-national council of thinkers and leaders who helped with the drafting, the Charter for Compassion was launched globally in 2009. It is an idea whose time had definitely come.
Compassion literally means ‘to suffer with or alongside’ someone. We identify with you in your suffering; we can show mercy or sorrow with you in your pain. Empathy goes a little further and is the capacity to experience what it is like to be someone else. We can bare our own souls and walk in your shoes to share your suffering. That is true empathy, although the two words are often used interchangeably. Scientifically empathy should not be possible, but it is!"

The Charter for Compassion recently launched an International Compassionate Cities campaign, endorsed by a US Conference of Mayors including Mayor Greg Fischer of Louisville, KY, and the mayors of Columbia, SC; Des Moines, IA; Nashville, TN; Frankfort, KY; Raleigh, NC; and Westland, MI. This initiative, says the Charter, “has the potential to inspire a fundamental shift in our ability to thrive as human beings.” 
Let's go for it. We live in such a beautiful world. Let's all help  infuse it with compassion and empathy in everything that we do. That cannot be bad!

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