Did you study Darwin's Evolutionary Theory in school? Do you remember whether it taught you that the strong survive, or that the sympathetic survive. The answer may surprise you.
Studies in neuroscience have concluded that when you feel physical pain, a certain part of your brain is ignited. And if someone observes you feeling that pain, their brain will also ignite in the same place. This is empathy. We are wired to care about others. In fact, compassion is centered in the oldest part of the brain. All mammals have it, and it is ignited when they care for others.
Last week, most of North America experienced a major winter and ice storm that challenged our survival skills. Crazy cold combined with a breakdown of infrastructure on top of a global pandemic was a frightening combination. I watched people online lose power and water, and the weather damaged homes, vehicles, and generally impacted everyone's lives on some level or another.
Watching the way people reacted to this crisis was extremely telling.
Most people were empathetic and compassionate. They were offering assistance, opening their homes even during this pandemic, to help others not freeze to death - literally. People were raising money to help feed assisted living facilities, the homeless, and families in need. The out-pouring of support was exactly what had to happen in order for those communities to survive. Literally.
However, some people did not seem to care, nor did they offer to help.
In these cases, toxic individualism ruled the day. It was as if they were saying, "As long as I've got mine, I don't care about anyone else."
History shows us that great societies crumble due to greed and a lack of compassion for the less fortunate. Greed also leads to natural disasters. The more we tax the planet, the less resources available, and the bigger the disasters. And since we are living in one of the scariest pandemics to date, it's time to look at what we need to do together to survive.
There has been disturbing push-back on the idea of keeping others safe by simply wearing a mask. Personal freedom does not over-ride public health concerns. Here again you see the toxic individualism at play and a complete lack of compassion. Hopefully history will not repeat and we will find ways to work together to make life better for all of us.
Society's survival depends on community and its ability to take care of its members.
Darwin even argued the importance of sympathy and said that "communities which included the greatest number of the most sympathetic members would flourish best and rear the greatest number of offspring". Even in the theory of evolution, there's a definite component of compassion.
How do we shift our society to be more compassionate? The answer starts with you.
Today's disconnect has more to do with people's focus on our differences and not on the things that we share. We all have to breathe ~ why not keep the air clean? We all have to eat ~ why not honor the soil and its function to grow our food? We all need water ~ why not stop polluting it with everything we pour down the drain or the poisons we use that eventually drain into our water sources? We are all human beings with the same set of emotions and the desire to be heard and loved ~ so why not listen to others the same way we wish to be heard? Why not love our neighbor?
And the most important thing we all need to do is show ourselves some self-compassion. Do not poison or pollute YOUR vessel. Allow yourself space to have your emotions - ALL of them. And listen to yourself and your own needs. This is the hardest thing for us to do. And it is the source of the disconnect ~ not only with our resources, but with our fellow humans.
Pema Chödrön reminds us that “Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”
The truth is ~ we are all in this together.
Find your compassion.
Help ignite that area of the brain that shows concern for others in pain.
Make sure the sympathetic survive and the compassionate thrive.
Be well, Friends