It was a beautiful morning for a walk so I put on my headphones, found a list of podcasts and headed out.
It was a serendipitous choice. Because between the reader responses from last week, the podcast speakers, and my own take, we all agree that something is going on to make people less kind, less respectful, and less aware of simple social graces.
Compassion is necessary for our health, our well-being, and for a functioning society. So what’s up with all this indifference?
I was intrigued by what the TED experts had to say and here are some of their answers.
Show That You Care
Sally Kohn, a self-described political pundit, has appeared on Fox, MSNBC, CNN, and written for The Daily Beast, Salon, The Atlantic and TIME Magazine.
She’s a liberal thinker and has had her share of heated discussions with people having much more conservative beliefs. Sally believes being kinder to each other comes from focusing on being emotionally correct rather than politically correct.
“You can’t get anyone to agree with you if they don’t want to listen to you first. You must reach them on an emotional level. Let them know their feelings are valid. You can like someone as a person even though you don’t agree with them on another level.”
I couldn’t agree more. “Children don’t care what you know until they know that you care” is a phrase I’ve used in teaching parenting classes. It applies to more than children.
We are much more ready to listen to someone and respect what they say if we know they’re going to extend us the same courtesy, right?
But if we feel disrespected, we aren’t going to be courteous or respect someone in return.
Basically, we just don’t care. And that’s a bad beginning to any interaction.
Always Try to Do Better
Krista Tippett hosts the National Public Radio program “On Being”. When asked about how she manages to be compassionate every day, Krista answers, “I do my best. I forgive myself when I’m not. Then I get up the next day and try to do better.”
I like her honesty. Because it’s almost impossible to be compassionate all day, every day.
But it is very possible to try.
Krista says we can learn compassion. We can decide to practice it. Just like learning to throw a ball or play the piano. The more we do it the more it works on us from the inside. Then it becomes instinctive. Infectious.
But only if we practice it. Embody it. Demonstrate it in front of our kids. And if we do all those things, pretty soon it becomes a way of life.
So even if you aren’t feeling particularly compassionate on any given day, act “as if” you are. Consciously go out of your way for someone. Consider it a practice day and make yourself do it.
The Problem With Technology
Finally, Daniel Goleman, psychologist and award-winning author of Emotional Intelligence hit on what might be at the root of all of this indifference.
His finding may surprise you. But not if you consider that there is an entire generation growing up digitally. They are the people who have always communicated through e-mails, texting, and voice messages. I heard someone refer to them as natives of this digital world.
The rest of us are the immigrants. We were born pre-technology and learned how to communicate and be kind through face-to-face, social interaction.
Daniel says, “We are less compassionate when we communicate digitally. Without social interaction, compassion is not being learned the way it has in past generations. There is no channel for the social brain . . . It’s an unprecedented experiment with an entire generation.”
Kind of scary huh?
Look around an airport, a hotel lobby, a restaurant, a college campus. Anywhere there’s a group of people. Notice how few of them are actually talking to each other. Nine times out of ten people are buried in their phones, texting like crazy. And if they aren’t texting, they’re playing a game. By themselves.
It doesn’t take a sociologist to tell you where this is headed.
But Daniel is hopeful. There is a solution.
“If we are mindful throughout the day, preparing ourselves to be compassionate when the need arises, our brain is wired to automatically be ready to help. In other words, if we see someone suffer we will be compassionate. But we need to get out of our “urban trance” and notice what’s going on outside ourselves.“
3 Simple Rules To Change the World
Here’s my take-away from all this:
- Be respectful. Even if you disagree. Even if you’re having a bad day. Be respectful of others. Your partner. Your kids. The other driver who is somehow in the wrong lane. The waitress who brought your eggs scrambled instead of over-easy. Be courteous.
- Practice compassion and kindness. Every day. And if you fail, try again the next day. But try. Practice it the same as if you were learning how to play the piano. Even when you don’t feel like it. Practice.
- Be mindful. Be aware. Get out of your “urban trance”. Notice others. Be prepared to notice someone’s world besides your own. The homeless person. The person who bags your groceries. The elderly. If you have a chance to give someone a hand, offer it.
Simply stated . . . Be just a little nicer.
What have you done today that was nice? Do you ever practice random acts of kindness and just take a moment from your day to help someone you know or even a stranger accomplish something? Even a simple smile can transform an attitude!