Thursday, July 13, 2017

Eric Nelson: Darwin Revisited: Compassion Key to Our Survival

“Sympathy will have been increased through natural selection,” Darwin wrote in TheDescent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, “for those communities which include the greatest number of the most sympathetic members, would flourish best, and rear the greatest number of offspring.”

In other words, when it comes to durability, compassion is king.

These impulses are often described in biological and physiological terms, something rooted in our brain, “a natural and automatic response that has ensured our survival,” as Seppala wrote in a recent article. Others see it in more spiritual terms, as an irresistible, even divinely inspired urge to “do the right thing.” Most everyone agrees, however, that compassion is innate, even if it takes a little convincing.

The good news, says Seppala, is that not only is compassion an inherent quality, it also has the effect of improving our health by increasing our connection with others.

“One telling study showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure,” wrote Seppala. “On the flip side, strong social connection leads to a 50 percent increased chance of longevity. Social connection strengthens our immune system, helps us recover from disease faster, and may even lengthen our life.”

She suggests that one of the best ways to make these kinds of healthy connections is by simply hanging out with compassionate people, a practice she says leads to “a state of elevation” and inspires a “chain reaction” of compassion.

“I actually think that just having people go out and doing service is a great way for them to realize the impact of compassion,” she said. “Being around someone who is incredibly inspiring, that in itself can change your life.”

Of course, being compassionate can also change the lives of others. Although there isn’t as much research available in terms of the effect of compassion on the receiver as opposed to the giver, anecdotal evidence dating back thousands of years would suggest that everyone benefits.

The Buddha, certainly, was someone who knew first-hand the impact compassion can have on someone in need. And Jesus – the man who insisted on the importance of “loving your neighbor as yourself” – provided plenty of examples of how compassion could improve both the mental and physical well-being of others. “Go, and do thou likewise,” he said, referring to his work, implying that it’s not just about being nice to people, but cultivating a frame of mind capable of healing the entire array of human ailments.

1 comment:

Matt Franko said...

"cultivating a frame of mind capable of healing the entire array of human ailments."

Never gonna happen... this is just over the top pastoral thinking...