• Posted: Sep 11, 2008 10:36:45
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Life is not simple anymore. Our brains our filled with many many ideas and notions, our emotions in a constant state of kaleidoscopic excitation. We have more choice for any move we dare to make than any time in history. Yet, never sure of the consequences of our choices we teeter on the edge of despair wondering if anything we do even matters.
It does, it does. It does if in the service of love.
Recent studies into animal cognition have been paying particular attention to something referred to as "sympathetic reflection". Thinking of the brain as a mechanism for mapping as in the layout of a living space, for example: where food is, where water is, where it is safe to sleep, and where it is not, brains literally reconstruct a kind of three dimensional model or map of the outside world within its structure. Turns out, some animal's brains construct a similar kind of map of the intellectual and emotional experience other animals in their vicinity are experiencing and then sympathetically respond as if they too were feeling that experience. For instance, an animal who has just lost a fight may be in obvious pain and distress. Sympathetically, an observing animal may cautiously approach, help to lick wounds, and initiate grooming to help calm the distressed animal. The observing animal is reacting with sympathy based upon a reflected internal mapping of another's experience.
Such animal studies tell us a great deal about ourselves. They help explain why some of us find satisfying fulfillment within caring loving relationships and why others of us do not. We do not all share the same facility for sympathetic reflective mapping. It is acquired or not based upon developmental experience. Parents, teachers, siblings, cohorts, cultural media exposure all play a role. Many notions float through our heads. For some, achievement maps become paramount. For others, caring maps prevail.
Sadly, it is not clear whether remediation is ever really successful converting one type to the other. Many have tried to become more loving. Some have tried to become more selfishly achieving. Perhaps the world needs a few of both types and not all of us will satisfyingly live out a satisfying love story. But in a world of increasingly limited resources and increasing population it might behoove us to consciously cultivate more citizens who are sympathetically caring of others and the world around them than citizens who are bent on selfish achievement.
It can be noted that the recent U.S. national political conventions highlighted the differences quite plainly. The dominate message of one party was that of sympathetic caring for others and for the environment while the dominate message of the other was the promotion of selfish achievement by individuals and special interests such as those with a specific economic stake or religious orientation. One wonders what the outcome for the world will be when so many are blind or disregarding of the consequences of their actions to others and the environment.
May 1971 Chicago