Expanding Empathy

I’ve been reading The Better Angels of our Nature, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker’s amazing 2011 landmark study of violence and its decline.  Among numerous insights I’ve gained from it are two aspects of empathy I hadn’t really considered.  I knew them subconsciously, but understood them more clearly from this reading.

One is that empathy has what Pinker calls a “dark side.”  Our feelings of empathy with someone in a painful or unfortunate situation may temporarily incapacitate our sense of fairness, so that we favor the person we know over others equally or more deserving.  For example, one study acquainted participants with a seriously ill child awaiting medical treatment.  Those who empathized with her wanted to move her to the head of the queue, ahead of other children who had been waiting longer or who needed the treatment even more.  Participants who received the same information about this child, but didn’t empathize with her, treated all children fairly.

A second consideration is the way that empathy can be increased and spread by print and broadcast media.  Continue reading “Expanding Empathy”

Beware to Compare

In his newest book, Beyond Religion; Ethics for a Whole World, the Dalai Lama makes a convincing case that if we are to teach a way of ethical living that everyone worldwide can accept and practice, it must be independent of any religion and must be based on compassion.  He explains in detail what compassion is and isn’t, and gives numerous down-to-earth suggestions and encouragement for incorporating it into our daily lives.  He concludes with non-religious meditation instruction, advocating that not only would adults do well to practice, but also that children be given compassion training in our schools.

In this post I want to focus on just one of his many practical suggestions for how we can infuse our thinking and actions with greater compassion: avoid comparing yourself with others.  Continue reading “Beware to Compare”

Keeping Those New Year’s Resolutions

As a new year begins, we hear much talk of resolutions, ways to improve one’s life in the coming year.  These might have to do with weight loss, increased fitness, decreased indulgence in sweets, alcohol or tobacco, controlling one’s temper, and better budgeting of money.  As a regular participant in fitness classes, I notice every January a sudden increase in attendance by new people I’ve heard called “resolutioners.”  These folks start out with the best of intentions, but unfortunately do not continue; within a month they are mostly gone.

The desire people have for personal improvement is something we as practical peacemakers want to encourage.  Progress on any of the goals listed above leads to a more harmonious personal and family life, and thus a more peaceful society.  However, the urge to make improvements that require discipline is fragile; it is no easy thing to change long-standing habits.  In fact, it seems that the making of resolutions is considered a sort of joke: “yeah, sure, you’re going to quit smoking–how long is that going to last?” “You say you’re going to get up earlier in order to exercise–right.”

How can we turn around this expectation of failure and make the keeping of resolutions more likely?  I have three ideas. Continue reading “Keeping Those New Year’s Resolutions”

Fat and Getting Fatter

The latest nationwide adult obesity statistics were just released, and it’s not a pretty sight.  At first glance, my fellow residents of Colorado and I were glad to see our state once again recognized as having the lowest percentage of obese people of all the 50 states.  But on closer scrutiny, it’s alarming news for everyone.  In these new statistics, Colorado is the only state with an obese percentage below 20%, and twelve states weighed in at 30% or higher.  (Obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or above.)  Just fifteen years ago, no state had a percentage of 20% or higher!  Childhood obesity continues to increase as well. Continue reading “Fat and Getting Fatter”

Transforming Anger

On a recent sunny Saturday I was riding home on my bike from a couple of errands and spotted a yard sale.  Because I enjoy browsing at such sales, I stopped and began to inspect the merchandise.  After a few minutes I became aware that a car had pulled up across the street.  A man got out and began arguing with the woman hosting the sale, yelling that she was selling household items that belonged to him.  She explained to us customers that this was her ex- husband.
He: “That stuff you’re selling is mine!”
She: “No it isn’t!  You’re harassing me!”
He: “It is mine! I’m not harassing you, I just want my property!”
She: “You turned it over to me when you left.  If you don’t leave now, I’m calling the police!” Continue reading “Transforming Anger”

Meat Is Boring, Say Top Chefs

TIME magazine recently proclaimed some heartening news in “Where’s the Beet?: How Big- Name Chefs Are Shrinking Their Customers’ Carnivore Quota.”  Six top chefs were interviewed, all saying they are preparing less meat in their restaurants.  Two of them, Mario Batali and Jose Andres, say that meat is boring.  “After four bites of a big steak, I’m tired of it,” says Batali, who plans to open his sixteenth restaurant soon, this one in New York City and entirely vegetarian.   Andres, with six restaurants in Los Angeles and Washington, describes a combination of fruits and vegetables as “a rainbow of possibilities.  It’s more interesting than any meat.” Continue reading “Meat Is Boring, Say Top Chefs”

I’m Retired!

I’ve just taken early retirement from a longtime position as a reference librarian in a public library, and I’m here to tell you that retiring is absolutely amazing!  It’s so mind-blowing that it’s probably just as well that no one does it more than once or twice in a lifetime.  For years I had to get dressed, pack my lunch, check the weather, determine if it was bikeable or not (I rode my bike every day except when too cold, raining or snowing heavily), and show up at a certain time.  Continue reading “I’m Retired!”