Compassion offers “A life Worth Living”

Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.” — Dalai Lama XIV

Donald Trump grew-up in a nice neighborhood in Queens, New York but he might as well have grown up in Martin Scorsese‘s Mean Streets because he turned-out to be a very mean person. Everything about Trump is just plain mean. His associates, like Roy Cohn, Roger Stone, David Pecker and others are mean-spirited people who take pride profiting off the disadvantage of others. The bad intent and bad deeds Trump and his associates spread contributes to bad karma and future suffering. It is spreading throughout American society and must be stopped before it destroys all of us.

In contrast to all of the bad karma Trump spreads there’s no better way to ensure good karma than to spread love around. A little effort can go a long way. A smile and a kind word here and there can be the catalyst that starts a chain reaction that can reach farther than you could ever imagine.

While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or irrational, scientists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting its deep evolutionary purpose. This research has shown that when we feel compassion, it often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people. Take a minute to watch this very insightful video of Dacher Keltner, UC Berkley psychology professor and faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center, as he explores the evolutionary roots of compassion and empathy.

If I can Stop One Heart from Braking

Emily Dickinson

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.”

According to Yale University’s Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, “it’s our emotional intelligence that gives us the ability to read our instinctive feelings and those of others. It also allows us to understand and label emotions as well as express and regulate them.

Religious historian Karen Armstrong writes “The Axial sages gave religion a new ethical significance and put morality at the heart of the spiritual life. According to all the great religions and philosophies the only way you could encounter what they called ‘God,’ ‘Nirvana,’ “Brahman,’ or the ‘Way,’ was to live a compassionate life. Indeed, religion was compassion!

The Parable of the Lost Son

Batoni’s Prodigal Son

Jesus continued — “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate…

“‘My son,’ the father said to his other son, …we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” — Luke 15:11–32

Rabbi Hama ben Hanina, a third-century rabbi, offers us a model of Jewish spiritual practice. It is not a coincidence that visiting the sick and comforting the mourners are among those mitzvot (commandments) that are without limit in the amount we are called to do them.

We fulfill these and other acts of caring and compassion to the fullest extent we are able. They are limitless because they are entirely about caring for others, taking us outside ourselves and our own concerns. Yet they are also about us; for when we are doing these mitzvot of caring, we are “following after God’s ways.”

We become like God and are drawn closer to God: deepening our capacity for caring, for being present and attentive to the needs of others — while setting our own needs aside, we seek to become more like God. The expression includes a sense of heartfelt sentiment beyond mere legal duty, as “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).

According to Immanuel Kant, “beauty is a “feeling induced by our sense of ordering, a valuing, at work in the world that lies beyond any explicit demonstration.” Two centuries after Kant Dr. Antonio Damasios experiments determined that feelings are “thoughts” stored in the Amygdala of the human brain. According to Dr. Damasio, feelings arise from both comfortable and uncomfortable emotions that are biochemical reactions to environmental stimuli.

Dr. Damasio has titled feelings that arise from emotions Somatic markers”. They are physiological signals associated with emotions, such as the association of rapid heartbeat with anxiety or of nausea with disgust. According to the hypothesis, somatic markers strongly influence subsequent decision-making.

The acquisition of somatic markers is performed in the pre-frontal cortices (they receive signals from all other sensory regions in which images are formed, they receive signals from several bio-regulatory sectors of the brain, they themselves represent categorizations of the situations in which we have been involved and are ideally suited to deciding and reasoning because they are directly connected to every avenue of motor and chemical response available).

When making decisions in the future, these physiological signals (or ‘somatic markers’) and their evoked emotion are consciously or unconsciously associated with their past outcomes and bias decision-making towards certain behaviors while avoiding others. For instance, when a somatic marker associated with a positive outcome is perceived, the person may feel happy and motivate the individual to pursue that behavior. When a somatic marker associated with the negative outcome is perceived, the person may feel sad and act as an internal alarm to warn the individual to avoid a course of action. These situation-specific somatic states based on, and reinforced by, past experiences help to guide behavior in favor of more advantageous choices and therefore are adaptive.

When we have to make complex and uncertain decisions, the somatic markers created by the relevant stimuli are summed to produce a net somatic state. This overall state biases our decision of how to act. This influence on our decision-making process may occur unconsciously, via the brainstem and ventral striatum, or consciously, engaging higher cortical cognitive processing. Dr. Damasio proposes that somatic markers direct attention towards more advantageous options, simplifying the decision process.

For all of these reasons it’s more important than ever to get beautiful art, like this collage of the ten best paintings of all time, in front of young people.

We need to use art to fill their Amygdalae with feelings of beauty to combat sadness and the risk of widespread sorrow and suffering brought on by Trump’s ugliness. We need to “inoculate young people with good emotions”.

Beautiful art can stimulate emotions and produce feelings that can be recalled and serve as a defense against ugliness as young people grow and mature. A life absent beauty can result in a person void of feelings and as Socrates might have said, result in “a life not worth living”.

Originally published at on April 12, 2018.






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