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Posts tagged ‘caring’

Compassionate Hunger Games

From Nation of Change and Yes! Magazine
by Jeremy Adam Smith
19 May 2012

Five Lessons in Human Goodness from “The Hunger Games”

In the dystopian future world of The Hunger Games, 24 teenagers are forced to fight to the death, their battle turned into televised entertainment.

This war-of-all-against-all scenario sounds as though it might reveal the worst in humanity—and to a degree, that’s true.

But what raises The Hunger Games above similar stories, like the cynical Japanese film Battle Royale, is that it is mainly preoccupied with how human goodness can flourish even in the most dehumanizing circumstances.

As I watched the film and read the book, I found the story kept reminding me of classic pieces in Greater Good about the psychological and biological roots of compassion, empathy, and cooperation. The vision of human beings as fundamentally caring and connected is not merely wishful thinking on the part of Suzanne Collins, the author of the novels on which the movie is based. In fact, it’s been tested by a great deal of scientific research. Here are five examples.
1. Killing is against human nature.

Katniss, a skilled hunter and the hero of The Hunger Games, is indeed horrified by the prospect of dying—but her worst fears revolve around needing to kill other people. “You know how to kill,” says her friend Gale in the book. “Not people,” she replies, filled with horror at the idea. When she actually does kill a girl named Glimmer, she’s wracked with guilt and throws herself over the body “as if to protect it.”

Research says that Katniss is the rule, not the exception. “The study of killing by military scientists, historians, and psychologists gives us good reason to feel optimistic about human nature, for it reveals that almost all of us are overwhelmingly reluctant to kill a member of our own species, under just about any circumstance,” writes Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his Greater Good essay, “Hope on the Battlefield.”

Sociologist Randall Collins comes to a similar conclusion in his massive study Violence. “The Hobbesian image of humans, judging from the most common evidence, is empirically wrong,” he writes. “Humans are hardwired for interactional entrainment and solidarity; and this is what makes violence so difficult.”

2. Wealth makes us less compassionate.

The citizens of the Capitol brutally exploit the 12 districts of the country of Panem, giving themselves a very high standard of living while deliberately keeping the rest in a state of abject poverty. The movie and the book take pains to reveal how much this limits their ability to empathize with the less fortunate—a situation confirmed by research, some of which has been generated by the Greater Good Science Center here at UC Berkeley.

“In seven separate studies,” writes Yasmin Anwar, “UC Berkeley researchers consistently found that upper-class participants were more likely to lie and cheat when gambling or negotiating, cut people off when driving, and endorse unethical behavior in the workplace.”

This doesn’t mean affluence makes you evil. According to the author of a related study, Greater Good Science Center Hornaday Graduate Fellow Jennifer Stellar, “It’s not that the upper classes are coldhearted. They may just not be as adept at recognizing the cues and signals of suffering because they haven’t had to deal with as many obstacles in their lives.”

3. People are motivated to help others by empathy, not reason or numbers.

“If you really want to stay alive, you get people to like you,” says their drunken, traumatized mentor, Haymitch. It’s the first advice he gives to the heroes, Katniss and Peeta, and a surprising amount of the film’s action revolves around their efforts to win people’s sympathy, which results in “sponsorships” that help them in their most desperate moments.

Haymitch’s advice is supported by new research that suggests if you want to encourage people to take humanitarian action, logic and big numbers don’t help—as every ad copywriter knows, people are most moved to help individuals with compelling personal stories.

When a team of psychologists ran a study of two fundraising appeals—one emphasizing a girl’s story, the other the number of people affected by the problem—they found “that people have more sympathy for identifiable victims because they invoke a powerful, heartfelt emotional response, whereas impersonal numbers trigger the mind’s calculator,” as former GGSC fellow Naazneen Barma writes. “In a fascinating cognitive twist, this appeal to reason actually stunts our altruistic impulses.”

4. Power flows from social and emotional intelligence, not strength and viciousness.

Peeta proves particularly adept at manipulating the emotions of the “Hunger Games” audience. He seldom actually lies to anyone, but he does artfully reveal and conceal his emotions to maximize their impact and win support for their survival (a trait illustrated in the clip above, when he uses his crush on Katniss as the raw material for a compelling, sympathetic story). In contrast, the characters who rely on brute force and violent prowess find themselves isolated and defeated in the end. It’s the most compassionate characters who ultimately triumph.

This is exactly what research in social and emotional intelligence predicts will happen. “A new science of power has revealed that power is wielded most effectively when it’s used responsibly by people who are attuned to, and engaged with, the needs and interests of others,” writes GGSC Faculty Director Dacher Keltner in his essay “The Power Paradox.” “Years of research suggests that empathy and social intelligence are vastly more important to acquiring and exercising power than are force, deception, or terror.”

Read entire article at Nation of Change.

Who Dies?

Who Dies: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying by Stephen Levine (excerpt).

Working With The Dying

The other day, I received a phone call from a old friend saying that her brother had just returned from a general checkup where it was discovered that he had tumors in his lungs. A biopsy was in process. What should she do? How could she help a loved one who it seemed might be about to go through a very difficult time?

The answer to that question is, of course – you relate to one who is ill the same way you relate to any being. With openness. With an honoring of the truth we all share. Work to dissolve the separateness that keeps one lost in duality. Become one with the other. No help, just being. See the conditioned illusion of separateness. Break that ancient clinging. Allow both of you to die. Go beyond the imaginings of separate bodies and separate minds. Come to the common ground of being.

You are with one who is dying in the same way you are with yourself. Open, honest, and caring. You are simply there, listening with a heart that is willing to hold the joy or pain of another with equal capacity and compassion. With a mind that does not separate death from life, that does not live in concepts and shadows, but in the direct experience of the unfolding.

If it hurts, it hurts. If it makes you happy, it makes you happy. Not trying to change things. Not trying to make something or someone other than it is. Just hear the truth that the moment has to offer.

It has become increasingly clear with each being I open to, whether it is someone who is dying or a taxi cab driver or a cashier in a restaurant, that the more I open to that being, letting go of what blocks the heart’s contact, the more I open to my own being, the more we share the essence.

When you speak from the heart you send love, not your needs or desires for people to be any other way than they are.

When you are working with seriously ill patients, it is important to remember that it is not “you” who has to do anything. All you have to do is get out of the way so that the appropriate response to the moment can manifest itself. You don’t have to save anyone except you. Working with the dying is work on yourself.

We perhaps forget the root out of which the word “care” arises – it is the same root as for our word “culture”. To care is to become one with another, to join with a person in the greater “culture” of mankind, of life itself. For, in truth, there is no “other.” There is just being, experienced from different focal points. When you are fully present, you see there is no such thing as “another person.” There are just two perceptions of the one existence. There is “your” unfolding and there’s “mine.” Our work is to come together in truth. To become the perfect environment for each other’s recognition that there is no other, but just the One to be shared.

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