Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘humanity’

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.

Our Ancestor’s Children

Not that long ago, I used to think people that were grandparents were very very old. Now, that I am one, I don’t see my self as an “older” person, let alone as ancient as I once thought such generations to be.

Our oldest daughter and her wife had their daughter Ilee (our granddaughter) just over a week ago and she is amazing and beautiful. Our other daughter and her husband, had their wonderful and bright son (our grandson), just about 2 years ago and they are coming to visit us for a week.

It all seems so natural, being a grandparent and being called GaPa or Opa, Grandma or Omi. It’s as if this was always meant to be and the lines of humanity continues. Of course, it’s happening all the time and we are one continuous thread since the beginning of life on this planet, but it seems even more real when it is happening so close to home.

We truly walk on the back of our ancestors or they are at our side (depending on how you relate to them) in everything we think, do or say. The energy from the past travels into the present and the energy we react with and live with now undoubtedly spreads into and shapes the future. The awareness of this reality calls me to be conscious and make wise choices. It calls us all up to take responsibility for ourselves, our communities and our planet.

This is not a matter of doing good or being a “good” person in order to fulfill some imagined self-image of who or what we “think” we should be; it is a matter of physics, action/reaction, science and self-sustaining necessity. The adage that “There is only one of us here” has never been more blatantly apparent and reflected within our world. I pray that I (we) do not turn away and anesthetize ourselves with illusion, suffering and self-imposed forgetfulness.

Even though our species has thrived for thousands of years, many others are now extinct. There is no guarantee that ours will continue. We cannot promise our children or our children’s children that they will continue to carry on their ancestor’s lives and spirits. As long as there is breath, there is hope. I hope I live to see great great grandchildren and continue to have the capacity to love and be loved. More importantly, I hope all forms of life on this planet traveling through space has the opportunity to do likewise.

Hard Times Require Furious Dancing

Hard Times Require Furious Dancing by Alice Walker (New World Library, 2011). Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

Alice Walker’s collection of heartfelt poems range from the long thoughtful The Taste of Grudge, to the shortest of the lot called One Earth, which reads like a Reggae mantra, “One Earth. One People. One Love.”

The last lines in her poem Watching You Hold Your Hatred are truth incarnate. “There is no graceful way to carry hatred. While hidden it is everywhere.”

There is also a beautiful poem about Myanmar (Burma) democracy advocate Aun San Suu Ky (who was imprisoned and under house arrest for most of the last 20 years). It is titled Loving Humans.

This work, which combines Ms. Walker’s experiences, observations and insights from the last several years, in response to personal and social unrest and conflict, are honest, forthright and tend to resonate with one’s head, heart and gut.

Without further denigrating this collection with my meager and shortsighted words, it is probably best to let the author speak for her self and share some of her humanity and wisdom.

THIS ROOM

This room
Is very powerful:
Buddha, golden,
Holding down one side;
The primordial
Great Mother, black,
Offering her
Bead
Of mitochondria
Holding down
The other.
My meditation
Chairs
Are made of wicker
A miracle
Crafted by
Human hands.
Human being
May I not
Forget you
In all
This talk
Of God.

MORE REVIEWS

Tag Cloud