How T-Rex helps us

14 Dec

Here’s a quick, cool article from the Greater Good Science Center on “An Awesome Way to Make Kids Less Self-Absorbed” (–+Other+Lists&utm_campaign=GG+Education+-+December+2012+-+Other+lists&utm_medium=email).

[Side note: If you’re looking for a worthwhile feed of current research on compassion, empathy and how we can be part of the greater good, I recommend subscribing to their newsletter. It’s always informative, engaging and uplifting to read what they’re doing.]

Here’s the scoop:

T-Rex, Half Dome and Gandhi’s committed practice of satyagraha just may be the cure to the “drastic” decline in empathy among young adults (although this article doesn’t cite studies of empathy in older and younger demographics, I can imagine this isn’t just a trend among college-age and recent graduate-age folks–and yes, like many studies, this one focuses on college students as a subset of young adults, so there’s the question of the people in this demographic who aren’t pursuing higher ed).

How? According to writer Vicki Zakrzewski:

When we see a grand vista in nature such as Victoria Falls, or experience an inspiring work of art such as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” or Michelangelo’s Pieta, or ponder the phenomenal inner strength of a great soul like Gandhi who non-violently led India to independence, we often feel two things: 1) a sense of vastness that gives us 2) a new perspective on the world and our place in it. This is awe.

[A]we makes us feel very small and like we’re in the presence of something greater than ourselves. We also may lose awareness of our “self” and feel more connected to the world around us.

… Since adolescence is a crucial period for identity-formation, some researchers have suggested that adolescence is a particularly important time to experience awe—it could help them see themselves as deeply connected to the world around them, not the center of it. Inducing the uplifting experience of awe could also be a positive way to keep narcissism in check.

While scientists haven’t yet examined if this temporary loss of self-focus directly impacts empathy levels, they do know that awe makes people feel less impatient and more inclined to volunteer their time to help others—strong evidence that it makes them feel more connected and committed to something bigger than themselves [emphasis added].

I appreciate this research as an addition to our toolboxes and as a counterbalance to the well-intended movements to simulate other people’s experiences and (over)strive for empathy. Awe resonates with me as sometimes a more honest reaction than, “Oh, yeah, I get it.”

I feel awe when I consider Laura Jane Grace’s process of aligning who she is with the person the world sees (see my 10/16/12 post on her transgender experience). I feel awe when I listen to someone talk about experiencing homelessness. I feel awe when someone shares a perspective that never would have occurred to me. I don’t “get” these individuals or their experiences. But they still inspire me.

So here’s a wish for each of us: may we experience a steady diet of awe and share it with others.

** Thanks to the GGSC for their work and inspiration.

** And for an update on Laura Jane Grace and her debut performing with her band, check out: Here’s an excerpt:

Grace is two weeks into hormone replacement therapy. The process involves redistribution of her body’s muscle mass, and she was worried about how it would affect her stamina. The band talked before the show about taking some time between songs, but they ended up just powering through the set. The only problem Grace encountered was her guitar cutting out during one song.

Once again: awe at Laura Jane’s courage. I hadn’t ever thought about the issue of changing muscle mass potentially impacting stamina for individuals undergoing the transsex process.

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