Share Your World 2015 – Week 8

As I was having my coffee this morning, I was surprised to find myself listening to birds chirping. They weren’t singing the most beautiful song, but it was a sound I realized I had been missing. It’s hard to believe we are 8 weeks into the New Year already and spring is just around the corner. Anyway, here is week 8 of Share Your World. Thanks to Cee for doing this every week.

Your favorite blog post that you have written? (add link)

I’m going to have to go back and look at some old posts. I’ve been blogging for almost a year which isn’t that long compared to most, but long enough for me to forget what I’ve written. I’m going to go with this one from last year’s A to Z Challenge: L is for Love. It’s about how Hubby and I cope with with my mental health issues as a couple. The accomanying doodle is kind of blah though. My favourite doodle is probably this one. Hands are difficult for me and these actually came out looking like hands (probably because the dirt is covering them) but hey, I think it counts!

give seedling

What do you feel is the most enjoyable way to spend $500? Why?

If I were given some extra cash like that, I would spend it on experiences. I think I would divide it into two. The first part of it would go to a geek day with Hubby. We could go to one of his comic book or toy conventions. The money would cover admission, whatever autographs or toys he wanted and maybe a piece of steampunk jewelry for me (hehe). The second part would go to an art workshop with my aunt. There is an art store near by that does classes. We could take a mixed media class. I could learn something new for my art journal and she could learn something new for the cards she makes. We could spend any leftover cash on art supplies. That would be a valuable way to spend $500 for me.

If you could know the answer to any question, besides “What is the meaning of life?”, what would it be?

What should I do with my life in order to be happy? I don’t mean crazy happy, I mean content or at least apathetic. I’m tired of feeling unappreciated, stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted and inadequate (among other things). There are so many things I could do. It would take a lifetime to figure it out. I wanted to be an artist or a writer, but I figured I wasn’t good enough to earn a steady paycheck or a secure job. I went into sciences and tried a few different things, but never felt like I was contributing enough. For example, one job was identifying enzymes in fungal genomes. In the big picture, this would contribute to making the use of biofuels from organic waste more feasible but, it’s hard to see the big picture when you spend all your time on the computer staring at genome sequences. From there, I went into vision science because it meant something to me. I had my Strabismus experience and there was Gran with her Macular Degeneration. I thought working directly with people, I would be able to help more. I am helping more but I am burning out. Managing the lab, the research, the teaching, the patients, it’s a lot. My brain is on 24/7 and I don’t think I can go at this rate for the rest of my life. Maybe I should have just done the art thing in the first place. Argh!!

Where do you eat breakfast?

Most of the time breakfast is consumed standing in the kitchen. I know, that’s bad. Work mornings are usually kind of hurried though. On weekends, I usually sit at the coffee table to have breakfast with Hubby and Ewok. Ewok hangs around until I finish my yogurt. She likes to lick the left overs out of the container.

Bonus question:  What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

Last Week: I am thankful my presentation went well and that I got that travel award!

This Week: I was looking forward to some paper ephemera arriving in the mail, but it came while I was writing this post. Now I need another idea…..I am looking forward to using the goodies that came in the mail in my art journal!

It All Starts With You — 1000 Voices for Compassion (#1000Speak)

speak for compassion

Compassion is the strong sympathy and sorrow felt for another’s suffering accompanied by the motivation to ease that suffering. It is not the same as empathy or altruism, but they are all related. Empathy is the ability to take the perspective and feel the emotions of someone else’s situation. Altruism is the selfless behaviour to help someone else. It is often prompted by compassion.

Compassion is a virtue that we, as a society, don’t seem to practice enough. Why is that? Maybe, it’s because we just don’t have it in us anymore. Life is competitive, everyone wants what everyone else seems to have. People are working longer hours to get ahead, or just to make ends meet. That has to be juggled with family, friends and health. Today, the first response to pain or suffering usually involves looking for someone/something to blame or shielding ourselves by passing judgement. Shame and blame is a quick, easy way to combat suffering even though compassion and understanding are more effective. I’m not intending to make excuses for us here, there should be no excuses for lack of compassion. I don’t think we, as a society, meant to be less compassionate, just that we have adopted other priorities and this is the result. It’s time to be held accountable.

An article in Scientific American in 2012 discussed how wealth influences compassion. Several studies were conducted examining how social class (wealth, job prestige and education) influence how much we care about each other. One study found that drivers of luxury vehicles were more likely to cut in front of other drivers or speed past pedestrians than other vehicles. Another study showed that those with lower incomes and less education were more likely to report feelings of compassion in response to watching a video about children suffering from cancer. The same people had lower heart rates while watching the video compared to their wealthy, more educated counterparts. A lower heart rate is indicative of paying greater attention to the feelings and motivations of others. Previous studies have also shown that the upper class are worse at recognizing emotions and less likely to pay attention to the people they are interacting with.

Why is this? Wouldn’t it make more sense that having fewer resources, you would be more selfish? Apparently not. There may be some truth to the rich, educated and snobby stereotype after all (keeping in mind, that according to my education and where I live, I fit into this stereotype too). Researchers believe that with wealth and abundance comes more freedom and more independence from each other. Could it be that if we are less reliant on each other, the less we can relate to one another and the less we care about each others’ feelings?

Pema Chödrön said something in The Places That Scare You that I really liked; “…compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It is a relationship between equals…compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” We are all connected and will remain connected because we are all human. We all struggle, we all make mistakes. That should not be forgotten because of a difference in social status or ignored because we don’t agree with something. Behind every situation there are people trying to make the world better for themselves or the people they love. Surely that is something we can all relate to.

Scientists believe compassion is vital to our survival as a species. This notion dates back to Charles Darwin and The Descent of Man. He believed sympathy was our strongest instinct and that it would spread through natural selection. “…the most sympathetic members would flourish best and rear the greatest number of offspring.” Considering what awful things we do to each other, it seems ludicrous that sympathy would be one of our strongest instincts, but the fact that we continue to survive as a species proves that it is true. Human babies are the most dependent and vulnerable offspring on Earth. Babies can’t sit up or feed themselves. They can’t even hold their own heads up at first. This vulnerability has led to the evolution of social structures and has essentially re-wired our nervous systems to make us a care-giving species.

Compassion is not written into our genetic code, but humans are wired to be compassionate right down to the neurochemical level. Imaging studies have shown that the area of the brain that lights up when you feel pain is the same area that is activated in response to seeing suffering. This area, the periaqueductal gray, is also associated with nurturing behaviour. Suffering is seen as a threat and the reaction to a threat is to self-protect, but biology has shown that at the same time, we also instinctively want to relieve suffering via nurturing. It could be our competitive lifestyle leaving us exhausted or a lack of connection created by wealth and power or something else entirely, but somehow, society has evolved to ignore that basic nurturing instinct. Compassion is not something we are born with or not, it is a practice. One that can be taught and learned if we would only make it a priority.

How can we build a more compassionate society? It all starts with you. A society is built of individuals and it is the actions of those individuals that determine the characteristics of the society. Let yourself off the hook once and a while. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to have it all. Compassion spreads quickly. Positive emotions are just as contagious as the negative ones. In fact, they spread more rapidly and collectively. When you are kinder to yourself you create a wealth of compassion that you can extend to others. One person cannot change the world, but if each individual allowed compassion to be a primary motive instead of being the best and having the best, the world would be a more peaceful place.

(To learn more about 1000 Voice for Compassion and how the project got started, visit the official blog here.)

1000voices

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