Saturday, February 06, 2010

Wired for Empathy

Christians often ask what the basis of morality is for those who do not adhere to a strict religious code. The answer, now stated more clearly than ever, is empathy. In our school, we have a program called the Roots of Empathy. Commenting on why history is typically composed of a record of calamities and crises, Jeremy Rifkin in Emphathetic Civilization, writes,

    The everyday world is quite different. Although life as it's lived on the ground, close to home, is peppered with suffering, stresses, injustices, and foul play, it is, for the most part, lived out in hundreds of small acts of kindness and generosity. Comfort and compassion between people creates goodwill, establishes the bonds of sociality, and gives joy to people's lives. Much of our daily interaction with our fellow human beings is empathic because that is our core nature. Empathy is the very means by which we create social life and advance civilization. In short, it is the extraordinary evolution of empathic consciousness that is the quintessential underlying story of human history, even if it has not been given the serious attention it deserves by our historians.

    Empathic distress is as old as our species and is traceable far back into our ancestral past, to our link with our primate relatives and, before them, our mammalian ancestors. It is only very recently, however, that biologists and cognitive scientists have begun to discover primitive behavioral manifestations of empathy throughout the mammalian kingdom, among animals that nurture their young. They report that primates, and especially humans, with our more developed neocortex, are particularly wired for empathy.

From The Huffington Post HT Joel.


J. L. Watts said...

I'm going to have to add that book to my wish list.

That looks like a great program, Suzanne. How is it received?

Brant Clements said...

Ideally, empathy would be the basis for morality among Christians as well. I believe that Jesus taught a way of personal responsibility and compassion, not rigid adherence to a strict legal code.

Muff Potter said...

Sort of flies in the face of reformed theology (Calvinism) when one looks at the empirical evidence (human empathy) against total depravity.

But then again, I am also reluctant to accept Darwinism without question as an is all and end all for what we are as humans.

J. L. Watts said...

Calvinism seems to disprove evolution, social or otherwise, doesn't it?