Friday, September 5, 2014

Compassion is Contagious

I recently came across a great show on National Geographic Channel called Brain Games. The show is a fun look into how the brain works and why we do what we do. The first episode I saw was about compassion. 

The show sets up "games" for unknowing volunteers to do in order to prove certain points. In this particular experiment a volunteer entered a testing room where they were instructed, by the test administrator, to choose between three hot sauces to put in a bowl of chili that would be fed to a stranger. The administrator simply explained the instructions and did not engage with them on a deeper level. Their choices were mild, medium, and death. Most people put either mild or medium in the chili for the stranger. 

Another element was then added to the test. While in the hallway, walking to the testing room, an actor violently bumped into the volunteer. He was talking on his cell phone when he rudely placed blame on the volunteer and didn't apologize. When the volunteer entered the room they were shown the stranger that they were choosing a hot sauce for from behind a two-way mirror. The "stranger" turned out to be the actor that ran into them just minutes before. At this point many of the volunteers choose the death hot sauce. They were wronged and were given an opportunity to get a little revenge. 

Lastly a third element was added. The volunteers were still ran into by the actor on the cell phone. This time, the test administrator, instead of being all business like he had before, was friendly and complementary to the volunteers. He told them they had beautiful smiles, offered them a glass of water, or asked them about their day. When shown the stranger though the two-way mirror, instead of wanting revenge the volunteers went a little easier on him. Many of them put the mild or medium hot sauce in the chili. 

The compassion that the volunteers received from the test administrator defused the rudeness that they had just encountered from the rude actor. What does this show?

Compassion is contagious. 

When someone is nice to us it makes us want to be nice to others. We are nice to others when we are happy with ourselves. By someone being compassionate to you, it makes you feel good about yourself. Sometimes even when compassion is hard, try your best to give it. You just may be starting something that goes and goes. Compassion is like a muscle, the more you give it, the easier it is to give. We can go about our lives, interacting with the strangers that we meet only on the surface level. But my question is this: how fun is that? I want to feel connected with this world and the other creatures inhabiting it at the same given time. Use  store clerks first name when they are wearing a name tag. Take a moment or two to ask how their day is going so far. At least for me, it's those moments that remind me that we are all connected, we all are doing this together.