About a year and a half ago, I decided I needed something — anything — to try to calm my frustration with traffic. We, as humans, suck when it comes to driving cars. Nothing frustrates me more than traffic because I realize that the reason there is traffic is almost always some inane, human-caused reason. CGP Grey put out a nice video on how traffic happens relatively recently that illustrates my point.
Music generally didn’t help my traffic frustrations. Sure, here or there music would make a specific day better, but overall it didn’t make much impact. Listening to talk radio only made me angrier, as I’d either have to hear about politics or sports. Talking on the phone wasn’t always a practical solution either, especially when my wife was at work. So I started digging around on the internet for podcasts and the like to listen to.
The one series that really caught my attention was a series on iTunes U called “How to Think Like A Psychologist“. It’s a series created by the Stanford University Continuing Studies program that focuses on the mindset behind psychologists. What’s interesting about this particular series is that many of the people involved with this series (including emcee Kelly McGonigal) are part of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE).
The lectures themselves were great. I love psychology and this series of lectures is one of the best lecture series with a psychology focus I’ve had the opportunity to watch or listen to. Considering Stanford’s reputation as a university, I don’t think that particularly surprised me.
What did come out of no where though was this fact that a university — particularly one with the name recognition of Stanford — had put money behind an entire program that essentially focused on the science of being nice to people. There was science money going to a lot of things. But it had never occurred to me that someone, let alone a world-renowned institution, would want to study kindness.
So I began watching, reading, and listening to the works of people involved in compassion and altruism studies. My initial studies went to those working for Stanford like McGonigal, Emma Seppala, Phillipe Goldin, and Greg Walton (all PhDs to my knowledge). But then I started expanding my viewing/reading to others with similar ideologies, even outside of the scientific realm. Authors Dan Pink and Tony Hsieh shared similar ideologies in the books they wrote. All in all, their message was resounding and it was quite clear. To succeed in business, in human interaction, and in life, you must be compassionate and altruistic towards others.
You can see some of the evolution of my own thoughts on the subject throughout blog posts I’ve done over the past couple of years. While I wasn’t calling the idea altruism or compassion then, I spoke about similar concepts in my pre-New Year’s post. It’s even come through in some of my more recent posts, both in short stories and in non-short story posts. While I’m not a perfectly compassionate or altruistic person, I’d like to think I’ve done my best to get a little bit better each day at it. I will always do my best to make sure I am putting others before myself because it’s the right thing to do. Over time, it’s also become the think that I want to do.
The problem lies in the reality that not everyone is compassionate. Not everyone is altruistic. Not everyone plays fair. I remember being taught at a relatively young age that if you’re not looking out for yourself, people are only going to take advantage of you. It’s true more often than it’s not, I think. People are so used to others only looking out for themselves that we’ve become primed as a society to do the same.
But what if we didn’t? What if instead of only looking out for ourselves, we tried to look out for others first? What if our goal every day was to make a different person’s day just a little bit better by putting their needs ahead of our own? It’s a novel concept and a beautiful idea for a world.
I realize I’m just rambling at this point. I also recognize that words can be powerful — and that kindness is a more powerful idea than most any that can exist in this world. There’s science behind why being compassionate to others is beneficial to our own well being. Perhaps the easiest way to get the larger world to buy in to the idea of treating others better than themselves is to tell them all the selfish benefits of why they should.
Until then though, I can only hope that my efforts to show compassion to others are returned in kind.