Bare Bones Biology 082 – Compassion

Practical compassion, energizes life-affirming behaviors. Sometimes known as win-win, practical compassion requires us to understand the needs of the others, and to use that understanding to develop mutually rewarding long-term outcomes. This is not easy when we interact with other living things that aren’t human, because many of the needs of other organisms are different from our own. That’s where science can help us out.

But, you may well say, we have given up on science. We tried it and it clearly didn’t do what we wanted. I would agree completely if we were talking about technology. We have mostly used our technology to despoil, not to affirm life. Especially in recent time. But I’m talking about science, not technology. Science doesn’t do things. Science is a method to learn about the laws of nature and how they function. To learn about light, for example, or how does energy work.

But science doesn’t do anything, therefore science does not promise anything. It simply tries to learn about the laws of nature. The laws of nature are not our responsibility. If we use our knowledge of science to do something or make something, that would be technology. It is our responsibility how we use our knowledge. There is no way that humans can change the laws of nature, but what we humans decide to do with our understanding of the laws of nature is our human responsibility, and I agree with you completely. For the most part our recent uses of technology have not been life affirming. We have failed in our responsibility.

“Nature does not forgive. It is caught in the finality of its impersonal structure.
Nature must be true to its immutable laws. When these laws are broken it must
go on down its path of uniformity.”

In this excerpt, Martin Luther King, Jr., is describing the basic law of cause and effect. For what we have done by misusing our knowledge of science, we are paying the price. We can’t stop the effects of what we have done any more than we could un-throw a rock. But we could stop throwing rocks if we are interested in growing a better future for human kind.

We could stop fighting over our ideas and start collaborating in a compassionate search for a better way of life. We could use our scientific knowledge to inform our practical compassion that I described last week
– and we could use our compassionate human values to inform the way we use our scientific knowledge.

Instead, we continue to fight over ideas. Like – what is more true – science or compassion.

What hogwash – it’s all true. We are human. We are compassionate beings. Our cultures function best when they affirm our compassionate needs. That doesn’t mean EVERYTHING functions better when we affirm our own compassionate needs. Science is not about compassion. Science is a way to study phenomena without the added confusion caused by our emotional needs.

Scoffing at religion because it centers around our emotional needs is self-defeating. Scoffing at science because it does not center around our emotional needs is also self-defeating. We can do better than either of these.

I think every scientist and every technologist should be responsible to learn and apply the basic principles of practical compassion. I also think that every person who claims to be compassionate, or caring, should be responsible to learn about the basic functions of our living world and use her understanding to inform her politics and her good works. Everyone else should do both.

Otherwise, the efforts on all sides, no matter how well intended, will end in ever more wars (OK, you call them debates) over silliness. Science versus compassion. Me versus you. Individual versus the population, and the population versus the whole living, breathing earth. And the result will continue to be lose, lose, lose, lose, lose and lose.

Bare Bones Biology 082 – Compassion
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM
Audio will be posted later at
WWW.BareBonesBiology.com

Bare Bones Biology 081 – Compassion

Last week
we talked about Karen Armstrong
and her Charter for Compassion. Here she is, speaking at Peace Week on The Shift Network

“The idea always is to start to change people’s mind sets, so that instead of compassion being a word that we don’t understand, we don’t know what it means, or we think it means pity, it’s something we think about . . .”

Ms. Armstrong also talks about the Golden Rule, and I agree with her. It’s just good common sense, and I’m saying that practical compassion is just good common sense.

I remember when someone wrote a book about “win-win” negotiation. It caught my fancy strongly and now, when I am negotiating something, I try to imagine a way that the result might be a win for everyone involved, except I no longer like to think of the world as something we can “win.” But the idea is there. Try to think of a solution that will give the most positive result for the most people. It’s certainly better than running scared, and for example your considerate interaction with other drivers generally does not end in a road rage incident. That’s practical compassion. The other driver doesn’t have to subject his heart to the rage and you don’t have to bother with it.

But it’s only compassion if you take the trouble to find out what the other person really does need and not what you think she ought to need if she were the kind of person you think she should be. That latter interaction would probably end with severe aggravation for someone, and probably everyone, because imposing so-called “good works” that people don’t want or need is not compassionate. So compassion is a bit more complicated than the Karen Armstrong quote might suggest. I like to think of compassion as three types.

First there is fake compassion. Of course fake compassion is not compassion, but that’s why I mention it – we want to avoid fake compassion. Karen Armstrong’s example of pity would be one type of fake compassion. Another example would be making excuses to justify bad behavior. Excuses are an easy out for everyone, and they appear compassionate, but the long-term result is harm to everyone. Sometimes people create problems so they can appear to compassionately resolve them. Real compassion cares about the welfare of the other.

The second type of compassion that I think of is free-floating compassion. The feeling of compassion is an important human instinct, everybody feels it sometimes, and some people feel it a lot, and usually it’s a very nice feeling, and it grows positive community. It’s a good thing to spread around. But to be focused practical compassion, we need more than our instinctual emotions. We need to combine our instinctual desire to nurture with our learned understanding of the universal law of cause and effect. While free-floating compassion draws from our inherent human instincts, practical compassion draws from both our instinct and our learned knowledge of how the world works, and especially about the universal law of cause and effect, or what comes around goes around, or karma, or whatever we call it. We all recognize that people are responsible for their own behaviors precisely because our behaviors have consequences that can cause harm to others.

For this reason, practical compassion doesn’t just rush out in a thoughtless action that might impoverish another person or the community or the ecosystem. Practical compassion educates itself: What will be the short-term effect of this action? What are the most likely long-term effects? Will the action benefit the individuals involved? The community? The whole living earth? Or will the action, no matter how elegant or heroic, cause more harm than good?

Usually, it’s some of both – and then the hard work of compassion begins. But any person who sincerely wants to imagine a better future, must begin with the hard work of imagining the most likely long-term and short-term effects of her actions, on herself, on the community and on the whole earth ecosystem.

Bare Bones Biology 081 – Compassion
KEOS Radio, 89.1 FM
Audio will be posted later at
WWW.BareBonesBiology.com