Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Are we humans capable of feeling empathy?
Oprah recently interviewed parents that were struggling with greedy brats. It was an interesting show. A Jewish guru was giving advice, and it made a lot of sense.
What was shocking was the behaviour of these kids. I'm not sure we can blame the kids, because parents (unwittingly, sometimes unknowingly) perpetuate their kid's disgusting habits.
I'm talking about kids that beg and nag and fuss and don't let up until they get their jelly tots, scooter, playstation or second cellphone. What's happening, we're told, is these children yearn for things, for stuff, and when they get them they experience a fleeting sense of happiness. And then they yearn for the next thing.
Parents, who feel guilty because they are at work and often away from their kids, give their kids things as a token of their love, affection, whatever. So kids expect more and more of these tokens to fill the growing void in their hearts.
Here's what's scary. The Jewish guru guy said that giving kids barbie dolls and cellphones is cheating, and it doesn't work anyway because it's not a real gift. It's a short term fix. The only real gift we can give to our children (and each other) is the gift of ourselves.
That means listening, understanding, spending time with someone, doing things together. It may be difficult at first (watch RV and see why), but after a while individuals begin to see the humanity shining through in their parents (or children). personalities emerge, instead of moods and tyes.
Giving of yourself can sometimes be as simple as gaining insight, a subtle shift in perception, about someone close to you. You might not even need to articulate it in words. You might realise someone is wonderfully creative, or jealous, or sensitive, or scared of something. Giving of yourself really means putting yourself in a place where you start to experience the being of another person, where you've slowed down enough to experience the life-ness of another person. That's valuable. That's needed.
What's also important is that we're able to do the same with ourselves. Stop what you are doing. Stop right now and feel yourself. Feel your being. Try not to see it. Just experience who you are, where you are. Experience the alingment of your spirit, your being, with where you are, and with what is going on right now in the world.
When you do that you interrupt the cycle of unconscious consumption, unconscious existence, and you begin to become conscious of your real self. Your being.Your unconscious self feels starved, like there is never enough, never enough time. It is hunting, impatient, never finding because what you're looking for is simply a peaceful harmony with the world. And that begins by accepting yourself in the world as you are and as it is, and then working from there. Working and living consciously.
We become insatiable monsters because we are surrounded by machines. Machines cook for us, transport us, stare back at us all day and absorb the movements of our fingertips. We blink at LCD displays on our wrists, our communication devices that we carry everywhere, they're in the lounge and in our bedrooms. No wonder we have mecome more and more mechanical, and even our thinking has become a sort of numbers game. How much money, how much time...
It's the paradigm of time that hurts us. When you're conscious of time you feel like things are waiting for you in the future, or you watch them falling away in the past. The present appears to be rolling forward. Actually, if you go to a tree or an eagle or a stone, and ask: What time is it? It will reply, Why it's now. It's daytime and it's almost spring. The now is the simple present expanding into eternity. Now is all we have to work with and all we ever have.
But of course, a lot of who we are, does depend in part on who we were. Nevertheless our focus ought to be in the here and now, not in the now and then.
Do you know, there's an excellent ad showing now at cinemas. It shows how crazy the world is. That smells come from bottles, and things we see are seldom the way they are. Then we're told that these carpets are at least genuine, because what we touch really is warm and luxurious. Well, at first I thought it was excellent, until I realised a carpet is not how you experience touch. You experience touch when you touch, or are touched by another human being.
I think human beings from a different era would be horrified if they learned that in South Africa we tolerate 50 murders daily, 800 rapes daily and the same number dying of HIV daily. I think it would be immediately faced and the whole nation would come to a standstill as we found a way to stop these statistics in their tracks.
We're living in an era of New Catastrophism. That means it's not unusual (in our information age) to be aware of a number of catastrophes manifesting in the world around us. It also means we expect catastrophe. The majority of Americans feel that a WMD attack on a big US city is just a matter of time. I also believe it is likely. And that's a terrible paradigm to be in - where catastrophe becomes 'normalised'.
Even war today is fairly normalised. Our desire to drive cars is what is driving the bloody imperialism right now in the Middle East. Of course none of us really believe we have Iraqi blood on our hands, it just seems too indirect.But just wait until your local petrol station doesn't have any petrol. Very soon we'll elect the sort of people that will promise us that they can make sure we can continue with our convenient lifestyles, and our easy motoring ways. There's another aspect - that we move around with no idea where our fuel is coming from - that is unconscious.
I think wanting things, material things, has been the substitute for having real human relationships. I think having stuff has supplanted having a deep sense about other people. It's a cultural shift. It's very evident in school children who have attention spans of less than a few seconds, cannot stop themselves from constant sms's and walk around like zombies plugged into MP3 players.
This convenience appears to us to be happiness, but it isn't. Happiness is engaging with another human being, or connecting in some way to what is. Our machiens represent the very opposite of this. They disconnect is from the world, taking us into fantasy world's that operate in a different time (not the Now), filled with intoxicating lullabies and slogans.
We're a world gone mad but there is an off button. Will you, will I, choose to use it?
Above image courtesy of topleftpixel.com