Monday, November 30, 2009

Season of Good

I don't have to look long and hard to find stories about decline here in the U.S. or abroad. From the couple that crashed the White House State Dinner and the attention given to this attention-seeking pair (I won't even link to them - take that!), to Switzerland banning the construction of new Minarets, there's plenty to worry about. But if I look a little longer and harder, I can confirm my suspicions: we're naturally good, naturally caring, and naturally altruistic.

In an article published yesterday, We May Be Born With an Urge to Help, author Nicholas Wade describes the helpful behavior of infants:
From the age of 12 months [infants] will point at objects that an adult pretends to have lost. Chimpanzees, by contrast, never point at things for each other, and when they point for people, it seems to be as a command to go fetch something rather than to share information.
A biologist quoted in the article, Frans de Waal, likewise says that humans are "preprogrammed to reach out":
Indeed, it is in our biological nature, not our political institutions, that we should put our trust, in his view. Our empathy is innate and cannot be changed or long suppressed. “In fact,” Dr. de Waal writes, “I’d argue that biology constitutes our greatest hope. One can only shudder at the thought that the humaneness of our societies would depend on the whims of politics, culture or religion.”
(And here I digress to note that so many Americans still reject science!)

Another article from the times, The Biology Behind the Milk of Human Kindness, explains how new research suggests that the hormone Oxytocin "underlies the twin emotional pillars of civilized life, our capacity to feel empathy and trust."

Imagine: we're born kind and capable of empathy and trust. We care and help. That we are taught and conditioned from an early age to distrust, to reject, to (in some cases) hate - this is heartbreaking to me. But again, this moral universe of ours, slowly bends toward justice. As more of us grow up in a multicultural society with different races, sexual orientations, and genders holding a variety of positions of power, so too will our society grow.


Ecocandle said...

Moving into a new house, deciding to take up wood working, following the Bengals, and a new job have kept me busy. I have gotten away from reading your wonderful blog posts. So today I popped back in to check out what I have been missing. It was just as I remembered. Eloquently written, with a wonderful message. A true joy.

August said...

I appreciate that! Congratulations on the new house and job :)