Historians spend a lot of time trying to understand the causes of past events, and they often say that they do this in order to prevent future problems. I often wonder whether their search of the past will only lead to the discovery that there are essential defaults of human nature. Given this, I fear that all that they will find in the future is just more ‘human nature’.
“Human Nature” is an awfully crude term to describe thoughts and behaviour which are conditional on so many influences – social, cultural, biological, political, economic, etc etc.
I wonder whether Historians could spend their time better doing what Psychologists are trying to do – that is change human thought patterns so that they are more compassionate. Compassion is also an awfully crude term denoting a set of behaviours influenced by culture, institutions, biology, economy etc. However, it is in the understanding of those relative influences, the prediction of their future interplay, and the measured intervention when deemed necessary that Psychology finds it’s beauty.
Recent research shows that training using the ancient buddhist art of Compassion Meditation can make us more compassionate individuals. Read the research here.
The key aspect of this research shows that after undergoing compassion training people don’t just know how to act compassionately, but they want to act compassionately, it becomes a drive produced by a change in neurological structures.
The implications of this finding are potentially mind blowing….
Just imagine if we applied this training in schools, we could:
- immediately reduce bullying; reduce racist, sexist and homophobic bullying.
- improve empathetic understanding and empathetic behaviours
- improve the self esteem of both the trained and the recipient.
- increase self efficacy (and therefore reduce attainment related stress and increase standardised test scores – for those who are interested in such stuff).
- reduce self-harm, and other destructive behaviours
Just imagine if we applied this training at a macro-structural level …, we could:
- increase inter-cultural understanding and, consequently, international mindedness
- increase international empathetic understanding, and therefore increase internationalist behaviours (thus reducing nationalism, and it’s consequent behaviours)
- reduce a desire for armed conflict, and therefore reduce inter-state violence.
- increase religious tolerance, and maybe cross religious understanding.
The list of potential benefits could go on. There is more research on teaching / training / coaching for compassion – all of which points to significant benefits. (please see below)
The very notion of teaching a positive human trait rather than a body of knowledge may seem idealistic, some may even say ‘utopian‘. However, surely this utopia is cheaper, and less harmful than the violent dystopia to which we seem to revert. To adapt a famous quote: the aim is not to merely describe ‘human nature’ , but to improve it.
More Research on the benefits of teaching/training/coaching compassion: