Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has noticed a puzzling emotion, despite having no direct benefits, when people see a stranger helping another stranger, they often feel good and inspired themselves. In an essay in Compassionate Instinct, he explain this phenomenon that he named Elevation. The three books below examine the good side of human, cultivate happiness and to follow one's passion in defending the nature. To read them is to feel elevated.
The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness
Dacher Keltner et al.(2010)
Where once science see human as Darwinian and self-servicing, today's scientists are uncovering many deep roots of human goodness - such as empathy, altruism, compassion, justice and peacemaking. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley has compiled a collection of essays from many leading researchers from different disciplines. This book is an inspiring work that gives you great hope in humanity.
Here are a few highlight from the book.
- Biologist Robert Sapolsky has observed a troop of Baboons in Africa. Due an accidental circumstance, they have acquired a peaceful culture for this otherwise aggressive species. The groundbreaking observation is that the culture in this primate group persisted across generations and has adopted by new comers from outside of the group. His work is providing a biologic basis on peace making.
- Scientist agrees that gratitude and empathy strength social ties, increase one's sense of personal worth and happiness. Apparent passive activities like watching a movie or reading novels actually invites us to join the character's emotion trajectory in the story world. Keith Oatley explains the empathic process of literature and drama and how it can help shape our relationship with people in the real world.
- Forgiveness is a complex social play between the offender and forgiver. Michael McCullough find that most people have both the capacity to forgive and a desire to revenge. His research look for conditions that make the world a more forgiving and less vengeful place. Fred Luskin has a practice that train people in forgiveness, which has found to help forgiver to cope with the past problem, moving on, and even improve physical health. I myself find reading stories of forgiving are often a very cathartic experience.
- Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment has shocked the world in the capacity of cruelty in normal people. Now he has flipped the question around. If there is a "banality of evil", wouldn't its opposite, the "banality of heroism" also exists? Once he started looking, many stories of average people rising up at crucial moment to help other people even at their own expense, begin to surface. Evildoers often draw news headlines. The altruistic acts from these average people instead happens quietly. Dr Zimbardo's study aim to understand the social conditions that promote or inhibit these heroic acts.
There are many more essay strive to understand and discover deep rooted goodness in people and the society. It helps me to appreciate the full complexity of humanity.
Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents
by Christine Carter (2010)
Also from Dr Christine Carter of Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, this parenting book is lot more practical and personal. We all want children to grow up happy. Backed by scientific knowledge, this book shares practical steps to help your children and yourself to lead a positive and happy life.
Parent are so eager to do anything to help their children. Carter's first advice actually ask them to "put on your own oxygen mask first". Spare a moment to make yourself happy. Because a child won't be happy if the parents are stressed out or depressed.
There are other chapters to help establish healthy relationship, guide them for gratitude, forgiveness and optimism, strive toward a growth mindset, forming good habits and enjoy the moment. This short book is choke full of good advices and exercises to try in everyday life. If you were to have only one parenting book, this is the book to have.
Our 10 Years Of Kekexili
Kekexili is a vast high plateau in Western China with average altitude of 4500m. For the most part the severe weather has keep it a wilderness and a refuge for wildlife. But once poachers discover Tibetan antelopes and its highly valuable wool - Shahtoosh, they are rapidly hunted down to endangered level. With little government resources deployed to combat poaching, a grassroot Chinese NGO took it upon themselves to finance, build and staff a patrol station there.
This book is the personal stories from some 20 volunteers from all over the country who has participated in various stage of work at the patrol station. From pouring the foundation to building a watch tower or conducting wildlife surveys, from grass root fund-raising to construction work in high altitude with no heavy equipment, the volunteers contributed with all their passion to protect the wildlife and the environment from being threatened.
Their work is an inspiring story. Perhaps even more encouraging is to see the broad-based support they have garnered from the society. One example, the Tibetan antelopes's migration route is made difficult because it is cut off by the busy Qinghai-Tibet Highway. At the peak of migration season, the volunteers attempted to stop traffic to give the animals a chance to cross. Since they have no authority there, this is only done by persuasion. Unexpectedly most drivers actually complied. They even show great support and great care about the well being of the animals. This gives me a lot of hope on environmentalism in China.
2011.04.24 comments -