Resilience through Connection and Compassion
Resilience from connection
Our new year is underway, and the pace of change has been unprecedented. Whether you gathered over the last month to celebrate, to reflect, to march, or to observe – you likely experienced connection with others. How did it feel to connect? To share your fear, your excitement, your support with another? Connection, when combined with compassion, empathy and positivity, is incredibly powerful. It allows the overwhelming to become manageable. The experiences out of our control become controllable. We can move forward with greater ease and possibility when we are connected with others.
Connect with compassion, empathy, and a positive outlook
How does cultivating your own compassion as a skill make a difference? A recent study led by Richard Davidson and Helen Weng’s research team explores how compassion training leads to higher levels of altruistic behavior. The study compares a group of subjects that spend two weeks cultivating compassion versus subjects that spend two weeks in reappraisal training. The subjects trained in compassion revealed changes in neural systems that involve “understanding the suffering of other people, executive and emotional control, and reward processing.” The changes compelled them to “approach rather than avoid suffering in order to engage in pro-social behavior.” The second group of subjects revealed changes in neural systems that linked to less willingness to help others suffering.
Cultivating compassion as a skill increases your own well-being and amplifies your impact. It directs your behavior toward others in a positive and productive way.
Beyond acting on the understanding of another person suffering, new research suggests that empathy, in both negative and positive circumstances, leads to more generous and prosocial behavior in people. In this study, participants exhibited pro-social behavior toward indirect targets – rather than solely on the targets that the participants were originally empathizing with. This demonstrates that empathy carries over and expands beyond the connection between two people.
Developing empathy inspires pro-social behavior in us and, more importantly, compels us to act positively toward individuals who we indirectly connect with. Empathy plus the aspiration to act is compassion. If you have spent this month empathizing more than usual, how did that translate to a desire to move into action?
Positivity and taking control
It is not easy to adjust to change, especially that which seems out of our control. Discovering that compassion and empathy are trainable skills is very powerful as we set our intentions for the new year. In 2017, we are called to act in a way that reflects the country we hope to live in. By cultivating our skills for positivity, compassion and empathy, we will begin to enhance our connection to others and strengthen our pro-social behavior as a culture and a country. Assembling ourselves as a united force under this kindness will suddenly put the most unreachable issues into our grasp. Reflect on this month, but only to set an intention for positivity, connection to others, and to continually practice compassion and empathy in the year to come. These qualities that are innate in us can be developed– and it’s our responsibility to shape today and the future by being agents of compassionate change.