Every now and then, we get a reminder of just how far we have to go… of just how much work lies ahead of us. I recently had such a moment when, while perusing a fitness journal, I came across some research being done at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE).
The first reality check was that we need a “center” to focus on compassion and altruism. From there, I read about work being done by two M.D.’s, Lloyd Dean and James Doty, which showed that “when patients are treated with kindness -- when there is an effort made to get to know them, empathize with them, communicate with them, listen to them and respond to their needs” -- it can lead to the following outcomes:
Dean and Doty also found that the doctors, nurses, and caregivers who provide the kind treatment benefit as well. “A kinder work environment helps employees feel more engaged and less exhausted, which is incredibly important to caregivers who often work long and unpredictable hours in high-pressure jobs,” they explain.
This is usually the cue for someone (like me) to rant on the myriad factors (from capitalism to religion to technology and beyond) behind a culture so warped that the value of fundamental social skills is breaking news. Next, I’d smoothly segue into a plea for more activism. After all, who better than activists to lead the way when it comes to empathy and compassion and altruism and the all-important community?
(insert sad trombone here)
Predators in our midst
As I recently wrote, the issues and factors that splinter communities in the general population -- privilege, propaganda, ego, fear, and so on -- very much exist within the activist world. Radical circles are infested with humans ready to pontificate about justice in the abstract but unready to occupy even the most rudimentary of social skills. This alleged community is devoid of manners, sensitivity, even eye contact. But hey, why bother with basic niceties when there are Instagram likes to be counted?
Thanks to social media and smart phones, our every radical move is being documented in real time and damn, it’s intoxicating. A whole new breed of virtual hero has been spawned -- measured by Facebook shares, Twitter re-tweets, and donation page tallies.
This ego-fueled climate has turned the status of “activist” into the upper rung of yet another human hierarchy. If you need a reminder of how smoothly those on the top justify their actions based on their dominant position, please contemplate the endless examples of devious and despicable sexual predators -- and their enablers and apologists -- in our midst.
If you also need a reminder of how all this dysfunction kills any chance of social change, take a good, honest look around. While we bask in the glow of our “fans” regularly tuning in to our livestreams or sharing our photos or quoting our statuses, every form of life on earth is under assault with no hint of imminent reversal.
We dwell within a culture so distorted and twisted it requires a study to recognize that compassion, altruism, empathy, and communication might be good ideas.
Within this same culture, those we look to as defenders of justice -- activists -- are choosing ego over solidarity and thus replicating the paradigm they claim to be challenging.
What can we do about this in the face of looming ecocide? As I also recently wrote, a good start is accepting that we’ve gotten it all wrong. For activists, this means admitting that the tactics and methods we so passionately cling to and defend don’t work and some have never worked.
How do we discover and implement new tactics and methods?
Perhaps we go back to basics like, um… compassion, altruism, empathy, and communication.
Perhaps we learn to listen to and heed the voices most often drowned out by the din of privilege.
Perhaps we do the work to cultivate authenthic communities in which everyone is held accountable for their behavior.
Perhaps we start refining and honing our own face-to-face social skills.
Perhaps we challenge ourselves to make eye contact…
Any other ideas?
Mickey Z. is the author of 12 books, most recently Occupy this Book: Mickey Z. on Activism. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here and here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.