This article originally appeared in the New York Times and is republished with permission. David DeSteno is a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, where he directs the Social Emotions Group. He is the author of the forthcoming book “The Truth About Trust: How It Determines Success in Life, Love, Learning, and More.”
I totally agree with Miki, the study did not establish the base, the level of compassion the subject had prior to taking the meditation class/practice.
Only a true idiot would not have the attention to notice the disabled person in need of respite. The elephant in the room is that the attitude of disregard from the two people sitting in the other chairs will influence the test subject more than anything else. I think this falls back onto a question of social structure vs individual agency. I also think the compassionate action was the result of the test subject having gained experience in the conscious dimension of individual agency attributable to the meditation practice.
It blows my mind that anyone would let a person on crutches stand. I guess I'm blowing my own horn here, but I'd leave the room and find them a chair and bring it back if there wasn't a chair in the room.
What remains problematic is that these gains in empathy occur inter-personally and not necessarily, as the author suggests to facilitate trans-historical or wider societal understanding of "the struggle". Emancipation remains a local good. Meditation seems to me (as one who practices) a deeply apolitical act.
I prefer the attention enhancement hypothesis, combined with the fact that meditators - even at a beginners' stage - are more at ease within themselves; giving up their seats would not be much of a 'sacrifice' for them. The connection theory is more doubtful. For some people meditation can be a very narcissistic exercise, not necessarily promoting emphaty.
As a long term practitioner of mindfulness meditation, I was interested to read this article. What the study leaves out however, is the level of compassion the subjects had prior to practicing meditation. This study leaves this important aspect out and is not as reliable as it could be had this been ascertained.
Thank you for this article.
There can also be direct effects on your environment. Some time ago I became a regular meditator. The area I was living in tended to be quite noisy when I first moved there. After 2-3 years of my meditation practice I noticed that the area was now much more quiet. Was it really due to my regular practice of meditation? I will probably never know for sure, but I like to think so.
When I moved away from there I let my practice lapse until a year or so ago. My emotional strength, health and inner peace have all deteriorated since then. I am slowly finding my way back, mostly through guided recordings, including hypnosis ones.
Thank you for sharing this meaningful research.