In Why Buddhism Is True, Robert Wright posits that "one of the things that's most lacking in the world is not emotional empathy, it's cognitive empathy, meaning we have trouble seeing things from the point of view of other people ... That is more urgently needed than emotional empathy."
I've just begun the book, so I haven't got much to comment on yet, but three chapters in, I can say this is a book I know I'll like. I even feel confident recommending it as a book club option because I am certain it will spark conversation.
I've already read some provocative copy: "Technologies of distraction have made attention deficits more common. [Wright himself claims to have ADD.] And there's something about the modern environment...that seems conducive to harsh judgment and ready rage." This touched a nerve. I'm old enough to remember when a telephone was Just that -- a telephone. Now, what we still call a telephone is actually a camera, computer, TV studio, Twitter feeder, Instagram poster, blog machine, pinball machine, TV set, fitness tracker, radio, calendar, home security system, AI robot in our pocket. And we're foolish enough to keep calling it a "phone." No wonder we're distracted and succumbing to attention deficits! And that goes directly to social media, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and all the attendant challenges we are currently experiencing there.
"It would also be nice to think that when people pursue the path to liberation...they are helping humanity broadly, that the quest for individual salvation advances the quest for social salvation." Wright touts the benefits (and challenges) of mindful meditation, which is what he's talking about here. The simple notion that by working on improving our own responses -- our cognitive empathy -- to all the stimulants modern life has to offer might have the effect of improving life in general is delightfully sublime.
In the third chapter he explores the function of feelings -- which mindful meditation and Buddhism certainly posit are ephemeral non-realities that you can train yourself to observe from a perspective of non-attachment. Wright points out that "feelings have an odd property: you can never be absolutely, positively sure that anyone or anything other than you has them. Part of the definition of a feeling is that it's private, not visible from the outside." Hunh. The function of feelings. What is their purpose and why do we have them at all?
Certainly there is a lot to read about here. And a lot to think about.
This week, slow down. Sllloooooww doooowwwnnn. Breathe. Read an old fashioned paper book or magazine or newspaper. Go low tech. Sing out loud. Read a poem, read it aloud. And breathe. And show some love. Try to see something from an other's point of view.
And, oh yes: happy birthday Kate. I love you.