Yesterday I watched a video of Harvard psychologist Daniel Goleman's talk at the 2007 TED (you can watch it here). Goleman discussed brain research which says we are hardwired for empathy and compassion. If we see someone in pain, we automatically want to help.
Unless we aren't paying attention.
Goleman said that we get so wrapped up in our own lives and preoccupations that we can walk past an injured person on the street without stopping to help. The problem, though, is not our lack of compassion. It's our lack of attention. It's not that we don't want to help. It's that we literally don't see the pain.
Speaking about the environment, Goleman went on to say that the good news is that as long as we can get people to pay attention, because of the empathy hardwiring, they will make the right environmental choices. The trick is getting people to pay attention.
The bad news is, according to the Washington Post, is that "the pace of global warming is likely to be much faster than recent predictions, because industrial greenhouse gas emissions have increased more quickly than expected and higher temperatures are triggering self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms in global ecosystems."
According to the BBC, Stanford University Professor Chris Field, one of the author's of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, said at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, "Without effective action, climate change is going to be larger and more difficult to deal with than we thought."
In other words, we're compassaionate animals as long as we're paying attention. That's great. The problem is, we don't have too much longer to start paying attention.
Cartoon by Patrick Rowan courtesy of Picture Works.