A Compassionate Character?


The Mouse

“I wake up, two arms, two legs and a long pink tail.
I am alive.
I am lucky to have consciousness, the safety of a home,
the luxury of freedom and choice.
So who will I be today?”      The Mouse


The game begins, the goal is laid out, but before I start, I ask “who am I?” What level compassion might I already have?

To assess this objectively, the Authentic Happiness website of Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Positive Psychology Center, includes a free psychology test. The Compassion Love Scale, which “measures your tendency to support, help, and understand other people” on a scale of 1-7.

I took the test and got a score of 3, meaning I am ‘somewhat compassionate to others’. The questions helped to reveal specifically a low level of empathy.

Compassion starts with empathy.

If we give money to good causes, help strangers, do a favour for a colleague or even campaign against climate change. Perhaps what drives these acts is a sense of duty, of etiquette, or just simple self-interest.

I began to feel this week that it is possible to often act outwardly compassionate with the same end results, but without necessarily feeling empathy.

The social norms exerted through group pressure and identification (Lecture 3.3) means that many of the activities, which we might associate with compassion, could be the result of more situational and influencing factors of the environment we are in.

This does not make them less good, but I began to wonder if, as my test showed, I was jumping the empathy step. Then could I really define any act I carried out as truly compassionate. Does empathy fundamentally change the act itself?

“I sniff and breathe in deep.
My senses sharp to the tastes in the air like colourful trails suspended all around,
showing me the way to go.” The Mouse

Go Go The Mouse

Note: The above post is taken from a piece submitted to Coursera Social Psychology MOOC with Professor Scott Plous. The course assignment included a challenge to live 24 hours as compassionately as possible with a reward to meet the Dali Lami for one participant. 

Coursera Social Psychology – Lecture 3.3 Group Pressure and Conformity

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