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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Is Compassion Learned or Innate?

So, while training my early AM client this morning, we got into a discussion about compassion and considerateness. She was recalling an incident that happened to her one day on the train. She got dizzy, and began teetering on her feet. Another passenger saw her swaying and that her eyes were glazing over, and came to her aid. Seeing that it was mere seconds before the girl would just totally collapse, the helper asked a man sitting in the seat nearest to them if he would please let my client sit down in his seat before she hit the floor. The man angrily and adamantly refused, saying "why don't you ask someone else?" My client said that the man was about in his 50's. He sat there glaring, refusing to even consider getting up, even though my client was visibly ill and fading fast. Someone else finally got up and offered their seat. I found that man's reaction shocking.

"Oh, that's nothing compared to what happened to a friend of mine on the train" she informed me while my mouth was still agape at her own story. According to her, another friend of hers, who is extremely anemic, has been known to flat out pass out cold with no warning on occasion. One day she passed out on the train right in front of the doors. Upon seeing her hit the floor, no one rose to help her. People actually stepped over her to get in and out of the train. She recalls waking up, still lying on the floor, and spying an empty seat nearby, she pulled herself up off the floor and sat down. The other passengers on the train barely raised an eyebrow. She said that one lady did ask if she was okay after she was already seated. But what I can't get past is the fact that THEY STEPPED OVER HER instead of stopping to see if she was okay. Okay? Wow.

Now, I know that these streets have gotten pretty mean these days, and to find someone that gives one whit what happens to you when you're out there is not the most common thing in the world. But I'm thinking that we've gone a looong way down the wrong road when it comes to how we treat each other lately. Just the other day, I saw a pregnant woman on a crowded train. She was so pregnant that I was feeling some pains! Well, not one person offered up a seat, and there were plenty of men on that train, seated right by her. Whatever happened to that seemingly more extinct by the day species, better known as 'the gentleman'? I no longer expect them to hold open doors, because in this city, it's really 50/50 on that, but in some cases, yes, you should try to be considerate of others, male or female. I, myself, was standing, and when I got off the train a few stops later, so still was she.

So, I've been wondering what makes certain people compassionate and caring, and others callous and unconcerned? Is it a natural part of your personality and self, or is it something learned? I know that psychopaths and sociopaths lack the ability to have compassion, in most cases, but that's a biological aberration, right? What about people with normal brains and psyches? What either makes it happen or not happen for them? I really wonder.

I know that I'm compassionate a lot of the time, but not always. It depends on the circumstance. Seeing a disabled person needing help or someone missing a limb or who is horribly disfigured is an instant compassion trigger for me, but a bum begging on the street that looks healthy enough to work doesn't stir my heart at all. Maybe it's because I'm judging them. You can't judge someone who is disabled, right? I'm also wondering if that's part of the puzzle. Are we more able to be compassionate towards some people, but not so much towards others? Are we predisposed to view some people as more worthy of help than others? And once again, is it natural, or is it learned? I don't remember my parents teaching me to be compassionate, but they did teach me to be polite. Perhaps that was what helped form my ability to be considerate, and thereby, compassionate, but I would also like to think that I'm just naturally like that.

So, what do you think? Does compassion exist naturally within you, or is it learned? Does it manifest itself (or not) during a specific time of your own development as a person? Do we all start out with it, and then, through various life experiences, either lose it or develop even more of it? Does it fade with age and time?

Seeing the way so many people seem to have very little of it these days really makes me wonder. Food for thought!

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I have never thought of it like this. I am too compassionate-I want to give everyone everything (including the bum-I figure he is either mentally ill or something went amiss). My daughters are the same way and maybe b/c they see me doing it. We rescue any and every animal regardless and I sometimes wish I did not feel so compelled to this. I am not saying I am a good person it is just something deep inside that wants to help anyone and everyone. I think it must be a combination of being born with it and seeing as an example.

joytoy said...

This is sickening. I can’t believe that nobody even bother to help a women who fell and was ill. Yeah, there are times that I experience standing in the bus and nobody would offer you a sit. But, I never ever witness like this in my life. But, if I do then I would surely help the women who need my help. I’ve read somewhat similar to your story but that girl was stabbed and was critical. Sad to say, the driver of the jeep never even bothers to stop and take the girl to the hospital. Instead, he drives all his passengers all the way to their homes. And, no passengers even bother to help either. What an evil people. If you would ask me if this is natural then I would say it is a natural behavior for me. There are people who were born with compassion and I don’t think it will change. But, there are also people who were born without compassion and it’s even worse if bad people surrounded them. Thanks for sharing.

Gilbert/ Cely said...

I agree with health nut that compassion is a combination of being born with it and modeling. I consider myself one. I give anything and everything not realizing that there's barely enough left for me and hubby. Yes, it has something to do with family roots enhanced by concrete examples of the role models.

Jaded parents nowadays raised jaded youths. Compassion is out of sight.What do we expect? The same tree bears the same fruits.

Rachel said...

I think compassion is learned, but it's mostly learned very young. From infancy. Children are naturally selfish but they are also naturally compassionate. What must be taught is the direction they take with their natures. And teaching includes making an example of yourself.

The Fitness Diva said...

I'm not surprised to know that you have such a big heart, Heidi, and it's great that your daughters are being given such a great role model.
We really do pick up some of our parent's habits, both good and bad!

Joy, it's sickening to me how people have become so cold. I saw a video a few weeks ago of a man that got hit by a car, and nobody went to help him while he was laying in the street, not even to divert traffic around him. Now that's COLD!!
And bad mob mentality really does seem to catch on. Sometimes it seems like it's a contest to see who can be the most callous.

The Fitness Diva said...

gilbert/cely, the fruit really doesn't fall that far from the tree.

But why do we have soooo many rotten trees lately? What happened to our society? I just wonder when it was that the majority stopped caring.

The Fitness Diva said...

I think that with children, natural selfishness is a toss up.
Rachel, from what I see, some kids can't wait to share, while others can't stand it, and will fight before they do so. Maybe the difference there is whether or not they're an only child, or they're taught to share at an early age since they have siblings?

But the manners and learning to be considerate definitely come from the parents example!

Anonymous said...

This is my very first time reading your blog, and its so funny that you pick a topic that I discuss everyday. I work in Manhatten as well, and its CRAZY the things people do. I told one of my friends in college that she should do her senior thesis (she's a psych major)on men in the city. What makes a man more courteous, and does it differ with age, race, economic backgroud, orginal hometown..ect ect. If she does the study, I'll be sure to make sure I send you a copy! :)

Diane Scott said...

Not to be wishy washy, but I think it is both. You most certainly teach (or should!) your children to be compassionate, and some children (and adults) are just born with an "extra helping." Great post!

The Fitness Diva said...

vraica, please do send that on when she puts it out! I'm sure it will be a pager turner for me.

I also wonder what are the dynamics that cause some men to become less gentlemanly (yes, guys, I did say SOME... not all!) and more inclined to just treat you with more rudeness than they would even treat another male. THAT I've experienced for sure!

Is it resentment of today's less subservient female model? Race and economic status have their place in all of this, for sure

....I was just discussing with someone how I'm mostly catcalled and spoken to lewdly by men who are black, latino, working labor jobs, or driving and/or unloading trucks.
That type of behavior does not come at me from the white collar, upper east side, Wall St. banker or Park Avenue set.
Asian men don't do it either.
We summized that your perceived level of power in this society (or lack thereof) is what causes some men to do it, and others, not.
It's a way to try to assert some type of power over women they see and know they can't have, even if they have to do it in the absolute worst way.
Still out in the think tank on that one! If you have any thoughts, please chime in!

The Fitness Diva said...

Diane, from what I see, some parents don't even teach their kids that other people matter at all.
They're being taught that the world revolves around them, and the concepts of manners, considerateness and kindness to others don't even exist in their realm.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I think it's the nature of being in a society where suing the guy beside you is the norm. Even when I got my CPR/First Aid last year, the instructor told us we were under no obligation to help because of the risk of being sued. That's a change from years past, for sure.

If we could all be a little bit nicer to each other, the world would be a lot better off. Although the lawyers might be lonely.

Daisy said...

That is a good question, and I do not know the answer. But I do know that if everybuddy would just show a little bit of kindness and compassion, the world would be a much better place!

Tyson said...

Chivalry and chauvinism are close to each other in the dictionary for a reason. Being nice to others is one thing; doing things because "the little lady" can't be expected to take care of herself is another. If chivalry isn't dead, let me know so I can kill it. It's badly outdated.

I'm not a trained medical professional so I don't know what you would have me do in that situation beside call for help. The best thing I can do is get out of the way and let the pros work. I try not to look at anyone when I'm on the train or bus. You never know which rider is angry and looking for a lawsuit. Maybe someone wants to make a scene and feel better about something. Not at my expense. Maybe someone is crazy like that guy who chopped off another passenger's head on a Greyhound bus in Canada last month. The negatives outweigh the positives.

Barry said...

Sad but true. Many people do not pay attention or care.

Part of the nopt being courteous on a train though - we have become "desesitized" by stupidity. Some things that used to be chivalry are now considered sexual harrassment if it is unwanted. People are sometimes afraid to care any more.

Oh yeah- your ad is on my blog today! :)

Natural said...

no it doesn't naturally exist in us, we have to learn it. i say it all the time the people that don't show compassion have never been shown compassion.

until we can really walk in someone shoes, its hard to understand what they may be going through. this is why i think when celebs have a child or family member get sick of some disease, they start to care about that cause and look for a cure. they have been touched by it personally, so now it's important. they know, they have seen, they have learned compassion for others who might have that same sickness.

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