Monday, October 19, 2015

Hard Knocks Tough Hide

 When you speak the truth, or your truth via your observations or experiences you are usually thought of as "bitter" "angry" "pessimistic"  The phrase the "bitter truth" is about the listener and they have to hear the facts as they are and they taste bitter.

No one seems to want to hear anything bad, confrontational, honest or well anything frankly. Everyone is talking it at me I don't hear a word they are saying only the echos in my mind.

But for those who face more adversity, who suffer more may be better off. I have said repeatedly that Seattle has never suffered a true downturn, riot or incident that defined it for a moment as a city in strife or turmoil.  Name one city of note that hasn't. From riots to mass murders the closest we came was a school northward in Marysville, the SPU shooting that a young man walked up and stopped without a gun, a shooting of a mentally ill woodcarver by the Police and couple of angry chick interrupting Bernie Sanders.   The greater stories have been about Microsoft, Boeing and Amazon and none of those actually positive but economically they have done wonders for the city of Oz.

The candidates running for office often rely upon the hard knock life stories. The ones where I was the son/daughter of a coal miner and we walked to school in bread bags for shoes and ate leftovers from other people's plates. Then miraculously through space and time travel I ended up at the Ivy League and managed to get not one but several degrees, then elected to office, work for someone in Washington D.C. or marry a wonderful person who was incredibly wealthy, well connected and super smart and successful too!!!  Ah the hard knock up by the bootstraps story of the rich, well connected and politically aspirational.  And then there is the rest of us.

I get the names all the time.  I am as tough as nails.  And yes I have the hard knock life boot strap story. Whatever that means.  I am also a woman over 50 without any family or career or any aspiration to run for public office.  So I am SOL.

But I am utterly aware, compassionate and caring and I do believe in the Golden Rule. Most do not but I carry on.  I have to or I would have slit my writs a long time ago. Truth it doesn't hurt it just is that truth.  Now learn compassion and empathy, try it you might be surprised at how good you feel when the tears you shed are for someone else other than yourself.

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The Funny Thing About Adversity

The New York Times
Gray Matter
October 16 2015

DOES adversity harden hearts or warm them? Does experiencing deprivation, disaster or illness make a person more — or less — sympathetic to the travails of others?

You’ve probably encountered examples of each: survivors of hard knocks who lend a compassionate ear to beleaguered souls, and those who offer only a disdainful “suck it up.” As a result, it may seem that adversity’s effect on kindness is unpredictable.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from studying morality over the past 20 years, it’s that compassion isn’t random. There are always reasons for its ebb and flow. So recently, my graduate student Daniel Lim and I set out to discover adversity’s logic.

Our intuition was that surviving hardships in life would lead people to become more generous, kind and supportive. After all, if you’ve lived through dire straits, you’re all too familiar with the pain and challenges involved. You can more readily adopt the perspective of someone in distress — you can feel his pain — and thus are more likely to lend a hand.

Scientific studies, however, typically favor the more pessimistic view. Adversity is associated with many types of negative psychological outcomes: anxiety, depression and, most notably, blunted emotional responding. It has also been tied to the beliefs that the world is not benevolent and that life is not meaningful. This seems like a recipe for a lack of kindness.

And yet, despite what such studies imply, there are many cases in which adversity undeniably elicits compassion. Consider the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York, or of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant meltdown in Japan, in which individuals, even in the midst of their own suffering, helped one another in exceptionally sympathetic ways. Given that adversity is linked with anxiety and depression, why does compassion ever emerge from it?

The reason, we suspect, is that compassion isn’t as purely selfless as it might seem. While it might appear to be a response to the suffering of others, it is also a strategy for regaining your own footing — for resilience in the face of trauma. After all, having strong social relationships is one of the best predictors of psychological well-being in the long run, and so anything that enhances your bonds with others — like expressing compassion for them — makes you more resilient.

Mr. Lim and I conducted two studies, forthcoming in the journal Emotion, to see if adversity in fact promoted compassion. In both, we asked people about the hardships they faced in life, about the degrees to which they attempted to adopt the perspective of others (i.e., exhibited empathy), and how often they experienced compassion. And to be sure that their self-reported compassion was valid, we gave our study participants opportunities to put their money (or time) where their mouths were.

The first study was conducted online, using Mechanical Turk, Amazon’s piecework marketplace, which allowed us to reach more than 200 people from all walks of life. After they provided information about the adversities they had faced, and their levels of empathy and compassion, we offered them the chance to donate some of the money they were about to be paid for taking part in the study to the Red Cross to aid victims in need.

The second study took place in the lab. Here, as each participant was working on onerous word problems, he (or she) witnessed the person sitting next to him, who was actually an actor playing the part of a second participant in the study, appear to be feeling too ill to complete work he had been assigned. We watched to see if participants would express compassion for this unwell person and offer to relieve his burden by taking on some of his workload. Doing so would constitute a purely compassionate act, as it meant spending more time in the lab toiling on unpleasant tasks in order to relieve the discomfort of another.

In both studies, the results were the same. Those who had faced increasingly severe adversities in life — loss of a loved one at an early age, threats of violence or the consequences of a natural disaster — were more likely to empathize with others in distress, and, as a result, feel more compassion for them. And of utmost importance, the more compassion they felt, the more money they donated (in the first study) or the more time they devoted to helping the other complete his work (in the second).

Now, if experiencing any type of hardship can make a person more compassionate, you might assume that the pinnacle of compassion would be reached when someone has experienced the exact trial or misfortune that another person is facing. Interestingly, this turns out to be dead wrong.
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In an article recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the Kellogg School of Management professor Loran Nordgren and colleagues found that the human mind has a bit of a perverse glitch when it comes to remembering its own past hardships: It regularly makes them appear to be less distressing than they actually were.

As a result of this glitch, reflecting on your own past experience with a specific misfortune will very likely cause you to underappreciate just how trying that exact challenge can be for someone else (or was, in fact, for you at the time). You overcame it, you think; so should he. The result? You lack compassion.

To demonstrate the point, Professor Nordgren and colleagues collected information about their research participants’ past struggles with unemployment or bullying. In separate experiments, they next exposed them to people who were expressing dejection and showing difficulty in enduring one or the other hardship. Those who had overcome more severe bullying felt less — not more — compassion for current bullying victims. Likewise, those who had faced greater difficulty with unemployment had less sympathy for the currently jobless. When the adversities didn’t match, no such empathy gap emerged.

Our findings, taken together with those of Professor Nordgren and colleagues, bring some order to adversity’s seemingly contradictory effects. Living through hardship doesn’t either warm hearts or harden them; it does both. Having known suffering in life usually heightens the compassion we feel for others, except when the suffering involves specific painful events that we know all too well. Here, familiarity really does breed contempt.

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