How many people in a day do you see treat other people as objects, as a
means to an end? From ignoring those we are in the room with while
tensely thumbing a Blackberry to yelling impatience at a store clerk,
many relate to others as if they are simply there to give them
something. Unfortunately, our moods are more infectious than we may
Recent advances in neuroscience have discovered that our brains are
wired to be social, and that our inner states affect those around us.
Daniel Goleman’s book Social Intelligence
reveals that our brains are like wireless octopi, with invisible
tentacles scanning the environment searching for messages. Mirror
neurons in our brain fire when we observe an action or mood
in another. That’s how someone smiling at you can make you smile, how
long-term partners can come to resemble each other through facial
mimicry, and how ideas can spread like wildfire through society. The
good news about this is that we can positively influence others by
modulating our mood. For example, angry people can be ‘infected’ by
hanging out with calm people.
Even more inspiring to hear is that we’re wired for compassion and
kindness. Studies in Goleman’s book mention that infants cry when they
hear other infants crying (but not when they a recording of their own
crying) and that monkeys will starve themselves if they associate
eating with inflicting cruelty on another monkey.
At the end of the day, we may be our own worst enemy—or our own best
friend. Consider putting down that Blackberry to be present to a
meaningful conversation. Take a moment to see the world from the store
clerk’s perspective before speaking. The choice is ours as to who and
how we connect with each other.