We Are Hard-Wired to Care and Connect – Part II

By David Korten | Website

Reprinted from  "Purple America," the Fall 2008 YES! Magazine
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Read the first part of the article here.

Wired to Connect

who use advanced imaging technology to study brain function report that
the human brain is wired to reward caring, cooperation, and service.
According to this research, merely thinking about another person
experiencing harm triggers the same reaction in our brain as when a
mother sees distress in her baby’s face. Conversely, the act of helping
another triggers the brain’s pleasure center and benefits our health by
boosting our immune system, reducing our heart rate, and preparing us
to approach and soothe. Positive emotions like compassion produce
similar benefits. By contrast, negative emotions suppress our immune
system, increase heart rate, and prepare us to fight or flee.

findings are consistent with the pleasure most of us experience from
being a member of an effective team or extending an uncompensated
helping hand to another human. It is entirely logical. If our brains
were not wired for life in community, our species would have expired
long ago. We have an instinctual desire to protect the group, including
its weakest and most vulnerable members—its children. Behavior contrary
to this positive norm is an indicator of serious social and
psychological dysfunction.

Happiness Is a Caring Community

neurological findings are corroborated by social science findings that,
beyond the minimum level of income essential to meet basic needs,
membership in a cooperative, caring community is a far better predictor
of happiness and emotional health than the size of one’s paycheck or
bank account. Perhaps the most impressive evidence of this comes from
studies conducted by University of Illinois professor Ed Diener, and
others, comparing the life-satisfaction scores of groups of people of
radically different financial means. Four groups with a most identical
scores on a seven-point scale were clustered at the top.

with the Empire story that material consumption is the key to
happiness, those on Forbes magazine’s list of richest Americans had an
average score of 5.8. They were in a statistical tie, however, with
three groups known for their modest lifestyles and strength of
community: the Pennsylvania Amish (5.8) who favor horses over cars and
tractors; the Inuit of Northern Greenland (5.9), an indigenous hunting
and fishing people; and the Masai (5.7), a traditional herding people
in East Africa who live without electricity or running water in huts
fashioned from dried cow dung. Apparently, it takes a very great deal
of money to produce the happiness that comes with being a member of a
caring community with a strong sense of place. The evidence suggests we
could all be a lot healthier and happier if we put less emphasis on
making money and more on cultivating caring community.

purple American desire to create a society of healthy children,
families, communities, and natural systems is no fluke. It is an
expression of our deepest and most positive human impulses, a sign that
we may overall be a healthier and less divisive society than our
dysfunctional politics suggest.

More in two weeks…