Becoming Fully Human by Going to the Dogs
“If you want a friend in Washington,” Harry Truman said, “get a dog!” Harry was right—dogs make true and sympathetic companions.
British researchers placed a variety of pet dogs in a room with their owners, and also with complete strangers. Then the researchers had the people pretend to cry. The dogs impulsively began nuzzling and licking them (a canine form of empathy)—even if they didn’t know the person! Dogs, after thousands of years of evolution and human companionship, are clearly attuned to human emotions, as any pet lover will tell you.
Research neurologists watching brain scans discovered that when we see someone smile or frown, the neurons in our brain connected to either of those facial muscles will fire—be activated! When you smile at someone, their brain neurons linked to happiness will fire. And, likewise, the sight of another in pain will trigger your brain’s neurons allied with empathy.
Our brain neurons linked to compassion are supported by our religious teachings to do so, yet we can remain aloof spectators of suffering. Dogs do not attend church or synagogue but will show to a crying stranger signs of physically comfort. The recent horrible massacres of 20 young children and six of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary, along with all the other victims of gun violence in our nation, surely must have sent our magnificent insightful neurons into overdrive to respond. Yet the nation remains mostly disinterested, if not indifferent, to taking any legal action to ban the sort of weapons used in these mass murders.
Have we become insensitive, detached spectators to suffering because of televised reports of tsunamis of deaths, disease, famine and natural disasters, along with hours of make-believe TV dramas of pretended pain and death? Has an over-exposure to worldwide pain short-circuited our neuron triggers of compassion so that when we see a real person being bullied, in distress or victimized, we feel and do—nothing? Is the explanation for this inhuman response that we’ve permanently sedated our neurons linked to empathy in order to survive in a world overwhelmingly saturated with pain and suffering?
If you desire to resituate your natural human emotions, you can begin to restore your humanity by being vulnerable to the pain you see on TV and on the street. You can take off your bulletproof vest and allow your heart to be pierced by others’ afflictions. You can strive to feel the tugging of your neurons of sympathy also upon seeing the suffering of any cat, dog, bird or any other living creature.
I have a story that demonstrates insightfully what you as an individual can do, but will save it until next week’s blog.
—To be continued--