by Kathie England

The Evolution of Compassion

Watching Rick Hanson’s interview on October 29 with Dr. Dacher Keltner, professor at the University of California, Berkeley, inspired me to share their thoughts about the evolution of compassion in humans, especially in light of the challenges faced by those touched by Hurricane Sandy last night.

Keltner describes how we are a “radically social species.” Our senstivity to emotions has helped us survive as a species. But love and hate within and between groups have co-evolved. When we make the distinction between us and them or between me and you, we tend to feed the “wolf of hate.” Keltner and Hanson are optimistic that compassion can be learned and is as important to teach as reading and math if our species is to survive.

Keltner who has worked with the Dali Lama says that the Dali Lama believes the basic setting of the human mind is compassion. We have seen that outpouring in the last 24 hours as relief workers around the country seek to aid those devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The greatest power is found in those who are kind and compassionate!

This morning I read an article by Eric Utne in the November/December 2012 issue of the Utne Reader. Utne echoed a similar theme that when we evolve beyond individuation that tends to lead to isolation, alienation, and loneliness, we develop our capacity for empathy and for communities based on our common humanity.

Keltner offers a similar perspective when he describes how we increase our ability to collaborate when we hear about friendships among people of different ethnic backgrounds. When we see different ethnic faces, it helps to reduce distinctions and increase familiarity.

What if it didn’t take a disatrous storm to help us reduce the distinction between them and us, between you and me?

Watch the entire interview at