The University of California , San Diego, issued the following news release:

Acts of Kindness Spread Surprisingly Easily: Just a Few People Can Make
a Difference

For all those dismayed by scenes of looting in disaster-struck zones,
whether Haiti or Chile or elsewhere, take heart: Good acts — acts of
kindness, generosity and cooperation — spread just as easily as bad.
And it takes only a handful of individuals to really make a difference.

In a study published in the March 8 early online edition of the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the
University of California, San Diego and Harvard provide the first
laboratory evidence that cooperative behavior is contagious and that it
spreads from person to person to person.

When people benefit from kindness they “pay it forward” by helping
others who were not originally involved, and this creates a cascade of
cooperation that influences dozens more in a social network.

The new issue of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science’s journal *Science* (Vol. 324. no. 5926) includes an article:
“Neuroscience: A Quest for Compassion – Guided by a passionate leader, a
new research institute hopes to draw lessons from Buddhism to study
altruism and make the world a better place” by Greg Miller.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

Back in 2000, James Doty was living the high life.


At 45, he was planning to retire, donate a large chunk of his fortune to
charity, and divide his time between his three idyllic homes while doing
medical volunteer work in developing countries.

Last month, Doty was standing behind a lectern at Stanford University in
Palo Alto, California, explaining how he’d lost it all in the dot-com bust.

“Within 6 weeks, I was $3 million in the hole,” he said.


But he decided, against the advice of friends and family, to follow
through with stock donations that he’d promised before the crash to a
handful of universities and health charities.

(By holding on to the stock until the market recovered, the recipients
ultimately received nearly $30 million.)

Doty says that losing his material wealth made him more reflective.

“Becoming completely detached from something you think you need is an
interesting exercise,” he said, his voice catching with emotion.

“What you realize is … it doesn’t define you as a person.”

His face flushed, he seemed unable to continue.


It was an unusually personal speech for an academic conference, but it
was also an unusual conference.

The audience included psychologists, philosophers, economists,
neuroscientists, and theologians who’d gathered for 2 days to inaugurate
a new center at Stanford for the scientific study of compassion.


Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things. –Thomas Merton

Compassion is the ultimate and most meaningful embodiment of emotional maturity. It is through compassion that a person achieves the highest
peak and deepest reach in his or her search for self-fulfillment. –Arthur Jersild

Compassion is not sentiment but is making justice and doing works of mercy. Compassion is not a moral commandment but a flow and overflow of the fullest human and divine energies. –Matthew Fox

The whole purpose of religion is to facilitate love and compassion, patience, tolerance, humility, forgiveness. –H.H. the Dalai Lama

Albert Einstein:

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Daniel Goleman:

The act of compassion begins with full attention, just as rapport does. You have to really see the person. If you see the person, then naturally, empathy arises. If you tune into the other person, you feel with them. If empathy arises, and if that person is in dire need, then empathic concern can come. You want to help them, and then that begins a compassionate act. So I’d say that compassion begins with attention.

Diane Berke:

The major block to compassion is the judgment in our minds. Judgment is the mind’s primary tool of separation.

Felix Adler:

To care for anyone else enough to make their problems one’s own, is ever the beginning of one’s real ethical development.

HH the Dalai Lama:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

Joanna Macy:

Compassion literally means to feel with, to suffer with. Everyone is capable of compassion, and yet everyone tends to avoid it because it’s uncomfortable. And the avoidance produces psychic numbing — resistance to experiencing our pain for the world and other beings.

Mairead Maguire:

We frail humans are at one time capable of the greatest good and, at the same time, capable of the greatest evil. Change will only come about when each of us takes up the daily struggle ourselves to be more forgiving, compassionate, loving, and above all joyful in the knowledge that, by some miracle of grace, we can change as those around us can change too.

Martin Lowenthal:

Compassion is a foundation for sharing our aliveness and building a more humane world.

Pema Chodron:

When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space.

Sogyal Rinpoche:

…when we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.

Viktor Frankl:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

An article on compassion by Charlotte Hays appeared in the Vancouver Sun 21 March 2009, titled:
Compassion may be a little more complex than we think.

Some extracts follow:

As a dictum on how to lead our lives, the Dalai Lama has offered this: “If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

“Compassion and wisdom are the two virtues universally affirmed by Buddhists,” according to the [Buddhist] encyclopedia. Ganden Thurman, executive director of Tibet House in New York, assures me that Buddhist compassion and western compassion are pretty much the same thing. But I can’t help thinking that western thinkers, specifically the Christian ones, treat compassion a bit more gingerly.

But I was to discover that compassion, a western traditional virtue or not, is far more interesting than its warm and fuzzy reputation … might suggest.

Our English word compassion comes from [Latin] compassus …. Compassion means “suffering with” — com (with), and passus (suffering). … Only the hard of heart can fail to respond to the plight of another, but something more than a human emotion seems to be required to elevate the mere feeling of pity into the sublime — a desire to alleviate the suffering of the other, or perhaps even a desire to take upon oneself a portion of that suffering.

Compassion is similar to sympathy … But in our world, sympathy is somehow weaker than compassion. We have Hallmark sympathy cards, but I have yet to see a Hallmark compassion card. … Empathy is several notches down from either…While nice enough, empathy won’t make much difference in the world.

Hospitals have risen and the sick have been nursed, the poor fed and slaves freed because of compassion. A friend suggested to me the other day that William Wilberforce, the member of Parliament whose deep compassion and religious faith (he was an evangelical Christian) led him to become an abolitionist and ultimately to succeed in outlawing the slave trade, should be considered the father of English compassion. Wilberforce’s compassion extended to animals — he was also a leader in founding the animal protection movement that eventually created the Royal Humane Society … Those of us whose lives are enriched by feline or canine companions must always remember to show compassion for them but not to allow this compassion to degenerate into sentimentality.

Charlotte Hays is editor of In Character, a publication of the John Templeton Foundation, where this article first appeared.

The full article appears here:

What is compassion, opposed to pity, and sentimentality?

“Compassion is one of the principal things that make our lives meaningful. It is the source of all lasting happiness and joy. And it is the foundation of a good heart, the heart of one who acts out of a desire to help others. There is no denying that our happiness is inextricably bound up with the happiness of others. There is no denying that if society suffers, we ourselves suffer. Nor is there any denying that the more our hearts and minds are afflicted with ill-will, the more miserable we become. Thus we can reject everything else: religion, ideology, all received wisdom. But we cannot escape the necessity of love and compassion.”
– His Holiness the Dali Lama

Compassion is the medium through which we will take care of each other and ensure the earth’s survival. As Martin Luther King summed it up: “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

Because compassion is “heart work” it is easy to confuse it with sentimentality. But compassion is not about feeling sorry for others – it is about feeling together with others. It is being touched by someone else’s pain and realizing that our peace and joy ultimately depends on there being peace and joy for them too. It is therefore also about taking action to alleviate the pain, restore equilibrium, and secure peace and happiness.

Compassion is not without its pitfalls. A compassionate heart open to the pain and suffering of the world can lead to feelings of doubt, despair and impotence. It is easy to be overwhelmed. It is also easy to slip from compassion into pity. But pity, though often equated with compassion, in fact undermines it by creating a power imbalance between donor and receiver. The essence of compassion is sharing one’s heart – “suffering with” – while pity elevates one at the expense of the other and turns the receiver into an object of need or condescension.

The antidote to despair is of course hope, possibly the single most important ingredient for changing the world. Hope allows us to see the inspiring and nurturing forces in the world. It gives us the energy we need to keep going and the sustenance to be continually renewed.

The antidote to pity is to appreciate and nurture people’s gifts. A more genuinely compassionate approach is one that recognizes and mobilizes people’s capacities, skills and gifts.

In the final analysis, the heart of the matter is heart. Compassion is the language of the heart. A compassionate heart does not depend on education. It does not depend on religious, political or philosophical persuasion. It does depend on treating our potential for compassion very gently and tapping into this powerful flow of energy. Our happiness – and the well-being of our communities – depends on it.

This is an abbreviated version of an article that can be found here:

Witnessing another person’s physical pain registers more quickly in the brain than compassion for social or psychological pain, but the latter leaves a much longer-lasting impression.

New brain-imaging research showed an almost immediate “wince” reaction to seeing someone’s physical pain. By contrast the brain took 6 to 8 seconds to respond to stories about social or psychological pain — a very long time considering that neurons fire within milliseconds. However, the brain’s response to social or psychological situations lingered for much longer than the response to physical pain. That may suggest a more complex thought process, compared to the instinctive evolutionary reaction to physical pain.

Compassion for another person’s social or psychological pain also activated some of the same brain areas triggered by compassion for physical pain, and particularly the region responsible for gut feelings, known as the anterior insula.

“It’s almost as if we have a body in which to play out feelings about other people’s situations, but that body is subdivided between the musculoskeletal system and the gut,” Immordino-Yang noted.

The full research is detailed in the April 13 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Full article:

By Jeremy Hsu, Staff Writer