This course examines the concept of contagious compassion, and how one act can affect anyone directly or even indirectly involved with a compassionate act.
- [Narrator] This is an audio course. No need to watch, just listen. Welcome to the latest addition to LinkedIn Learning. Podcasts. We've curated some of the best business podcasts and made them even easier to listen to. Each episode is split into sections. Use the links and the contents area to skip to whichever section you like. We're always looking for new ways to help you learn, and we appreciate your feedback. Thanks for listening. (gentle music) - [Narrator] Sounds True presents The Science of Compassion, a modern approach for cultivating empathy, love and connection with Health Psychologist and Stanford University Lecturer, Kelly McGonigal. Our program continues with session five, the upward spiral of compassion. (gentle music) - [Kelly] I'd like to start the session by sharing with you a story about a college softball game. Now I'm not much of a sports fan, but this is a story that really captured my attention. It was the second game and a double header between the women's softball teams of Central Washington and Western Oregon. And they were fighting for the Conference Championship. It was the top of the second inning with two runners on base. And senior Sarah Tucholsky from Western Oregon was at bat. Now this game was her last chance in her career to win a softball championship. And as she was at bat, the fans of the opposing team were heckling her and she was trying to block the sound out. The first pitch came, she swung and she missed. But when the second pitch came, her back connected and she hit the ball clear over the center field fence. This was the first homerun of her career. Sarah ran past first base, in fact, she ran so fast she missed the base. And she had to stop and turn around quickly to go back and touch base. And she turned so quickly that she actually twisted her knee and her knee gave out and she fell to the ground, unable to move. She was lying there, hugging her knee in agony. And she began to try to crawl her way back to first base. When she got there, she touched the base, but couldn't stand. Her coach asked the umpire, "What are we supposed to do? What are the rules here?" What could they do? Was there any way to save the homerun? And the umpire said, "Nope. If anyone on your team tries to help, Sarah would be called out and they would lose the run." The best thing they could do was put someone else from her team on first base. As the coach started to send a sub in, she heard someone ask the umpire, "Excuse me, would it be okay if we carried her around each base?" The person asking that was Mallory Holtman. And she was the first baseman of the opposing team. The umpire decided, okay, this would be acceptable. And so Mallory and Liz Wallace, who was the shortstop from Central Washington, they made a basket out of their arms for Sarah to sit in. And they slowly walked her from first base to second and then to third. And they stopped at each base to lower Sarah's foot to touch the base. When they reached home plate, they received a standing ovation from the crowd. Not because of her injury, it was her last at-bat of her career. But she finally realized her goal of hitting a homerun. And her team went on to win the game four to two. Now Sarah Tucholsky clearly benefited from the compassion of the opposing team, as did her whole team, they won the game. But so did everyone else who witnessed this act of compassion? Sarah described that people were in tears as she touched home base. Members of both of the teams felt the warm glow of what happened. Sarah's coach told a TV interviewer, "I'll never forget it my entire life, I'll never forget it." And one thing really struck me as I was watching news stories about this event. Mallory, whose idea was to help Sarah, she was quoted in the media as saying, "Anyone would have done that, they would've done the same thing for me." And I think you could actually argue about whether or not this is true. But what really interests me, is that it was her own willingness to help Sarah that supported a worldview in which she thinks the same kindness is available to her. I think this is a rarely appreciated benefit of helping others, that when we help others, we become a recipient of our own kindness because we come to view the world as similarly motivated to help. Now there's one more thing I didn't tell you about this story. And that this is a story I actually learned about because it was used in a study at Oregon State University, where the researchers wanted to know, what are the physiological effects of just hearing about an act of compassion. And in their study, they had participants watch a news report describing this very special homerun. And the researchers looked at how the story affected participants' brains and bodies. And what they found is that, just listening to the news report about this homerun, it increased participants heart rates, but also increase their heart breathing synchronization. Which the researchers interpreted as being a kind of contagious compassion. Just hearing about an act of kindness, was putting participants in a physiological state that mirrors compassion. And the participants, they also showed increased activity in areas of the brain that are linked to compassionate motivation, including parts of the reward system. As we talked about the parts of the brain that when activated make us feel like there's something good we can do, and if we act something good could happen. So simply hearing about an act of kindness, it's like it was awakening compassion in those who heard about it. And maybe you felt something similar as I was describing the homerun. This study and the home run story itself, I think it's a perfect example of what I call the upward spiral of compassion. Any single act of compassion, it seems to benefit just about anyone who is anywhere near it. The one who experiences or offers the compassion, the recipient of that compassion and even those who witness or later hear about the compassion. Even people who are not part of a particular moment of compassion, can become a beneficiary. For example, there are studies that show that compassion is contagious and that people who receive kindness are very likely to pay it forward and not in the way that you would typically expect, the kind of you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours, reciprocal helping. No, people who receive compassion from others, they become more likely to help someone else entirely whoever they come across, who needs that help or needs that compassion. Well, one of the most common questions that I get about compassion, is whether there is such a thing as pure altruism. People are really interested in this. They want to know, do people ever do something to help someone else without any kind of benefit to themselves. And I think this question often comes from the belief that if an act of compassion benefits you, in addition to the person you're trying to help, that somehow it's tainted, that that's not real compassion. I'm sure that if you look in history, you could find examples of heroes and martyrs, people who have truly sacrificed themselves for the wellbeing of others. But I think it's a mistake to expect that every act of compassion should be selfless or self-sacrificing in this way. And in fact, if you expect that or you idealize that, that mindset can actually get in the way of experiencing compassion and social connection. When people are acting out of a deep connection to a compassionate mindset, turns out that there really is no such thing as pure altruism in the sense that what you do benefits only the recipient of that help. And if you expect compassion to be this way, this pure altruism, that it should only help the person you intend to help. This can become a real barrier to compassion. It can lead people to feel depleted by helping for example, or expect to be depleted by helping because they don't recognize, that actually when you help others, it uplifts you and it benefits you. Can also make it difficult to receive compassion from others. Maybe you don't want to be a burden on others. You don't understand that when you give someone else permission to help you, it uplifts them and it uplifts everyone who witnesses that compassion. True compassion, it seems to be based on an interdependent worldview, one that doesn't make such clear cut distinctions about who is benefiting. And over the next two sessions, we'll explore this upward spiral of compassion and start to view compassion through a mindset of interdependence. Learning to see that compassion is not an isolated act that benefits only one person on only one side. Any act of compassion is more like a stone that's tossed into a pond and it ripples outward in ever-widening circles. And I hope I'm hearing about some of the science of how compassion spirals upwards, I hope that it will inspire you to both offer compassion, but also to receive compassion more freely, to understand how both offering and being willing to receive compassion, benefits you and those around you. And finally, I hope that the stories and the science in the next two sessions will encourage you to look for compassion in others, to see and appreciate acts of kindness and courage as an important aspect of strengthening compassion.
This course was created by Sounds True. We are pleased to offer this training in our library.