We have a vast network of mirror neurons in our brains that allow us to feel things we don’t actually experience.
Mirror neurons operate as follows: When you perform an act such as reaching for an apple and taking a bite, certain neurons become active. Experiments have proven that when you observe this action being performed by another person, many of the same neurons fire as if you were performing the act yourself. These mirror neurons do not activate with just any observed behavior but only when observing actions that have intent, or observing emotions. —Andre Rabe
Mirror neurons may be the basis for emotions and empathy, the ability to vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of others. Originally, mirror neurons made human relationships possible and bound us together through “com”passion. But today, they can drive us to despair!
Geography used to be a buffer against human misery. Personal experience limited the folks we encountered. We could only be in one place at a time and interact with a small number of people. But as technology advanced from the printer to the smartphone, so has our awareness of the plight of others. Today, horrible news and horrendous photos are streamed to us 24/7 from around the globe.
There are only so many elementary school shootings, gruesome beheadings, college massacres and suicides by airplane a person can handle. I for one have to tune out much of the evil and suffering that I can’t do anything about. Instead I try to follow the example of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.
Jesus told this story to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” In other words, “Who am I responsible to help?” The Samaritan came across someone in need in the course of his daily life. Personal encounter led to personal responsibility—and opportunity.
Experience is not the boundary of empathy and compassion, but it is the beginning. We are less likely to be paralyzed and more likely to do something positive if we focus on what has touched us personally.
“One is not born into the world to do everything,
but to do something.”
Henry David Thoreau