Daniel Goleman · 403 pages
Rating: (10K votes)
“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection - or compassionate action.”
“The argument has long been made that we humans are by nature compassionate and empathic despite the occasional streak of meanness, but torrents of bad news throughout history have contradicted that claim, and little sound science has backed it. But try this thought experiment. Imagine the number of opportunities people around the world today might have to commit an antisocial act, from rape or murder to simple rudeness and dishonesty. Make that number the bottom of a fraction. Now for the top value you put the number of such antisocial acts that will actually occur today.
That ratio of potential to enacted meanness holds at close to zero any day of the year. And if for the top value you put the number of benevolent acts performed in a given day, the ratio of kindness to cruelty will always be positive. (The news, however, comes to us as though that ratio was reversed.)
Harvard's Jerome Kagan proposes this mental exercise to make a simple point about human nature: the sum total of goodness vastly outweighs that of meanness. 'Although humans inherit a biological bias that permits them to feel anger, jealousy, selfishness and envy, and to be rude, aggressive or violent,' Kagan notes, 'they inherit an even stronger biological bias for kindness, compassion, cooperation, love and nurture – especially toward those in need.' This inbuilt ethical sense, he adds, 'is a biological feature of our species.”
“When the eyes of a woman that a man finds attractive look directly at him, his brain secretes the pleasure-inducing chemical dopamine - but not when she looks elsewhere.”
“Forthrightness is the brain’s default response: our neural wiring transmits our every minor mood onto the muscles of our face, making our feelings instantly visible. The display of emotion is automatic and unconscious, and so its suppression demands conscious effort. Being devious about what we feel—trying to hide our fear or anger—demands active effort and rarely succeeds perfectly.22”
“From the vantage point of the brain, doing well in school and at work involves one and the same state, the brain’s sweet spot for performance. The biology of anxiety casts us out of that zone for excellence. “Banish fear” was a slogan of the late quality-control guru W. Edwards Deming. He saw that fear froze a workplace: workers were reluctant to speak up, to share new ideas, or to coordinate well, let alone to improve the quality of their output. The same slogan applies to the classroom—fear frazzles the mind, disrupting learning.”
“when we hope to be a You, being treated like an It, as though we do not matter, carries a particularly harsh sting.”
“Social rejection—or fearing it—is one of the most common causes of anxiety. Feelings of inclusion depend not so much on having frequent social contacts or numerous relationships as on how accepted we feel, even in just a few key relationships.20 Small wonder that we have a hardwired system that is alert to the threat of abandonment, separation, or rejection: these were once actual threats to life itself, though they are only symbolically so today. Still, when we hope to be a You, being treated like an It, as though we do not matter, carries a particularly harsh sting.”
“power dynamic operates in emotional contagion, determining which person’s brain will more forcefully draw the other into its emotional orbit. Mirror neurons are leadership tools: Emotions flow with special strength from the more socially dominant person to the less. One reason is that people in any group naturally pay more attention to and place more significance on what the most powerful person in that group says and does. That amplifies the force of whatever emotional message the leader may be sending, making her emotions particularly contagious. As I heard the head of a small organization say rather ruefully, “When my mind is full of anger, other people catch it like the flu.”
“Others point to data showing that even as toddlers, 40 percent of American two-year-olds watch TV for at least three hours a day—hours they are not interacting with people who can help them learn to get along better. The more TV they watch, the more unruly they are by school age.”
“we have a bit of self-interest in relieving the misery of others. One school of modern economic theory, following Hobbes, argues that people give to charities in part because of the pleasure they get from imagining either the relief of those they benefit or their own relief from alleviating their sympathetic distress.”
“Though they are quick to put others down, unhealthy narcissists view themselves in absolutely positive terms. They”
“The worst period I ever went through at work,” a friend confides, “was when the company was restructuring and people were being ‘disappeared’ daily, followed by lying memos that they were leaving ‘for personal reasons.’ No one could focus while that fear was in the air. No real work got done.” Small wonder. The greater the anxiety we feel, the more impaired is the brain’s cognitive efficiency. In this zone of mental misery, distracting thoughts hijack our attention and squeeze our cognitive resources. Because high anxiety shrinks the space available to our attention, it undermines our very capacity to take in new information, let alone generate fresh ideas. Near-panic is the enemy of learning and creativity.”
“Our memories are in part reconstructions. Whenever we retrieve a memory, the brain rewrites it a bit, updating the past according to our present concerns and understanding. At the cellular level, LeDoux explains, retrieving a memory means it will be “reconsolidated,” slightly altered chemically by a new protein synthesis that will help store it anew after being updated.40 Thus each time we bring a memory to mind, we adjust its very chemistry: the next time we retrieve it, that memory will come up as we last modified it. The specifics of the new consolidation depend on what we learn as we recall it. If we merely have a flare-up of the same fear, we deepen our fearfulness. But the high road can bring reason to the low. If at the time of the fear we tell ourselves something that eases its grip, then the same memory becomes reencoded with less power over us. Gradually, we can bring the once-feared memory to mind without feeling the rush of distress all over again. In such a case, says LeDoux, the cells in our amygdala reprogram so that we lose the original fear conditioning.41 One goal of therapy, then, can be seen as gradually altering the neurons for learned fear.”
“Whatever a student hears in class or reads in a book travels these pathways as he masters yet another iota of understanding. Indeed, everything that happens to us in life, all the details that we will remember, depend on the hippocampus to stay with us. The continual retention of memories demands a frenzy of neuronal activity. In fact, the vast majority of neurogenesis—the brain’s production of new neurons and laying down of connections to others—takes place in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is especially vulnerable to ongoing emotional distress, because of the damaging effects of cortisol. Under prolonged stress, cortisol attacks the neurons of the hippocampus, slowing the rate at which neurons are added or even reducing the total number, with a disastrous impact on learning. The actual killing off of hippocampal neurons occurs during sustained cortisol floods induced, for example, by severe depression or intense trauma. (However, with recovery, the hippocampus regains neurons and enlarges again.)20 Even when the stress is less extreme, extended periods of high cortisol seem to hamper these same neurons.”
“As Marcus Aurelius said millennia ago, pain “is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it, and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
“Our sense of well-being depends to some extent on others regarding us as a You; our yearning for connection is a primal human need, minimally for a cushion for survival. Today the neural echo of that need heightens our sensitivity to the difference between It and You—and makes us feel social rejection as deeply as physical pain.”
“pain “is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it, and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
“Television, as the poet T. S. Eliot warned in 1963, when the then-new medium was spreading into homes, “permits millions of people to listen to the same joke at the same time, and yet remain lonesome.”
“most students reported a state of total involvement in what was being taught, he would rate the moment “inspired.” The inspired moments of learning shared the same active ingredients: a potent combination of full attention, enthusiastic interest, and positive emotional intensity. The joy in learning comes during these moments. Such joyous moments, says University of Southern California neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, signify “optimal physiological coordination and smooth running of the operations of life.” Damasio, one of the world’s leading neuroscientists, has long been a pioneer in linking findings in brain science to human experience. Damasio argues that more than merely letting us survive the daily grind, joyous states allow us to flourish, to live well, and to feel well-being. Such upbeat states, he notes, allow a “greater ease in the capacity to act,” a greater harmony in our functioning that enhances our power and freedom in whatever we do. The field of cognitive science, Damasio notes, in studying the neural networks that run mental operations, finds similar conditions and dubs them “maximal harmonious states.”
“The goal of attunement is not simply continual meshing, with an utter entrainment of every thought and feeling; it also includes giving each other space to be alone as needed. This cycle of connectedness strikes a balance between the individual’s needs and the couple’s. As one family therapist put it, “The more a couple can be apart, the more they can be together.”
“This harkens back to Freud’s famous question, “What does woman want?” As Epstein answers, “She wants a partner who cares what she wants.”
“The biological influence passing from person to person suggests a new dimension of a life well lived: conducting ourselves in ways that are beneficial even at this subtle level for those with whom we connect.”
“What distinguishes leaders in medicine goes far beyond that knowledge, into interpersonal skills like empathy, conflict resolution, and people development.”
“Secure bases are sources of protection, energy and comfort, allowing us to free our own energy,” George Kohlrieser told me. Kohlrieser, a psychologist and professor of leadership at the International Institute for Management Development in Switzerland, observes that having a secure base at work is crucial for high performance. Feeling secure, Kohlrieser argues, lets a person focus better on the work at hand, achieve goals, and see obstacles as challenges, not threats. Those who are anxious, in contrast, readily become preoccupied with the specter of failure, fearing that doing poorly will mean they will be rejected or abandoned (in this context, fired)—and so they play it safe. People who feel that their boss provides a secure base, Kohlrieser finds, are more free to explore, be playful, take risks, innovate, and take on new challenges. Another business benefit: if leaders establish such trust and safety, then when they give tough feedback, the person receiving it not only stays more open but sees benefit in getting even hard-to-take information. Like a parent, however, a leader should not protect employees from every tension or stress; resilience grows from a modicum of discomfort generated by necessary pressures at work. But since too much stress overwhelms, an astute leader acts as a secure base by lessening overwhelming pressures if possible—or at least not making them worse.”
“No child can avoid emotional pain while growing up, and likewise emotional toxicity seems to be a normal by-product of organizational life—people are fired, unfair policies come from headquarters, frustrated employees turn in anger on others. The causes are legion: abusive bosses or unpleasant coworkers, frustrating procedures, chaotic change. Reactions range from anguish and rage, to lost confidence or hopelessness. Perhaps luckily, we do not have to depend only on the boss. Colleagues, a work team, friends at work, and even the organization itself can create the sense of having a secure base. Everyone in a given workplace contributes to the emotional stew, the sum total of the moods that emerge as they interact through the workday. No matter what our designated role may be, how we do our work, interact, and make each other feel adds to the overall emotional tone. Whether it’s a supervisor or fellow worker who we can turn to when upset, their mere existence has a tonic benefit. For many working people, coworkers become something like a “family,” a group in which members feel a strong emotional attachment for one another. This makes them especially loyal to each other as a team. The stronger the emotional bonds among workers, the more motivated, productive, and satisfied with their work they are. Our sense of engagement and satisfaction at work results in large part from the hundreds and hundreds of daily interactions we have while there, whether with a supervisor, colleagues, or customers. The accumulation and frequency of positive versus negative moments largely determines our satisfaction and ability to perform; small exchanges—a compliment on work well done, a word of support after a setback—add up to how we feel on the job.28”
“self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion.”
“Just those three words, said and meant. I love you.
They were quite hopeless. He said it as he might have said, I have cancer.
His fairy story.”
“This hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend.
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Come, pluck up, heart; let's neither faint nor fear.
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.”
“My searchlight expired, but still I ran. I heard voices, and yowls, and echoes, but above all there gently rose that impious, insidious scurrying, gently rising, rising as a stiff bloated corpse gently rises above an oily river that flows under endless onyx bridges to a black putrid sea. Something bumped into me - something soft and plump. It must have been the rats; the viscous, gelatinous, ravenous army that feast on the dead and the living...”
“Do you have any idea how late it is? Go to sleep," she scolded as she hurried past him.
"I know, I'm going to bed right now ... Hey! YOU go to sleep," Jerry scolded back, belatedly remembering that he was the parent.”
“I always felt that way about the South, that beneath the smiles and southern hospitality and politeness were a lot of guns and liquor and secrets.”
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