17 August 2015

The Day of Compassion: An Essay For Social Psychology

The Day of Compassion is an invitation to use social psychology for the greater good by living 24 hours as compassionately as possible and by reflecting on the experience. This was introduced by Professor Scott Plous of Wesleyan University as part of the Social Psychology class assignment at Coursera. Professor Plous also includes this activity in his regular Social Psychology class at the Wesleyan University.

Here's my essay on it, written in August 2013.
~lend a hand when needed~

I see myself as a compassionate person and I saw it not only to my fellow human beings but more to the non-human animal population and to the environment as well.
Compassion to me means two things. First, it is choosing to help in any way I can even though helping may cause interference in my life. If I see a man somewhere on the street who looks to be in pain I will cautiously approach him and ask if there is anything I can help him with and try to do something about this need even though I have to be someplace else. It sometimes even costs me money or time but it is nothing if it’s worth it. And second, it is choosing not to harm even though I may stand to gain from harming. I adopted a vegetarian diet to allow a sentient being lives its own life even though I could gain nutrients from eating its meat. Our fruit & vegetable peelings go back to land as fertilizer; bottles & cans are saved for recycling; plastics that are non-recyclable are burned because they get the same fate in dumping areas and, most of the times, are thrown into the river. I might as well ensure that they are disposed of well enough not to cause any injuries to others, especially to other animals that forage in such areas.
Compassion, therefore, is about choosing to live a life that helps more and harms the least possible. Sometimes it works well with participation, other times with non-participation.
Behaving compassionately is letting go of my inconsistencies, biases, and prejudices and try to make my attitudes relate to my behaviors, to embrace a newer better self. When I saw a glitter of tears in an old woman’s eye while listening to her story, even though I didn't understand the whole of it, I knew it was happiness. When that reaction made me smile, too, I knew I did something right. The sight of animals grazing freely in the hills is an image that reminds me of peace. And I don’t want to take that away from them. I know because I wanted the same for myself –freedom and peace. The feeling that my actions are in harmony with nature feels so wonderful that I would want to experience it again. Consequently, to me, behaving compassionately is the reward itself and its benefits are priceless and certainly outweigh all costs. It must be true because I love the self that has come out of that realization.
~loving one but eating another isn't compassion~
Encouraging others to be compassionate is not easy but not impossible. Thus, if I were to encourage others I would use the same or similar techniques like the central and peripheral routes of persuasion. For example, showing a 5 or 10-minute video featuring flood or cloudburst victims getting helped by numerous people to school children, most of whom don’t have TV at home, can lead to a discussion on disaster preparedness, ways to extend help or even ways to avoid such occurrences. This in itself is compassion to avert suffering. Another is using salience. A colored print out of The Healthy Eating Plate1 was posted in a conspicuous area of the hospital where my husband works to facilitate awareness about people’s diet and lifestyle choices. The idea was effective! Some people requested for copies, others talked about it, and a school teacher, who came for a consultation, asked for the source so she can print it herself and post it on their school bulletin board. It is an indirect way of showing compassion but it could lead to behavioral change. If they act accordingly, it may benefit them, their family members, the non-human animal population and the environment as a whole. A foot-in-the-door technique is another. A request was made to a neighbor to keep their empty bottles and cans separately to be collected later was also successful. This was one step up to making them agree for a bigger request –making them segregate their biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes instead of throwing them all together near the river –a terrible sight around here.
Empathy & Role playing is another technique that was successfully used by my husband in one incident when we caught kids throwing stones to a family of monkeys (I understand Hindi a bit but can’t converse). He asked them,
“Should I throw stones at you, too?”
“No”, they answered.
“Why not?”
“It hurts”, they replied.
“Then why are you throwing stones at them?”
They couldn’t answer.
And so, he went on to say, “Mat karo! (Don’t do that!) If they try to attack you without reason, grab a rock or stone and show it to them like you are going to hit them but don’t hit them. They’ll get the message and leave you alone. Theeki (Okay)?”
They nodded.
I really hoped they learned something that day.
One of the best ways to foster a more compassionate society is through education and social psychology is providing that. By conducting studies and researches in order to understand how people behave and how this behavior influence self and others, social psychology provides opportunities to evaluate our attitudes and behaviors, criticize our self-schemas, test our locus of control and know our selves better. This course itself is a means for sharing and exchanging knowledge, information and experiences among each other, to learn from each other. But these opportunities will continue just as opportunities unless we choose to be educated. We, too, have personal responsibilities to take.
Like taking the third side and acting like the hummingbird, behaving compassionately is an everyday gift that can be given in many ways to everything that surrounds us if we so choose it. Through education, anything is possible and is more likely once we accept that we are ALL connected. What we do, no matter how little, affects others directly or indirectly in a positive or negative way. We might as well affect others in a more positive way.
As for me, I am going to be as compassionate as I can be to my fellowmen; to the animals that I call friends; and to my only home –Earth, not only today but every day of my life. 

Update: When I wrote this essay, I wasn't vegan yet. But in another assignment, I promised to go vegan soon. And yes, a year later I become one. Everything is in its proper place now, and I am not only happier than ever before but I am also leaner and healthier physically and mentally.

(1) http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/