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Author Topic: "Who Is My Neighbour?"- The Empathic Ape.  (Read 1802 times) Average Rating: 0
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ozgeorge
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« on: June 10, 2008, 08:51:03 PM »

In an old copy of The New Scientist Issue 2520 (October 2005), I was reading an article which discussed Empathy among animals. While it is not unusual for one species to attack another (as in the predator/prey relationship), studies have shown the existence of empathy in one species for another species which seems to suggest that empathy is a natural part of the evolutionary psyche. A common example is how pets will hover over an ill human member of the household, or a pet cat will lick a sick pet dog. The bonds of empathy cross species boundaries, and even involve members of species which have never met before. A famous example in evolutionary psychology mentioned by the article is that of "Kuni", a bonobo chimpanzee in a zoo who saw a starling fly into the glass of her enclosure and was knocked out. Kuni picked up the starling and climbed the tallest tree in the enclosure, gently spread it's wings with her fingers and tried to fly the bird like a paper glider out of the enclosure. The starling landed on the bank of the moat around the enclosure, and Kuni climbed down and stood watch over it for hours until the bird finally recovered and was able to fly away itself. This behaviour was interesting because Kuni was tailoring her assistance to the starling's needs rather than following some hard-wired behaviour. In other words, Kuni was treating the starling as a starling rather than another bonobo chimpanzee.
This got me thinking about the Gospel passage about "Who Is My Neighbour?", and what Christ  was trying to tell us in the Parable of the Good Samaratan. When the poor man was attacked an robbed and left to die, his own kind passed him by. But a Samaratan- a stranger, a foreigner, someone who was a heretic to the Jews was the one who showed Compassion and Empathy for the suffering of the man. Like Kuni the bonobo, the Good Samaratan reached accross boundaries of "other" and responded to the suffering of another despite their difference.
We naturally feel empathy for our family and friends, but it seems to me that Christ demands that we extend this empathy beyond our own kind:
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them." (Luke 6:32)
The true test of a Christian seems to be to love those who do not love us- and it seems to me that bonobo chimpanzees are often better at this than we are. Rememeber- Kuni didn't try to turn the starling into a chimp, but respected the fact that it was a starling.
Can we manage to do the same for those who are different to us? Or is the only way we can love them is if we m ake them into copies of us?
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« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2008, 09:34:21 PM »

The true test of a Christian seems to be to love those who do not love us- and it seems to me that bonobo chimpanzees are often better at this than we are. Rememeber- Kuni didn't try to turn the starling into a chimp, but respected the fact that it was a starling.
Can we manage to do the same for those who are different to us? Or is the only way we can love them is if we m ake them into copies of us?

ozgeorge,

I know what you mean, but I sort of keep failing the test. Last evening when I finally looked at my mail I found an envelope from the SPCA. On the front was the photo of a little dog that had had his ears brually hacked off. My first reaction was outrage and tears, and even now I'm fighting tears as I think of it. Then I was shocked by my own anger and frustration (and even hatred) towards the person who had done this terrible thing. It took me some few minutes to get past the turmoil of my own emotions so that I could pray for that individual without the words sticking in my throat. Rationally, I knew that immediate prayer was needed for my own state of mind and for a person I would consider an enemy (anyone who would treat any living thing in such a way would be high on my list of enemies) and I hope that the person receives enlightment and comes to know shame and repentance for what they had done, but I can tell you my first thoughts were something other than loving my neighbour.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2008, 09:37:00 PM by Riddikulus » Logged

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ozgeorge
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« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2008, 09:51:05 PM »

I sort of keep failing the test.
So do I!
This is where I find the Orthodox teaching on human nature and sin helpful. To us, human nature is ultimately good, but it gets distorted by sin, and sin is an illness, and we are all ill and need healing.
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« Reply #3 on: June 10, 2008, 10:15:19 PM »

So do I!
This is where I find the Orthodox teaching on human nature and sin helpful. To us, human nature is ultimately good, but it gets distorted by sin, and sin is an illness, and we are all ill and need healing.

Yes, this is something I didn't quite appreciate until becoming Orthodox. I always seemed to be swimming against the tide in that I was the congregation's cockeyed optomist, believing that human nature was ultimately good. I remember having quite heated disagreements with family members when they started with a fundamentalist child rearing programme called "Growing Kids God's Way". In the west it seems that sin is always seen a moral failing, no matter how young the person; rather than a failing because of a spiritual illness that needed healing. At four, my younger granddaughter was very wilful and disobedient (quite unlikeable, actually) and we were all just about at our wits' end trying to find a remedy. However, the day she was baptised, she became a new child. There were and still are outbreaks of her particular illness (we all have `em), but the full-on, in-your-face bad behaviour simply disappeared. It truly was a miracle!  Grin 

Do you see genetics and the environment we are brought up in coming into play - ie: part of the reason we are sick? 
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I believe in One God, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.

Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
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ozgeorge
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« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2008, 10:32:33 PM »

Do you see genetics and the environment we are brought up in coming into play - ie: part of the reason we are sick? 
I most certainly think they are both contributing factors. As far as genetics go, the Fathers time and time again emphasise that the Christian life is in some ways a life against nature. Sometimes, we do have to overcome our "natural instincts", but I think Christ taught us how to do this when He said "wherever your treasure lies, there will you find your heart also". By this, I think He means that we must make a conscious decision about our values and what we value most, and what we need to value most as Christians are the dual commandments to Love God, and to Love our neighbour as ourselves. Everything else has to be subjugated to these two Commandments. This is how I think the Martyrs were able to overcome the natural instinct of self-preservation, that is, because they honestly valued something higher than self-preservation.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2008, 10:33:07 PM by ozgeorge » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2008, 11:18:35 PM »

I most certainly think they are both contributing factors.

I should imagine that there are many things that we learn as children that we have to unlearn as adults; for example, the fearfulness we learn from a smothering mother.

Quote
As far as genetics go, the Fathers time and time again emphasise that the Christian life is in some ways a life against nature. Sometimes, we do have to overcome our "natural instincts", but I think Christ taught us how to do this when He said "wherever your treasure lies, there will you find your heart also". By this, I think He means that we must make a conscious decision about our values and what we value most, and what we need to value most as Christians are the dual commandments to Love God, and to Love our neighbour as ourselves. Everything else has to be subjugated to these two Commandments. This is how I think the Martyrs were able to overcome the natural instinct of self-preservation, that is, because they honestly valued something higher than self-preservation.

I agree.
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I believe in One God, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.

Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
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ozgeorge
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« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2008, 12:28:33 AM »

I should imagine that there are many things that we learn as children that we have to unlearn as adults; for example, the fearfulness we learn from a smothering mother.
"Nature or nurture, either way it's your parent's fault." Cheesy
Seriously though, we have a lot to unlearn. I was looking at education among Palestinian children, and was horrified by the systematic installing of hatred for the Israeli Jews. What do we do when an entire society indoctrinates it's children with bigotry, prejudice and hatred? The only answer I can see is the Gospel answer to the question "Who is my neighbour?". My neighbour is everyone, and I can exclude no one.
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« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2008, 12:56:05 AM »

"Nature or nurture, either way it's your parent's fault." Cheesy

I hope none of my children ever read this. But, hold on, I could cleverly shift all the blame onto their father!! laugh

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I believe in One God, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.

Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.
Theodosius Dobzhansky, Russian Orthodox Christian (1900-1975)
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