Apropos of my recent Things I'm Afraid to Tell You post, yesterday the NY Times had an intriguing article on the science of compassion. It turns out that feeling compassion for one individual actually makes us more likely to feel compassion for other people, even people we don't particularly like or people who have wronged us somehow. Moreover, drawing even a simple association between ourselves and someone else (such as walking in step together) can increase the amount of compassion we feel for that individual.
DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and the author of the article, suggests that the "meditation, prayer, or moral education" practiced by the world's religions, may therefore not, in fact, be the only way to cultivate compassion; rather, a simple "recategorization" of people, to see how they are similar, may help us to feel more empathy.
I had a few reactions to this. The first was "well, of course." Of course the more we identify with someone, the more compassion we feel towards them. The ALI blogging community is a perfect example of how this works. Despite the fact that we are a diaspora, that we have a wide variety of experiences that we bring to our blogs, we tend to express empathy when another member of our community is going through an especially difficult period.
But the first finding was the one that I found more thought-provoking. The Dalai Lama teaches that the experience of compassion at the level of the individual increases our capacity for compassion and has ripple effects that create greater harmony in the world. That always sounded sort of loosey-goosey to me before, sort of like the ripple effect of the butterfly flapping its wings, but now it makes more sense: that practicing compassion, getting better and better at it, makes us more likely to act compassionately towards other people, even when it is more difficult to do so. And in fact, I think it's happened to me, as I've become more involved in the ALI blogging community over the past three years. It's not that I wasn't a compassionate person before. But the more I read, the more I reach out, the better I am at reaching out, and the more, perhaps, that outreach finds its way beyond my own comments.
Have you found blogging and commenting changing the way you interact with other people?
Cornmeal and Kale Spoon Bread
This recipe makes something more like custard than bread, but it would be great with the onions, corn, and peppers that are now in season here. Spoon me.
Adapted from the original at epicurious
1 pound kale, thick ribs and stems cut away
1 T, olive oil
1 bunch sliced green onions (white and green parts)
1 c. white corn (frozen or fresh)
1/2 c. chopped red peppers (roasted)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 c. water
1 1/2 c. yellow cornmeal
2 1/2 c. reduced-fat (2%) milk
1 t. salt
4 large eggs
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
Cook kale in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain; cool. Squeeze dry. Finely chop kale.
Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, corn, red peppers, and garlic; stir 3 minutes. Mix in 1 1/2 cups kale. Remove from heat.
Preheat oven to 350F at this point. Spray 13x9x2-inch baking dish with nonstick spray (I use a small piece of wax paper to evenly spread the non-stick spray over the bottom and sides of my baking dish).
Whisk 2 cups water and cornmeal in bowl to blend. Bring milk and salt to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Gradually whisk in cornmeal mixture. Stir until mixture boils and thickens, about 5 minutes. Be very careful; as the mixture thickens, it will start to “pop” and the batter will splatter a bit. Cool slightly.
Whisk eggs in large bowl to blend; gradually whisk in warm cornmeal mixture. Stir in kale mixture, cheese, and hot pepper sauce. Transfer to prepared dish; smooth top. Bake until set and golden, about 35 minutes. Test with a toothpick in the middle of the dish. Serve warm.