When One Baby Cries …

We’ve all seen it – and it melts our hearts. The little faces start to pucker up – and then full blown wailing. Real distress on behalf of another. Our instincts for empathy – the ability to share the feelings of our fellow humans – spotlights the importance of connection and belonging. It is a survival strategy.  

In his book, Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman writes:

Virtually from birth, when babies see or hear another baby crying in distress, they start crying as though they too are distressed. But they rarely cry when they hear a recording of their own cries. After about 14 months of age, babies not only cry when they hear another, but they also try to relieve the other baby’s suffering somehow. The older the toddlers get, the less they cry and the more they try to help. 

The arts help keep those instincts exercised. We read and watch stories that transport us into characters’ lives. By feeling what they feel, our ability to empathize and connect is strengthened. Music – the melder – removes the barriers of individuality enough for us to feel the same thing at the same time. When children see images of cooperation – they cooperate; the instinct is there. Childhood pretending allows us to walk a mile in another person’s shoes. And our fashion radar helps us identify the cues of belonging. We naturally oblige.

We spend a lot of cultural energy on being special – on being unique. It would be great if we could invest more in the power of connection, empathy and the joys of belonging. Now there’s a challenge for awards seasons!

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