Throughout my adult life I’ve become increasingly interested in the dialogue between psychology and religion, between science and faith. This book affirms that the more I read and understand, the more I see that science can be a window into the “law that is written on our hearts.” (Jer 31:33 “ I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people”).
Let me explain. We’ve heard people try to use science against religion, and religion against science. But what blows me away about the relationship between science and religion (and I didn’t come up with it) is how science can be used as a human tool to discover and describe the amazing way God works in creation. His Truth reveals itself in nature.
That leads me to this book. If you’re at all interested in psychology or neurology, or if you have kids or are thinking of raising kids, or if you work with kids, or just if you interact with people other than yourself on a daily basis (I think I covered everyone!), you can learn something from this book.
The premise lies in the tagline of the title – “why empathy is essential – and endangered.” Dr. Perry, MD, PhD and Szalavitz, a journalist, talk about the absolute necessity for human empathy in the healthy rearing and development of the human person. If children aren’t held and made to feel safe and cared for, especially during the early years, the later effects are tragic. Developmental delays, language deficiencies, inability to cope with stress, difficulty in attaching to parents and others later in life, anti-social tendencies such as bullying, and even extremes such as becoming a sociopath are all possible consequences of depriving a child of vital, loving relationships. Isn’t that mind blowing? That lack of love can have such physical ramifications – and on the positive side – that the presence of love can be so powerful?
Even more amazing is that we can study the process of empathy not only on the behavioral level, but also on the neurological level. Check out this excerpt. Dr Perry explains why empathy is essential for mankind, and how it is rooted in our brain chemistry through special cells called “mirror neurons.” He says that “mirror neurons” are the neurons that are activated when we experience something occurring vicariously, like when someone is telling us what happened to them, or we’re watching a show, etc. The mirror neurons act in such a way that our brain chemistry looks just like our brains would if the event were actually happening to us. Our brains “mirror” what the other person is feeling as we empathize with them!
“…empathy is the foundation of trust, which is necessary for the successful functioning of everything from relationships to families to governments and, yes, to economies. Sages, religious leaders, and philosophers have, of course, long known that consideration of others is a cornerstone of morality. In all great religions, for example, there’s an equivalent of the Golden Rule, a summary of moral teachings that suggests that considering how you would want to be treated in the same situation is a good guide to doing the right thing. From the biblical “Love thy neighbor as thyself” to the Taoist “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss,” to the Islamic “None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself,” and the Talmudic, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest of commentary.”…All of these “Golden Rules” show how greatly morality depends on empathy and our ability to see the world from other p
oints of view. And this starts with mirror neurons.
It’s as though we were born with a program that automatically runs a simulation of the experience of others. Rather than having to consciously consider, “What would it be like to feel what he does?” we do it without even thinking, our brain mapping the other’s experience onto our own limbs and body. This kind of empathy isn’t at all about conscious deliberation. We experience it like any other sensation, and choices come in only later, when we decide how to act on the information.” (p22-23).
There are many detailed examples and case studies in the book that I don’t have room for here, but they all affirm how necessary empathy is to our physical, emotional and biological well-being, and to our well-being as a society. The big idea is that through science and psychology we can see how God wired our bodies to thrive under the conditions that He mandated for us in His Perfect Plan of Love for all humankind. Christ said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” — and He created us in His image to follow that great commandment. It’s what God made us to do. Literally, we are chemically and biologically wired to need empathy, to thrive on empathy, and to be happier and more successful when we give empathy to others and receive it ourselves.
If we treat each other, especially the smallest and most vulnerable, with empathy and compassion, the Kingdom of God will be among us. And if we break from that, if we deny the law of love that He wired into our hearts and souls, natural consequences will follow. The responsibility belongs to us alone.
To learn more, click the image above to buy the book, or visit Dr. Perry’s website at http://www.childtrauma.org