Contribution Wellness

Our compassionate nature

Written by Julia Menard

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”  … Abraham Lincoln

Frans de Waal is a renowned primatologist and the author of several books positing the intelligence of mammals, including The Age of Empathy and The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates.  De Waal points to the capacity of our own cats and dogs to be sensitive to the emotions of others.

When I heard de Waal say that, I remembered the times my dog has come up to me to cuddle when I’ve been crying.  Although I can see her react to the various intense emotions in the house, whether it’s excitement that prompts her to jump up, sadness that prompts her to come close, or anger that prompts her to slink away and hide, I had never thought of her nuanced attention to the emotional climate in the home as being “sensitive to the emotions of others.”

De Waal’s research fills me with hope for our species.  It tells me that not only a chosen few “compassionate” people have inherited the capacity to be attuned to the emotions of others.  All humans, all of us as a collective species, have inherited the capacity to be sensitive to the emotions of others.

His research also tells us we inherit from our mammalian ancestors the capacity for fairness, for compassion and for justice.  Darwin himself even said animals showed signed for altruistic or moral tendencies, growing out of that capacity to feel.

So as I look at my dog and her capacity for loving kindness, it brings me comfort that, fundamentally, beyond the reptile, under our “developed” pre-frontal cortex, we humans too have those angels of our better nature.

About the author

Julia Menard

Have you ever wondered why you can be so calm and rational for your clients, but when it comes to your own life, stress can creep in so easily? That’s the quest I set out on when, after 20 years as a mediator, my own marriage disintegrated. I teamed up with a therapist from Portland, and we wrote a book that captures much of what I’ve learned over the last five years about finding a the calm in the chaos. Hold On To Yourself: How to Stay Cool in Hot Conversations is the result. If you are interested in mindfulness, finding the leader within and engaging the gifts in conflict, then check out my website and sign up for my free monthly newsletter at:

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