Roots of Empathy

Fighting bullying with babies. “When you’ve got emotion and cognition happening at the same time, that’s deep learning,” explains Gordon. “That’s learning that will last.”

How falling in love is like being on cocaine.


Go Go Sotomayor!

“Justice Sonia Sotomayor is accustomed to being underestimated and to surpassing the expectations of her doubters. So I’ll wonder if she even took the time to ponder the leak last week of a May 2009 letter to President Obama from a famous Harvard law professor lobbying for the selection of Elena Kagan to replace Justice David H. Souter, whose retirement had recently been announced. I’m quite sure it is the professor, Laurence H. Tribe, rather than Justice Sotomayor, who is mortified by the revelation that he had dissed the soon-to-be-nominee, a graduate of Princeton and Yale Law School, as “not as smart as she seems to think she is.”’

Talking about running

Blazed through Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running this week.  Murakami has this mellow conversational style to his writing that treats the extraordinary almost as a matter of course.  Running is his memoir of life as a novelist and a runner, and I feel like it shares some similar qualities with the only other Murakami book I’ve read — Wind Up Bird Chronicles.  There’s the fantastical and the grim, but he treats those elements like they’re really just light things.  Running a 62 mile ultramarathon? He doesn’t have much to say about first 30 miles (!) cause the last 8 were really the toughest to get through.

Realized after reading this that getting through pain, enduring it, enjoying the challenge of it, and even forgetting enough of it to tackle it again in the future (like childbirth) is what has brought him fulfillment and success in the paths that he’s chosen.  Like the video of children in the Marshmallow experiment, that never stops amazing me at how it’s such a neat metaphor for adult life – desire, attainment, ambition, self-restraint.

It’s amazing because those essential emotions don’t really change when you get older, and you can recognize those emotions you still feel but just don’t externalize like these kids do.  Like the feeling that “I just DON’T WANT TO DO THIS!” but instead of squirming we give ourselves migraines, drink and procrastinate, or just get bitter, in order to cope with it.

Getting yourself out of bed to run at 6:30 in the morning is already a start.  At least attempting it, persisting in attempting, even though you might not be able to run for an entire mile.  That is your goal – your deeply personal, individual goal.  You might have natural talent for whatever it is you want to do, but it’s not enough.  You must keep racing yourself, and really for no one but yourself.  In such a way it’s easier to see what you were meant to do, need to do, and no longer care about the approval or disapproval of those around you.  And maybe you’ll find others like yourself running along that path that you’ve chosen.  Like Murakami running along the Charles, you’ll nod and smile at your fellow runners in the chilly New England fall, knowing that you are alone and yet not alone.

Do this before leaving the house

1) Don’t leave home angry

2) Tell the people you love how much you love them

3) Live without regrets as much as possible

“God said, ‘This is your only life.  Be grateful.”

Woman tells of her survival of a airplane crash on NPR’s Storycorps.

Please don’t forget.  Now I remember why I’ve always been fascinated by stories like Into the Wild, about young Christopher McCandless who walked into the Alaskan wilderness and never came back.  I Came From a Plane That Crashed in the Mountains, the Uruguayan soccer team that crashed into the Andes and survived for months under the harshest deprivation.

There are too many ways to waste a life.  Love, learn, move, and be FREE.

Loving v. Virginia, 1967

Mildred and Richard Loving

Laws that tell us who we can and can’t marry have existed long before the same-sex marriage issue even entered people’s minds.  Mildred and Richard Loving, a Virginia couple in the 1960s, married in DC in order to avoid the ban on interracial marriage in Virginia.  Not only did VA laws nullify interracial marriage and make it impossible to begin with, there was also a provision that treated any attempt to marry in another state a criminal offense.  Police officers burst into the couple’s home trying to catch them in the act of having sex, since interracial sex was also a crime at the time, needless to say.

In Loving v. Virginia in 1967, the Supreme Court finally overturned Virginia’s earlier statutes against interracial marriage on the grounds that they violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Court concluded that “the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.”

Hallelujah, here’s a solid precedent for same-sex marriage, right?  Freedom to marry as an essential right set forth in the Declaration?  Not so.  As some New Yorkers may remember, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in 2006 against using the Loving v. Virginia case a basis for same-sex marriage because the Supreme Court had stated in their ruling that marriage is “fundamental” to “existence and survival”, which points to procreation as the foundation of marriage.

Hmm.  So I guess love isn’t the basis of marriage, but making babies.  Shouldn’t proponents of heterosexual marriages then direct as much attention to married couples who choose not to have children?

The more I read about law in the United States, the more I see its power and its limits in expanding civil rights and creating a more just society.  Dockets are built slowly over the course of years and even decades.  It’s a fundamentally conservative process – an English litigator from the 17th century would probably be able to follow trial procedures that happen today.  A never-ending debate that occurs via incremental battles, and so many that the public are never aware of.

It was only in 2000 that Alabama amended their organic law through referendum to remove the ban on interracial marriage.  Jesus.  The dark days weren’t that long ago.  What was once taken for granted just a few decades ago is now morally reprehensible and backward, and only then through the back-breaking work of civil rights activists and all their supporters.  It makes me wonder what we’re doing now that our grandchildren will look back on and wish we had done differently.

David from the dentist

“Is this FOREVER?”  the kid asks, and his dad laughs.  We chuckle because we know that it’s such a kid thing to say.  It’s easy for kids to think that a present, temporary state will last forever, because they’re not as used to change as we are.  They haven’t seen the myriad ways in which what once seemed permanent begins to shift and melt away.  People around you pass away, you move, and age, and your body begins to change too without your having any say in it.

This is where I am right now.  Constantly asking “Is this going to be FOREVER?”  Am at the crux of not knowing whether I am young or old, whether I should be wholly responsible for myself, or still entwined with my family.  Law school or grad school or work or what?  There aren’t any grades or rules anymore to measure myself by.  That’s alternately, simultaneously liberating and frightening.  What now?  is the question that constantly presents itself.  What should I try next?  And how to get there?

I’m 24 years old right now.  It’s important to stop and think about that, because it’s too easy to watch the days, weeks, and months slip by without being conscious of what substantive things I’ve been able to do in that time.  I won’t wait passively for the next big thing, the next ready-made pre-fab Ikea life goal to present itself before deciding what I can be and do in the world.

There is much that is broken in this world.  Once you’ve acknowledged this as a truth for you, you have a series of choices.  Watch the problems unfold from a distance (until the tide reaches you), run for the nearest shelter and wait for the storm to pass (which it never will.  there will always be storms), do what you can to help rectify them.  I’ve always said that I don’t need to save the world, change the world.  Just make the world a little better in my own small way, every day, in a sustainable way.  It might not be enough.  It might be a futile gesture, and it will be hard.  It might be thankless in the sense of social and financial status.  But at least attempt, that’s all we can do.  You can choose for yourself what the project of your life will be, which you will never finish.  That is the truth, you endlessly optimistic Americans.  But it’s ok.  Choose what will give you meaning, or make meaning for yourself.

Salinger, Recluse

Why I believe literature will not die.  It might not live as widely in print, but the feeling of getting into someone else’s head, feeling their feelings, experiences, and desires.  That’s what good art does – allows us to feel for each other and to practice being something other than oneself.  When else can you really do such a thing?
I went to a Wesleyan alumni talk a few weeks ago where Amy Bloom said that people often mistake her for a compassionate writer when she’s actually an insatiably curious writer.  For me, curiosity is inextricable from empathy and com-passion.  Con-passion.  To suffer with, feel with.  To be interested in something or someone is to step into that subject-position and vantage point.  I feel that I can at least try to see with a thousand eyes, one at a time, to understand the world that much better.  “He can’t be himself to others, and he doesn’t really try in some ways. But you can see that he’s captivated by his own spirit.”  I love this because it is so true.  Though it has to be tempered with openness and generosity, but can’t that be manifested in more ways than can be portrayed by the media?
So many half-finished thoughts today.  I started reading Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain the other day, and have found that it doesn’t make me angry anymore.  In fact, I like it.  Go figure.

Letters of JD Salinger open to the public for the first time.

“The lust for Salinger gossip reached a fever pitch when he died in January. Successful authors, like any public figures nowadays, are expected to prostrate themselves in front of our culture and allow their lives to be picked clean. Salinger would not. …These letters confirm a few theories about Salinger, including the fact that he continued to write from his secluded home in Cornish, New Hampshire, and was quietly sitting on several unpublished novels and stories. They also tear down some damning assumptions—that Salinger was a complete misanthrope, that he hated children, and that he was incapable of caring for anybody, paralyzed by his distaste for phonies and literary leeches. In these letters, in fact, he’s a wit, a devoted father, a lonely middle-aged man and at his core, the kind of writer who just wants to write until he can’t put pen to paper anymore, because that’s the only truth he knows.  ‘Some of the letters are very dark, but they also show a kind of witty, jollier side of J.D. Salinger that I never knew existed,’ Kiely says.  ‘He knows himself really, really well. His self-knowledge is what comes through—he can’t be himself to others, and he doesn’t really try in some ways. But you can see that he’s captivated by his own spirit.‘– TONY

Keep dancing, keep running, painting, stretching, creating, till you can’t put pen to paper anymore.