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Book Review: The Compassionate Instinct

February 15, 2010

The Compassionate Instinct
Edited by Dacher Keltner, Jason Marsh and Jeremy Adam Smith
Published by W.W. Norton

“The Compassionate Instinct” is a compilation of articles written and published in the magazine titled “Greater Good”, it breaks down the idea that scientists had held of humans as selfish, cold beings. Scientists today believe this not to be true and that underneath all the selfishness is a primal urge to live our lives in a compassionate manner.

There are articles written by such notables as Desmond Tutu, Paul Ekman interviewing His Holiness the Dalai Lama and more. This compilation of essays is broken down into three sections “The Science Roots of Human Kindness”, “How To Cultivate Goodness in Relationships with Friends, Family, Coworkers and Neighbors” and “How To Cultivate Goodness in Society and Politics”.

I really enjoyed the talk/ article “Can I Trust You?” written by Jason Marsh. The article is a conversation with the author Paul Ekman and his daughter Eve. Paul, being a psychologist and expert on facial expressions, it was difficult raising a daughter when he was an expert on being able to tell when someone was lying. Rather than asking direct questions though, where he might have caught Eve in a lie, he asked open ended questions that would let her tell the story.

“A Different View” was another favorite essay of mine. The ideas laid out in this were very similar to the ideals of right view in Buddhism. There are other great articles with topics such as “Pay It Forward” that we’ve heard of, but it breaks down the theory behind why these ideas and actions are a good thing.

I am no scientist, so sometimes I felt things were a bit wordy, but again I am no scientist or scholar I am a mere caveman like being. I did thoroughly enjoy the book and recommend you read it if this sounds interesting.

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