Amen, Amen, Amen

An exploration of how obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a gift

Hot Sauce and Synchrony

Learning how to share

My friend Dennis has a theory. If you’re listening to music with someone and you both know the words, it’s human instinct to rush to the chorus.

As in,

You've got mud on your face
You big disgrace
da na na na na

WE WILL WE WILL ROCK YOU

Try it out if you don't believe me. If you blast it really loudly in a car, you may even get a whole street singing. And who doesn't feel better after some Freddie Mercury?

In this past Sunday’s New York Times, David DeSteno wrote a fascinating article about the practice of compassion. He conducted a bunch of experiments—involving hot sauce and synchrony—to see how far compassion can radiate, and how we can cultivate it grow even farther. My favorite experiment involved two people listening to sounds through earphones and tapping their hands on sensors in response. When two people tapped in synchrony, they later showed great compassion for each other, volunteering to do extra work for them. The people who tapped in random, mismatched rhythms, not so much.

Just the act of tapping out a tune together, created this powerful altruistic connection.

I thought about my friend Dennis, whom I haven’t spoken to in more than a decade. Whenever I share a chorus with someone, I think about him. I feel connected to him, to my college friends, to Ramen noodles and argyle socks and the smell of warm beer and Prell shampoo. I like to think I sing louder in Dennis’s honor.

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I had many secrets during my college years—the hours I locked myself in my dorm room each day to pray or count up my piles of litter. The foods I was allowed to eat and not allowed to eat and the notebooks where I had to write devotional lists each day. I had very little time for connecting to other people. I felt little compassion for anyone else. I was too caught up in my rituals and self-pity.

Hopefully, i’ve evolved since then, and continue to do so. I don't want to write about OCD for the rest of my life. I want to write about the space that’s opened up since I found a new groove in my brain. I want to be able to radiate out in new circles of compassion. For me, it starts with sharing; whether it’s a story, a cupcake, or the tap tap tap of a tune we’re hearing together.

I’ll be honest, sharing a meal or a discussion about religion is still incredibly hard for me. I am wired to eat my soup and chant my songs solo. 

Which means I have to follow Dennis and DeSteno’s lead and conduct my own experiments. Turn my music up. Make some dinner plans.

I’m starting here, by sharing this article with you. 

Abby Sher is a writer and performer in Brooklyn, New York, and the author of Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn't Stop Praying.

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