A Different Kind of Global Warming: Our Emotional Footprint

Our Emotional Footprint may be just as significant as our Carbon Footprint.

Posted Dec 01, 2015

                               A Different Kind of Global Warming      

        It is clear that the world (except perhaps for the Republican Party) has finally become concerned about global warming and our carbon footprint. This is especially so today when world leaders are meeting at the World Climate Change talks in Paris in an attempt to stem the consequences of global warming.

     There is optimism that human ingenuity and dedication will ultimately reduce our carbon footprint, just as we have overcome daunting challenges before.

      I am less sanguine however that we will be successful in meeting another footprint that equally endangers our existence: This is our “Emotional Footprint,” what we contribute, psychologically and socially, to each other and to our communities while we are here and to our emotional legacies after we are gone.

      Our emotional footprint can be positive, created with care and benevolence, or it can be negative, influenced by our selfishness, abuse, and nastiness.

      We seem to be living in an age of incivility. Politicians and celebrities are often publicly nasty, setting examples for their acolytes. Many people are unpleasant even in their daily dealings with each other at home, at work and elsewhere. Media pundits fill our airwaves and screens with hateful diatribes and verbal slurs. Cyber bullying is common, and vile “trolling” on the internet reaches new lows in degradation.

      These assaults are relentless and cumulative, which affects and stresses us, and also serve as a model of behavior to our impressionable children and youth. They raise the level of ill will and social discomfort in the population, imprinting a negative emotional footprint on listeners and watchers.

        These incivilities do real damage to the social atmosphere we live in. Having different opinions is as human as breathing, and differing views should be appreciated. But when they’re delivered with invective and derision, we enter into an unpleasant social arena. They affect everyone, engendering “bad moods,” abrasiveness, and ultimately, demoralization.

        Omnipresent anger breeds aggression, which culminates in conflict and violence in families and communities, and on a global level, hostilities and wars.

        We have important choices: We can choose to continue on paths of antagonism and conflict, or we can choose to act with more tolerance, respect and kindness. If we can be convinced that we must change, we could bring the same kind of international awareness and commitment to that task as we are now bringing to reducing global warming.

       A positive emotional footprint is what the world should be striving for. In a recent blog I mentioned the Yiddish concept of a mensch as one who acts with respect, tolerance, and generosity of spirit. It is related to the Bantu concept of Ubantu, which Bishop Desmond Tutu refers to as “the essence of being human.”      

       These words emphasize that we are members of many different backgrounds and communities, but essentially we are of one common social network, the Community of Humanity. We are affected by “social contagion,” the spread of our moods and attitudes.

        A culture typified by frequent rudeness and intolerance manifests increased rancor among its people. Conversely, in a culture that stresses mutual respect and cooperation, the predominant mood is positive and generative.

        Just as we can decide in many small and large ways either to increase or decrease our carbon footprint, we have another important choice: We can choose negativism, rudeness, intolerance and discord, or we can opt for civility, respect, and cooperation and compassion: A positive emotional footprint.    

        Which will we choose? And by the way, what is your emotional footprint?