Our (Positive) Emotional Footprint: A Mission for Humanity

"OEF" is as crucial as our carbon footprint, and needs to be nurtured.

Posted Jan 25, 2016

     It's clear that we have finally become serious about the reality of our carbon footprint and global warming. The vast majority of world leaders and scientists support the resolutions of the recent World Climate Change talks in Paris.

     There is guarded optimism that human ingenuity and dedication will ultimately reduce the effects of man-made climate change, just as we have overcome daunting challenges before.

     But I'm less optimistic that we'll be successful in meeting another footprint that equally endangers our existence: This is our “Emotional Footprint,” or what we contribute psychologically and socially to each other and to our communities while we are here, and to our legacies after we are gone.

      Our emotional footprint can be positive, imbued with courtesy, kindness and caring, or it can be negative, typified by rudeness, aggression and rancor.

      We seem to be living in an age of incivility. Politicians and media pundits fill our airwaves and screens with diatribes and slurs, and bullying and vile “trolling” on the internet reach new lows in degradation. Many people are rude and unpleasant even in their daily dealings with each other at home, at work and in their communities.

      These verbal assaults provide relentless and cumulative "noise," and they damage the social climate we live in. Displays of incivility stress us, and serve as models of behavior for our children and youth. They raise the level of anxiety and anger, imprinting a negative emotional footprint on all of us. 

      Holding different opinions is as human as breathing, and differing views should be appreciated. But when they’re delivered with invective and derision, we enter an unpleasant social arena. Omnipresent anger breeds aggression, which culminates in conflict and violence in families and communities. On a global level, perpetual rancor and aggression lead to hostilities and wars.

        We have important choices to make at home and abroad: We can continue on paths of antagonism and conflict, or we can choose to act with more tolerance, respect and kindness. A positive emotional footprint is what all humans should be striving for. We could bring the same kind of international awareness and commitment to that task as we are now bringing to reducing global warming.

        The Yiddish concept of a mensch, one who acts with respect and kindness is related to the Bantu concept of Ubuntu, which means “the essence of being human." They both emphasize that we may be members of many different communities, but we are of essentially of one common social network, the Community of Humanity.

        Our attitudes and behavior affect others via “social contagion,” the spread of our moods and attitudes. A culture burdened by everyday rudeness and intolerance, shows increased rancor among its people. Conversely, a culture graced by mutual respect and kindness, generates a positive atmosphere and moods.

        Just as we can decide to increase or decrease our carbon footprint, we have another critical choice: We can continue to exhibit rudeness, intolerance and discord, and leave a negative emotional footprint, or we can opt for civility, respect, cooperation and compassion: A positive emotional footprint.    

        By the way, what's your Emotional Footprint?