Hard-wired for Compassion
Has evolution prepared us to be more caring with age?
Posted May 31, 2011
I could not be happier with the result.
This new edition features a foreword by Gail Sheehy, the author of PASSAGES and other deeply reported books that have changed the way we think about growing older.
It also includes a reading group guide, a selection of readers' stories, and a practical, step-by-step guide to tackling your own unfinished business.
What I like most about Sheehy's foreword is how she frames my story generationally. "After fifty," she writes, "the passages of our lives are largely unpredictable. They are often precipitated by a life accident -- a blowout in our infrastructure, an unexpected divorce, the sudden death of a parent or a contemporary, or the shock of a full stop in career acceleration." That's precisely what happened to me at age 54 when I was fired from my job as editor-in-chief of Parade.
Sheehy notes how these "life accidents" and "brutal wake-up calls" can be a blessing in disguise, moving our focus from competitiveness and an obsession with outer success to an emphasis on our inner lives and what she calls "a broader sense of compassion."
She cites recent research that validates Darwin's observation that "the strongest instincts in early man were sympathy and compassion" -- not greed and raw self-interest as so many social psychologists have claimed.
"Among our hominid predecessors, [Darwin] argued, it was the communities of sympathetic individuals who were more successful in raising healthy offspring to the age when they too could reproduce. That was the surest route to getting these genes to the next generation. . .Recent scientific studies of emotion by social psychologists like Dacher Keltner and the psychology lab at the University of California, Berkeley, are finding evidence that humans are hard-wired for compassion and caring. These are biologically-based emotions rooted deep in the mammalian brain."
In the year since UNFINISHED BUSINESS was published, hundreds of readers have contacted me on my web site, through call-in radio shows, and during my book tour appearances with stories of their own unfinished business. I have included some of the most inspiring of these stories in the paperback edition of the book. You'll meet people who have lost jobs, homes and loved ones. Yet these "life accidents" have led them to re-evaluate their lives and re-order their priorities. And, in the process of reaching out and righting past wrongs, they have found themselves becoming more compassionate and caring, more appreciative and more whole.
When you shift focus as I and these readers did, you end up shedding the unfinished business that keeps weighing you down and holding you back. You are better able to move ahead in your life. You become energized by the vibrant human connectedness that enriches your life daily and helps humanity endure.
The Unfinished Business Toolkit in the back of the paperback is designed to help readers identify and address their unfinished business. It includes strategies and tips for facing your fears, reaching out to others and making amends. I encourage anyone who goes on a journey to address their unfinished business to reflect on their experiences -- and to share them with others in reading groups, through letters and online.
Meanwhile, I will continue to blog about my unfinished business and yours at www.MyUnfinishedBusiness.com and here at www.PsychologyToday.com. Thank you for continuing to share your own stories with me -- and for spreading the word about my book to friends and colleagues who might benefit from it.
Lee Kravitz is the author of UNFINISHED BUSINESS: One Man's Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things (Bloomsbury USA).