woman who reads too much (boxofdelights) wrote,
woman who reads too much

wednesday reading

• What are you reading?

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, by Chris Bohjalian, for Tawanda book group. Misery soup. Like grimdark, except no action sequences. Or suspense: lots of flashbacks and forshadowing assure you that it is misery soup all the way down.

• What did you recently finish reading?

A Fearless Heart: How the courage to be compassionate can transform our lives, by Thupten Jinpa, PhD. I didn't finish the book, but I'm done with it. This was for a previous Tawanda book group. The one who picked it really wanted us all to read it and think about it, so I gave it a good try, but nope. An example of why I'd find this hard to swallow even if I were convinced it would be good for me:
We can all see that we benefit from other people's kindness, but not everyone benefits equally. How much we do benefit appears to be influenced by how compassionate we are ourselves. A team of scientists studied fifty-nine women in the San Francisco Bay Area. Participants filled out a questionnaire that measured their individual level of compassion; they were then randomly divided into two groups. About a week later, the participants came to a laboratory session, where they were asked to do three things: give a speech in the presence of two experimenters, participate in an interview, and do a math task. Each person was given five minutes to think about a speech, while they were hooked up to machines, such as electroencephalographs, that would measure brain waves and certain body functions. For one group, one of the experimenters made positive comments such as "You are doing great," or smiled, nodded in agreement, or made other affirming gestures while the participants engaged in the tasks. For the other group, the experimenters did not offer any positive encouragement.

Strikingly, the participants who scored high on the compassion scale and received supportive signals from an experimenter had lower blood pressure, lower cortisol reactivity, and higher heart rate variability -- all proven to be associated with physical health and social well-being -- especially during the most stressful of the tasks, giving a speech. Compared to their counterparts in the second group, these same individuals also reported liking the experimenters more. These effects were not observed for those who were in the group that received supportive gestures but scored low on compassion scale and those who, although scoring high on the compassion scale, did not receive encouragement. In summarizing their findings, the researchers noted that "those who are more compassionate may also be more benefitted by support, particularly during acute stress situations." In other words, to benefit most from others' kindness we need to be ready with kindness of our own.

That is one possible explanation. Another is that your self-reported compassion scale is actually testing for people who care a lot about making a good impression on the experimenter. Then the experiment shows that people who care a lot about making a good impression on the experimenter respond positively to signs that the experimenter approves of them.

My explanation has the same explanatory power as yours. Since mine posits one entity instead of two (being compassionate and responding positively to kindness), Occam's razor says mine is preferable.

The thing is, I didn't have any objection to the claim that compassion is good for you. I was happy to take it on trust. But propping it up with buttresses that are obviously painted canvas and don't even go all the way to the top breaks my willingness to trust and replaces it with nothing.

• What do you think you’ll read next?

I just found Who Do You Love, by Jennifer Weiner, at the library.

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