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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Passion and Pathos

In my daily jog,  I was meditating on compassion. Then I started reflecting on empathy and wondered what the difference is. And then sympathy which is the Greek form of compassion. And then impassion which is the Latin form of empathy.

Empathy is being used now as sort of a neuroscience term to describe how the brain mirrors the activities and feelings of another. This has been shown through brain scans that leads to the conjecture of "mirror neurons." It is used in studies of cognitive development in children. It is an explanation for the capacity for compassion which is more of a moral term.

The way we use these Greek and Latin derived terms, it seems to me, is that pathos is more passive, and passion is more active. I suffer pathos; I instill passion. To impassion means to stimulate passion in another. Compassion is a moral choice to feel another's pain. Sympathy is the receiving of a feeling from another. Empathy is stimulated by caregivers in the development of the brain.

But in any case, we are talking about the relationship of a person to other persons and the sharing of feelings and connection of minds.

What this jogging refection made me think about is the importance of what I shall call the "postmodern insight" that propels us beyond the dualities and dilemmas of the classical, theological, and modern eras. And hopefully it leads us away from their destructive conflicts: individualism vs. socialism, empiricism vs. idealism, spiritualism vs. materialism, the sacred vs. the secular, transcendence vs. immanence, conservative vs. progressive.

As our living organism evolves in its environment, the adaptation goes two ways. In other words, as our bodies interact in our world through symbolic behavior, there is a two-directional dialogue. Actually dialogue is a limiting metaphor (as are all metaphors). The symbolic interaction is more a collaboration in a joint product rather than separate stages of listening and speaking. It is both a discovery and a construction of things in the same moment, that is, at the same time and place. In fact, it is in this moment of construction and discovery of the world that the perception of time and space and others appears.

So there are not just two directions in the body-world relationship. We have identified eight, maybe ten, directions in the same moment. And perhaps an infinite number. Like the center of a circle that radiates out to the circumference, the number of radii and diameters are infinite--much as the number of angels dancing on the pin-head of a needle.

Action is passion from different viewpoints. Integrity is the view from the center where you and I, past and future, consciousness and universe, individuality and sociality, retrieval and creation, discovery and construction are all one.

I realize that this is a tough sell. It doesn't fit in our common sense world--our accepted culture, our everyday politics, and our conventional economy. It is hard to grasp that the center of the universe is in each one of us, that your center, my center, our center is in tension to every other center, and that this center exists only as a point in a relationship. It is the dynamic, developing, ever-changing relationship where you and I, the past and future, the ideal and the real, the personal and the social, the immanent and the transcendent reside.

We are at that point in our politics, our economics, and our culture. If we can get this intellectually and practically, we have a chance. If not, I pray that somewhere in this universe or multiverse, they will.

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