Friday, February 7, 2014

Contagion - or, When You're Smiling

I have to admit that when I worked for a couple of years as a microbiologist not too long ago (Car 16 - a Reminiscence), I thought it was really cool to be in a place that had creepy biohazard symbols posted on the doors and refrigerators. We worked with some fairly nasty critters living in test tubes and petri dishes that, if they made it from the lab into the coffee room, could turn the latter into Ground Zero of our very own epidemic.

On the subject of spreading, I was pleasantly surprised to read these words and then learn who wrote them:

Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others. As it expands, goodness takes root and develops. If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good.
This is always a slow process and we can be overly fearful. But if we allow doubts and fears to dampen our courage, instead of being creative we will remain comfortable and make no progress whatsoever. In this case we will not take an active part in historical processes, but become mere onlookers as the Church [or the world, or society, or the individual] gradually stagnates.
                 - Pope Francis (Evangelii Gaudium Nov. 24, 2013)

I think this applies to each of our own efforts to influence the spread of compassion, whether in general, or in specific undertakings like promoting gender equality and animal liberation, or working to eliminate the death penalty and war.

We sometimes wonder, in acts of kindness, does size matter? Just sharing a smile, or, like Mother Teresa, living a tireless life deeply dedicated to relieving suffering. I think if we act with our whole heart when an opportunity to be kind presents itself, perhaps the question doesn't matter. (By the way, Mother Teresa said, “I know God won't give me anything I can't handle. I just wish he didn't trust me so much.”)

Little things can add up to a lot. Tipping points are reached when small things reach a critical mass. Videos of random acts of kindness can go viral.

A life full of kindness of any kind is a full life.

A little tubbier then, with elbow in the Listeria monocytogenes


  1. Your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behavior does.
    Your mind training doesn’t matter when you don’t have compassion.
    Your meditation doesn’t matter when you don’t see your own faults.

    ~Phakchok Rinpoche

    1. Thanks, Bob. I had a good read of In Search of Self over at The Conscious Process.

    2. Dave, I still marvel at the everyday miracle of being able to exchange our thoughts and writings over the distances. When we were growing up, one would have needed to write a newspaper or magazine article, or get a book published, if they wanted to communicate in a way that many now take for granted due to the internet. It's all good -- keep smiling!


    3. Truly. The concept of a cybersangha would be something out of science fiction!

  2. OMG David, tears, tears, tears with that first video! From Russia with Love! :) A love that just comes naturally it seems, not because one is on a "spiritual path", or because on is "enlightened" but because when we allow ourselves to open to life, we just *naturally* act out of love and kindness... (one would hope anyway)... Amazing how our/my stereotypes of "other people" and "cultures" (no pun intended:) can blind us to the Heart that lives everywhere! Thanks for posting the video! I will send it on! Big Hugs, in case you need one too :) LOL

    btw - what changed your direction to become a lawyer?

    1. Hi Christine! The video chokes me up too. A little encouragement about the kindness in human nature is always welcome and goes a long way.

      Science was really cool and an intellectual challenge, and so is law, but law gave me a chance to intact and hopefully make a difference in people's lives... and be theatrical :) Science was a bit like playing with a chemistry set but law was more a path with heart.

  3. Hi David,
    *smiling* A timely video from Russia, my mom used to sing that song, Pope Francis said that? -wow, and, a cool scientist who liked 'creepy biohazard symbols' *smiling*
    Over 10 years ago, out of the blue, an older couple (strangers), smiled compassionately at me when I needed it the most. It was like a warm blanket placed over my shoulders and it changed my world. Amazed at the power of a timely smile, I will always remember that moment, which a decade later I still wonder who they were, and am compelled to 'pay it forward'.
    Thanks for the fun time at Snow Branches *still smiling*

    1. *smiling back* Hi Susan. I've had the benefit of the kindness of strangers too. Definitely a motivation to pass it on. Glad you like visiting. *still smiling back*

  4. I think we can all relate to the kind of good feeling inside when we do something thoughtful or helpful to another. That kind of emotional health can't be found in a jar for any amount of money.

    The idea that we're getting more considerate, more civilized and less violent is explored in Stephen Pinker's book Our Better Angels. Maybe he and you are on to something?

    I'm glad you're out of the Listeria monocytogenes business... Far too much of it comes from unhappy sources.

    1. Hi Bea, thanks for the lead to Pinker's book - I'm definitely going to read it - here's a little blurb from Wikipedia:

      Pinker presents a large amount of data (and statistical analysis thereof) that, he argues, demonstrate that violence has been in decline over millennia and that the present is probably the most peaceful time in the history of the human species. The decline in violence, he argues, is enormous in magnitude, visible on both long and short time scales, and found in many domains, including military conflict, homicide, genocide, torture, criminal justice, treatment of children, homosexuals, animals and racial and ethnic minorities. He stresses that "The decline, to be sure, has not been smooth; it has not brought violence down to zero; and it is not guaranteed to continue."

      Yes Listeria is pretty nasty and seems to pass around the meat and dairy industry.

  5. Yes, the best contagion is the kindness contagion. This one spreads with a smile.


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