Half a second of compassion – my reason for hope


In 2016 Dr Jonathan Levy, a postdoctoral researcher, conducted a study using MEG (magnetoencephalography).  Here he took a group of 80 male and female Arabs and Jews in Israel, aged 16- 18 years, and exposed them one by one to images of people who had suffered some trauma (a stabbing for example). By studying these young people’s brain scans at the time they looked at the images , he was able to gain insight into the brain activity of the participants, importantly how individuals reacted to witnessing the trauma of another.  Not surprisingly, there was heightened empathy towards someone who was identified as belonging to one’s “own” group. But what is really interesting, and my reason for hope, is that before this, in the first few hundred milliseconds of exposure there was a short burst of automatic brain activity of empathy for the “other” regardless of which group they belonged to; it was after that a more advanced “selective” empathy system kicked in.

People often ask me what is my reason for hope. And it’s this – the goodness of the human heart. It’s that we humans as a species are programmed to care, just as Levy saw in that lab in 2016.  The tragedy, though, is that through distance, convenience, peer pressure, vested interests and more, we have become disconnected from that innate ability to empathise with others, with a “selective” empathy overriding our spontaneous initial empathy.  And when we do this and close ourselves to the suffering of another be that other human or non-human, a part of our heart shuts down too. It’s the only way we can accept the suffering that a pure heart never would, and it makes it easier when we see actions that cause such suffering to become “normalised” and beyond question.

And so we come to accept the things we are doing to animals on a global scale in the name of food, fashion and fun. Not only are these practices cruel (and in most cases unnecessary), but they go against our basic tenets of compassion, kindness and mercy which kick in, in that first half a second of thought.

In these incredibly troubled times, from major conflicts between nations, to, closer to home, road rage and home invasions, never before were more poignant the words of the great humanitarian, philosopher, and physician – Albert Schweitzer: “Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” And there can be no better time to find that peace than in that first millisecond window – let’s seize it, hold it, run with it, for the world and all her inhabitants will be better for it.

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11 thoughts on “Half a second of compassion – my reason for hope

  1. As always, you are on the money Pam. Thank you for the poignant and most beautiful reminder of all we can be when we remember who we really are… Thank you.

  2. Intriguing information, pam. yes, we are conditioned to be selective in our caring. but there are always those of us with a truly open , fearless and compassionate heart, bevering away quietly. Keep on with your resilience and hope.
    Best wishes,

  3. WOW Pam, you’ve done it again!! Not only are you an amazing human being, but you also spread such words of wisdom!
    How true these words are but, so very sadly, not enough people realize the value of them. However, with people like you and your gang, more and more animals are being valued for what they are – sentient beautiful beings that deserve our care and love.

  4. Unfortunately the world will always be full of uncaring selfish people, but while there are loving & caring people like you Pam & your colleagues at Edgar’s mission & other animal lovers around the world there is some light at the end of the tunnel for the unfortunate animals that suffer from human cruelty on a daily basis.

  5. Thank you, Pam. I am uplifted by your wisdom and ongoing fight for peace for all sentient beings. I am wondering, however, to send your message to friends who are heavy meat-eaters – wiil they feel defensive or feel wise?

  6. Such beautiful words that ring so true. Can never understand the casual cruelty of humans, when there are yummy & healthy vegetarian/vegan options, they actually choose the so called chicken/pork/beef option. Even if they are “intelligent” human beings with a university degree in an area of caring like nursing, they simply don’t seem to understand that their lazy choice condemns an innocent beautiful animal to a horrifically painful, fearful death when it didn’t have to be. As the motto goes, if we can live happy & healthy lives without harming animals, why wouldn’t we? Anybody who doesn’t live by this motto is an arsehole who should get anally penetrated into that same arsehole by the devil for eternity as far as I’m concerned. Seriously everybody, try to be a decent & caring human being to both animals & humans , not much to ask really!!

  7. Thank you for sharing this great reason to hope. Insights like this can spark real change for a better world – as well as the incredible work you do every day at Edgar’s Mission. Humans aren’t born cruel, we learn it… we can unlearn it too.

  8. Thank you, so very much for your constant hard work and effort for Animals! This is SO spot on!! Once we can FEEL that EVERY creature on the planet is worthy of and deserves our empathy we can see our way through to act on thst empathy!! ❤️❤️

  9. I just love your articles Pam, you are a very talented writer who puts things forward in a clear, concise and very readable manner. What a wonderful, compassionate human being you are. We, and the animals are lucky to have you.

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