A passion for compassion
“Why, in a country that consumes 25% of the world’s resources (the USA), is there an epidemic of loneliness, depression, and anxiety? Why do so many in the West who have all of their basic needs met still feel impoverished? While some politicians might answer, ‘It’s the economy, stupid,’ based on scientific evidence a better answer is, ‘It’s the lack compassion, stupid.’”
This is how James Doty began a blog he wrote recently for The Huffington Post. It’s a powerful opening because it highlights the extent to which governments misunderstand the causes of happiness, believing everlasting economic growth to be the antidote to all that ails us. Fortunately there are individuals like Doty on a mission to seismically shift the dominant paradigm.
Doty is a neuroscientist, entrepreneur and philanthropist whose later life trajectory belies hard and humble beginnings. Doty, who is presenting at Mind & Its Potential in October, shares here some of his personal story, including a pivotal encounter he had when he was still a young boy living in a poor and dysfunctional home with an alcoholic dad and invalid mum.
Doty describes how one day when he was 13 he walked into a magic shop and met the owner’s mother who took a liking to him and promised that if he returned she’d teach him how he could change his life. He had nothing better to do, so he went back and during a six-week period, learnt about mindfulness, visualisation and positive thinking. He says the interaction was “transformative” because it showed him that he could steer his own destiny.
Doty went on to get an education, train as a neurosurgeon and succeed big time as an entrepreneur. Having grown up with so little, Doty says that at first his priority was to amass enormous wealth believing this would bring him happiness. He soon realised though, “I was chasing a chimera”.
Then the dot.com bubble burst and Doty was effectively bankrupt, except he still had stock in a company yet to go public. When it did, he cashed in and donated most of the proceeds to charity. The experience was an epiphany. Doty realised what really made his heart sing was “serving others and being compassionate.”
All you need is love
Indeed, it’s to this end that Doty founded the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), a community of scholars and researchers, including neuroscientists, psychologists, educators and philosophic and contemplative thinkers, all dedicated to the study of compassion.
Doty asks us to “imagine for a second a world in which there’s no bullying, a prison system in which the recidivism and violence rate is minimal, a corporate environment where days lost from work due to stress and mind body disconnect don’t exist”.
He says this is what he and his team strive for in their work at CCARE – growing the power of compassion, the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others which can transform the human mind so radically that when complete strangers look at each other, they only see their brother.