September 2, 2018
Imperfection and perfection go so hand in hand, and our dark and our light are so intertwined, that by trying to push the darkness or negative aspects of our life to the side…we are preventing ourselves from the fullness of life.
– Jeff Bridges –
Your life is not about you. Your life is about all the people you touch.
I heard those two sentences in a video about David Flood, a parent telling a story about the generosity of a group of 10 and 11 year old hockey players who gave their autistic team mate, David’s son, the opportunity to make the tie-breaking goal in their final game of the season.
David’s powerful message is stop looking at the outside. Look inside. Find the heart of the person you’re standing near. Look them in the eye. See behind their eyes into their spirit. See that you are more like them than different, regardless of what they have or have not accomplished, what they’re wearing, or how they look.
Please watch the video. It’s only 4 1/2 minutes. You’ll find it here.
Those boys engaged in what is called ‘moral elevation’. Moral elevation is when we see others behave virtuously or with great compassion, we are inspired to be more compassionate ourselves.
Jonathan Haidt, a Social Psychologist and professor at New York University, who is considered an expert on morality and moral emotions, explains:
“Elevation is elicited by acts of virtue or moral beauty; it causes warm, open feelings in the chest; and it motivates people to behave more virtuously themselves.”
Haight also posits that moral elevation creates a feeling of warmth toward humanity. He defines it as the opposite of disgust. Has there ever been a time when we’ve needed moral elevation more?
In a 2010 study, Haidt, Michelangelo Vianello, and Elisa Maria Galliani explored the effects of moral elevation in the workplace. One of the most important outcomes of the study was that a leader’s ability to emotionally elevate those around them with virtuous behavior can strengthen their employees’ attitudes and help cultivate a healthy organizational culture. Because moral elevation increases prosocial tendencies, the potential is that it can unite even larger communities. See where I’m going?
Those hockey players didn’t just change the life of David’s son. They changed David’s life. He has had the opportunity to share his story with thousands of people around the country. Who knows how many people those 10 and 11 year old boys have touched, and how many lives have been altered in ways we can only imagine.
My son recently made a suggestion to address the political divisiveness fueled by tweets and articles that are bent on keeping us holding each other in contempt. He thinks he has more in common with those on the other side of the issues than he has with the extremes on his side. He suggested we get all the moderates together, whether they lean left (as I do) or right (as he does), and stop giving attention to the fringes and the extremes. I don’t disagree. Let’s keep our eyes on the highest common denominator, not the lowest.
We don”t need to wait for a YouTube moment.
We can, on an individual basis, commit to taking in inspiring, elevating messages every day. We can commit to increasing our mental and emotional health through mindfulness and spiritual practices that keep bringing us home to our best selves. By committing to elevating ourselves we will likely find opportunities to inspire others, and thus play a role in elevating our larger communities.
The next person you see, regardless of how they look on the outside, regardless of their visible accomplishments, and regardless of their position on the divisive topics of the day, consider looking them in the eye, and then look behind their eyes. Soften just long enough to create a safe space, an opportunity for the humanity of both of you to be elevated.