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2. Roots, Branches, and the Clear Blue Sky

Barasch, Marc Ian Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Therefore I say, grant reason to any animal with social and
sexual instincts, and yet with passion, he must have conscience.

—Charles Darwin

SOMETIMES WHEN THE WORLD SEEMS A LOVELORN PLACE, I contemplate a snapshot over my desk of two bonobo apes hugging and kissing with lush abandon, and I perk right up. I’m inspired by these fellow primates whose social life is, in the words of one zoologist, “ruled by compassion.” They are, I like to think, a reminder not only of where we come from but of what sort of creature we are at heart.

It isn’t the usual picture of our evolutionary heritage. The official family portrait that science hangs over the mantelpiece depicts us as brainy, aggression-prone apes driven by selfish instincts and constrained (at best) by a thin thread of culture. It’s only lately that some scientists are stressing the more benign traits we share with higher primates: conciliation, nurturance, our flair for alliance— and especially empathy. More than superior smarts and a talent for predation, it may be our ability to sense what others are feeling that has put us on evolution’s fast track—and will be the saving grace that keeps our stock rolling.

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7. The Giveaway

Barasch, Marc Ian Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Whatever joy there is in this world
All comes from desiring others to be happy
And whatever suffering there is in this world
All comes from desiring myself to be happy.

—Shantideva

HAROLD MINTZ IS A BIG, SWEET GALOOT. HE INSISTS ON picking me up at the train station so I don’t get entangled in the color-coded sailor’s knot of the Washington, D.C., subway grid. When I slide into the front seat of his car, he gives me a broad smile and punches my arm, like I’m the buddy he was out shooting hoops with last weekend. He’s a large-boned man, six foot five; with his walrus moustache and thin gold earring, he could be a hip off-duty fireman, the kind who’d tell you a knock-knock joke while resuscitating you from smoke inhalation. When his wife calls on the cell phone (”Yep, got him, honey!”), his ringer trills a few upbeat bars of “Zippity Doo Dah.”

The forty-six-year-old sales VP is as gregarious as a golden retriever and just as convinced the world means him well. He knows why I’m here: a field trip to observe, in its native habitat, the rare Altruistus americanus. I’ve got the wrong guy, Harold says as we pull up to his tidy brick Georgian.

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Contents

Barasch, Marc Ian Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub
Medium 9781576757567

6. Heart Science, Heart’s Mystery

Barasch, Marc Ian Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I will take the stony heart out...
and give them a heart of flesh.

—Ezekiel

Man will become better when you show him what he is like.

—Anton Chekhov

WHAT IS THE HEART, BUT A SPRING?” ASKED SEVENTEENTH-century materialist Thomas Hobbes. He wasn’t waxing poetic about upwelling waters of gladness or a season of tender buds but making a case for the heart as a gearworks—a mechanism that, however marvelously constructed by that intelligence he called the “Artificer,” was as devoid of sensibility as a clock.

This view has held sway for centuries, though it’s deeply at odds with our felt experience. When psychologist Carl Jung, on one of his perennial quests, visited Chief Mountain Lake of the Taos Pueblo, the tribal elder told him he judged the whites to be quite mad.

“They say they think with their heads,” the chief said.

“Of course,” said Jung. “What do you think with?”

Mountain Lake pointed to his heart: “We think here.”

I’ve always taken this idea—the wisdom of the heart and all—to be a metaphor albeit a charming one. But in cultures the world over, it takes on a peculiarly literal cast. Among the Sufis, the physical heart is a container for al-aql, the intellect, and al-fouad, a second, “sensitive” heart that can see into the hearts of others. Aristotle claimed that the heart was responsible for “the power of perception and the soul’s ability to nourish itself.” In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the heart not only is a human being’s emotional core but is identified with the mind. Similarly, the Japanese have two heart words: shinzu, the physical organ, and kokoro, “the mind of the heart.”

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9. The Elixir of Forgiveness

Barasch, Marc Ian Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

—William Blake

MY EX-PARTNER HAD BEEN MY ENEMY FOR EIGHTEEN YEARS, give or take a few yellowing calendar pages. He was, so far as I could tell, my worst (and maybe only) enemy, an arch villain in a business saga of trust betrayed, idealism tarnished, and labors lost (mine). I’ll spare you the details, but they would rate a turgid Victorian subtitle, say, “Wherein I Am Utterly Ruined.” The man’s perfidy had swept me and my family into a whirlwind of trouble, sickened me body and soul, and plunged me into a dungeon of debt. Worse, it had broken my heart.

We’d set out to create a company whose mission statement was peace, love, and understanding. The business plan was progressive to the nth degree: flattened hierarchies and stakeholder employees, with yoga breaks and maternity leaves for all. I’d given it my all and everything, shouldering the day-to-day and the night-to-night of what grew into a dysfunctional, teetering multimillion-dollar business. Dazzled by the venture’s endlessly spun potential, bamboozled by the partner’s charming-boy fecklessness, I’d stayed on until he’d taken the best and left the rest.

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