Charles Starrett

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Culture consultant & social tech teacher/facilitator at SoulCo & Northeastern University. He/Him. Dad, Harvard and NEC alum, visual thinker, dabbler in ukulele, electronic music, 한국어, and TTRPGs.

Wired for connection

We’re wired for empathy. Our brains have what are sometimes called “mirror neurons” which light up when we see someone who is feeling joy, pain, anger, or sadness. The way they work, as I understand it, is that they use our own, personal experience of joy, pain, anger, or sadness to “mirror” what someone else is feeling. It allows us to experience someone else’s emotions as if they were our emotions.

What this also means, though, is that we need to have felt something ourselves, in order to feel it in someone else. In other words, if we push away our own feelings of loneliness, shame, fear, or anger, it makes it harder for us to feel it in others. It weakens our empathy.

There can be many reasons why we may not want to feel negative, uncomfortable, or even painful emotions. And working through those emotions needs to be done with care. But it’s also true that the existence of those mirror neurons is a sign that we’re meant to work through these things together. We’re meant to share these struggles so they can be a little lighter on each of us individually.

Our society lionizes the “strong, independent hero” type, but that’s not how we’re designed as a species. To be human is to live together, work together, feel together, suffer together, and celebrate together.

We’re wired for connection. And that connection is the secret of our strength.

24 June 2022

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