I have been a proponent for life-long learning, mostly as a way to keep aging minds sharper and as a defense against allowing your skill set to become obsolete. Those are still worthwhile goals, but the case for learning has recently been bolstered by an outcome that could not be more timely.
Like athletes or musicians, people who practice meditation can enhance their ability to concentrate—or even lower their blood pressure. They can also cultivate compassion, according to a new study. Specifically, concentrating on the loving kindness one feels toward one's family (and expanding that to include strangers) physically affects brain regions that play a role in empathy.Humans have traditionally used culture to teach and transmit valuable skills and attitudes like compassion. But today, we can see the action in our brains. Moving the discussion from purely rhetorical to empirical data-based may allow more buy-in by members of society who have viewed such discussions as little more than psycho-babble.
"There is such a thing as expertise when it comes to complex emotions or emotional skills, such as the one of cultivating benevolence," says Antoine Lutz, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who led the study. "That raises the possibility that you can train someone to cultivate this positive emotion." [More]
Especially today, as entire nations (like the US) have embraced belligerence and confrontation as the solution to any dispute, understanding how our minds work, and how they can be more productive might offer other options. Such knowledge also offers an effective antidote to the effects of modern communications.
We are routinely shocked, angered and horrified by our ability to filter the worst stories of the day from 6.4 billion people and deliver them concentrated to you almost in real-time. Little wonder we have grown more callous and uncaring. To do otherwise would exhaust us emotionally and doubtless lead to despair. As we have adapted this way, maybe we have lost the ability to imagine better ways of living. In the process, I think we have neglected the skill of empathizing with others - true compassion.
That goal is worth learning about, and that skill is worth mastering.