Do you notice yourself getting teary and mushy when you see acts of kindness by strangers to each other? I do, and especially lately, anything can set me off! More and more during this time of Covid we are drawn to stories, videos and images on human courage, vulnerability and kindness in all its forms.
We cried when the Italians serenaded each other at their balcony. The Facebook group Kindness Pandemic got thousands of new members only a few months ago by posting stories of love and connection. We get so moved when we see humans being more than the popular narrative of grasping, venal and dangerous. We hunger for the reflection of what we hope to be true – that humans are fundamentally thoughtful, compassionate and kind.
It turns out that this experience of being moved when we see people we don’t know helping others is called elevation, and was named by Professor Jonathon Haidt who defines it as the “warm, uplifting feeling people experience when they see unexpected acts of human goodness, kindness, courage, or compassion.”
I think it moves us is because it’s a reminder that we live in a world where people are essentially good. We are inculcated by media and our fears to think that life is essentially out to get us, and that trust and goodness is for dreamers. When we experience ‘elevation’, we experience the trueness of who we really are as humans – our best selves so to speak.
Can we consciously create more elevation, rather than stumble across it randomly? Haidt’s research at NYU points to a possible way. His research suggests that the more we see others act kindly toward people they don’t know, the more we (the onlookers) are moved to help people as well.
Therefore, the more we do good for strangers – taking opportunities to help and serve others unexpectedly and without conditions, the more others are moved by us. They then are more likely to do the same. This encourages us to continue to help others, which reinforces the idea and feeling that people are essentially good. This moves us all.
Another aspect of elevation is the cost of when we pretend we have it all together. When we hide our vulnerability under a cloak of ‘I’m fine’, we reinforce a view of the world that is ungenerous and unforgiving. This limits the chance for elevation to show up, and exacerbates our aloneness and struggle.
I love this poem Compassion by Miller Williams:
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down there where the spirit meets the bone.
Let us each keep helping, supporting and caring for others. Let us rest into the place of where our own ‘spirit meets the bone’. When we show our frailty and humanity, others are moved to support and uplift us. Elevation happens. And we all become stronger for it.