These days I've been feeling small. Honestly, it is really doesn't make much sense. The seatbelt is tighter. I can no longer just 'squeeze' by people in the office hall. I step out of the shower each morning to see the evidence of this growing bundle of promise and hope blossoming before me. Yet, despite the physical changes to the contrary, I still feel small.
This juxtaposition is further brought to my attention by the sickening quantities of infomercials for the latest pop psychology gurus. I don't know if they actually sell books or tapes or whatever they are hocking, but they do make for some engaging, energetic programing when the insomnia (read: baby) 'kicks' in. Curiously, I've noticed a pattern. Everyone's presentation tells of how by listening to them, you can transform your life. Specifically--within just a few minutes, they begin the ancient practice of appealing to the ego and begin fervently selling you on the importance and power of "you." Here again, even in my sleep deprived and vulnerable state, I still feel small.
Then today I read an article (more, journal citation & abstract, pdf full-text from Author) about how thoughts of a higher power/ "God" or spiritual concepts increase the probability of altruistic behavior, independent of the person being a believer or a non-believer. The authors' (Shariff & Norenzayan) discussion of the findings focuses "on the hypotheses that the religious prime had an ideomotor effect on generosity or that it activated a felt presence of supernatural watchers."
After thinking about it... while I have my spiritual side, my giving is definitely not motivated by the feeling of being watched by a higher power. Instead, I realize that my giving is out of a combination of two things that seem somewhat contractictory--- a true understanding of the fact that I CAN HELP and an existential feeling of smallness.
First, my self-improvement focus this year has been letting go of my cynicism. Subsequently, I have found empowerment--- the simple understanding of that "I Can" give of myself and make a difference. Not that I was ever confidence impaired, but I have allowed myself to fully understand that none of us can solve the problems of the world alone. Instead, we are morally bound to chip in and do our part. What I have discovered was that by believing that I can make a difference, I have found synergy with others who care about the same causes. So by doing my part-- I've been inducted into a team united with compassion and caring.
Second, feeling small makes me understand that I'm not all that special. Like every other living being on this planet, I am just one heart beat away from moving on past this plane of existence. This one notion-- unites me with everyone else.
Back to the altrusim study... Words and concepts that make people think about a higher truth or greater purpose remind people that they are small...a cog in this wheel of life... and that we all share some common experiences of living. Our mission: should we choose to accept it is ----focusing on being part of the solution rather than being apathetic and thus abdicating our responsibility of lending a hand when we are able.
Thanks to Caroline for the photo