How Altruism and Cooperation Help Us Survive

Evolution by natural selection is blamed for promoting ruthless competition as a way to succeed in life — hence concepts such as “survival of the fittest” and “Social Darwinism”, which are seen as rooted in evolutionary theory but, are in fact perversions and misunderstandings of it. Take it from the man who formulated the theory of evolution:

The conclusion that cooperative groups will flourish at the expense of more selfish ones, and that as a result moral instincts will gradually evolve, was at the heart of [Charles Darwin’s] evolutionary writings. In The Descent of Man (1871) Darwin wrote about loving and cooperative behaviours in dogs, elephants, baboons, pelicans, and other species. He thought that sympathetic and cooperative tribes and groups would flourish in comparison with communities made up of more selfish individuals, and that natural selection would thus favour cooperation.

Another tendency that Darwin shares with more recent scientists is his willingness to leap from the world of natural selection to the language of morality. Writing of the evolution of human cooperation, Darwin predicted that “looking to future generations, there is no cause to fear that the social instincts will grow weaker, and we may expect that virtuous habits will grow stronger, becoming perhaps fixed by inheritance. In this case the struggle between our higher and lower impulses will be less severe, and virtue will be triumphant.”

The idea that evolution makes selfishness and immorality pivotal to survival is not only factually wrong, but a key reason why so many people — particularly the religious — are so reluctant to accept it as true. But mounting scientific evidence has verified Darwin’s early observations that prosocial behaviors are vital to our species’ flourishing: Continue reading

The Solidarity Fridge

Spain’s economy was among the hardest hit by the global recession, and it remains in bad shape to this day, with record-high levels of unemployment and poverty.

But with a long and deeply entrenched sense of community and social cohesion, many Spanish communities have weathered these trying times through good old-fashioned collective action.

A resounding testament to these values is the aptly-named “Solidarity Fridge” located in the Basque town of Galdakao. As NPR reports, this community of 30,000 is the catalyst for this almost-unheard of idea.

The goal is to avoid wasting perfectly good food and groceries. In April, the town established Spain’s first communal refrigerator. It sits on a city sidewalk, with a tidy little fence around it, so that no one mistakes it for an abandoned appliance. Anyone can deposit food inside or help themselves.

“The idea for a Solidarity Fridge started with the economic crisis — these images of people searching dumpsters for food — the indignity of it. That’s what got me thinking about how much food we waste,” Saiz told NPR over Skype from Mongolia, where he’s moved onto his next project, living in a yurt and building a hospital for handicapped children.

Saiz says he was intrigued by reading about a scheme in Germany in which people can go online and post notices about extra food and others can claim it.

But Saiz wanted something more low-tech in his hometown of Galdakao — something accessible to his elderly neighbors who don’t use the Internet. So he went to the mayor with his idea for a Solidarity Fridge.

Continue reading

The Ice Bucket Challenge Bears Fruit

Amid a fair amount of skepticism and uncertainty — including, to some degree, by yours truly — it appears that the ALS ice bucket challenge that went viral some months ago has literally paid off:

According to Vice’s Mike Pearl, the $100 million in funding the challenge generated has led to breakthroughs in our understanding of what causes ALS and how it can be treated. Researchers now report that ALS — a fatal neurodegenerative disease that causes the muscles in the body to deteriorate — is caused by a defective protein, and stem cell therapy has shown promising results in lab tests.

Jonathan Ling, medical researcher at Johns Hopkins, stated in a Reddit AMA that funding from the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been instrumental in helping scientists break new scientific ground.

“All of your donations have been amazingly helpful and we have been working tirelessly to find a cure,” Ling wrote.

An infographic from The ALS Association, the global leader in ALS research that received the funds, breaks it down thusly. Continue reading

The Tribulations of Empathy

It would seem intuitive that empathy is an inherently positive quality: what could be wrong with being able to deeply feel or think what other someone else is experiencing? Most acts of compassion and altruism are predicated on being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, and subsequently seeking to better their circumstances; without a fundamental understanding of one’s circumstances and  needs, it is arguably harder to rouse yourself into acting for their benefit.

But an article in The Guardian by Oliver Burkeman challenges the importance of empathy in ethical decision-making, going so far as to suggest that it may even be a handicap:

The problem is that empathy – the attempt to feel or think how someone else is feeling or thinking – isn’t a reliable way of doing good. For one thing, we find it easier to empathise with better-looking people, and with those of the same race, so the more we rely on empathy as a guide to action, the more we’re vulnerable to such biases. We also get entangled in the “identifiable victim effect”: empathy makes us care more about, say, the single missing child than the thousands who might be harmed by a government policy, never mind the as-yet-unborn victims of future global warming. Bloom quotes the economist Thomas Schelling: “Let a six-year-old girl with brown hair need thousands of dollars for an operation that will prolong her life until Christmas, and the post office will be swamped… Let it be reported that without a sales tax the [hospitals] of Massachusetts will deteriorate and cause a barely perceptible increase in preventable deaths – not many will drop a tear.” A surfeit of empathy may hurt the empathetic, too: it’s been linked to burnout and depression, neither of which make people better at helping others.

This touches on two interesting problems related to misplaced and/or excessive empathy.

One is psychic numbing, whereby individuals or even entire societies give little to know attention to threats that are far-off, geographically distant, and of low probability — even though they are otherwise of massive consequences. A familiar example would be how more people seem mourn or focus upon a high-profile tragedy involving one or a few individuals, whereas genocides, famines, or calamities like climate change attract far less attention, much less action.

There are many interesting reasons why this discrepancy exists, among the most prominent being that we can better empathize with one or a few individuals than we can with faceless (and often foreign) millions — the old adage of one death being a tragedy and a million being a mere statistic. Our cognitive capacity is limited and can only connect with so many people before it fails to really impact us; similarly, we can only look so far ahead, and things like climate change are on a scale of complexity that is difficult to grasp on a strictly visceral level.

The second issue touched on in this except is compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress, in which individuals or societies demonstrate reduced compassion over a period of time. Unsurprisingly, this problem is most often observed among those who work with, live, or are exposed most to those that suffer: first responders, nurses, psychologists, aid workers, and the like. Over time, one can become more cynical, depressed, prone to sleeplessness, unfocused, or demonstrate other signs of hardheartedness and negativity.

On a collective level, this can be very problematic: it has been argued that the over-saturation of media with de-contextualized images and stories of tragedy and suffering has led to a more misanthropic and withdrawn society. Again, the familiar example is how fairly tolerant we seem to be of large-scale problems, ranging from growing poverty in the U.S. to the massive catastrophes immiserating millions abroad. After a certain point, we grow weary from it all and would much rather ignore it. We are busy and troubled enough without having to empathize with so much pain and suffering.

In light of these points, what would the alternative be? If empathy is insufficient on its own, how best do we go about making constructive and ethical decisions?

It’s hard to accept that we might sometimes get a clearer picture of the world by resisting the urge to step into someone else’s shoes. Yet depersonalising things is often the best way to make decisions. That’s why job interviews can be more meritocratic – and less prone to sexism or racism – when they don’t include a free-wheeling “getting to know you” section, relying instead on structured tests. Tyler Cowen, the blogger and economist, recommends soliciting feedback not by asking “what do you think?” – the personalised version – but “what do most people think?”

Instead of empathy, Bloom concludes, we need compassion: a cooler, more rational, “more distanced love, kindness and concern for others”. A relative of his undergoing cancer treatment doesn’t like medical staff who overflow with empathy: “He gets the most from doctors who are calm when he is anxious, confident when he is uncertain.” As the Saturday Night Live writer Jack Handey wrote, before you criticise someone, walk a mile in their shoes: that way, you’ll be a mile away, and you’ll have their shoes. But if you want to help them, staying planted in your own shoes may be preferable. Sure, I could feel your pain. But wouldn’t you rather I did something about it?

In short, it would appear that, as with many things, the best course of action is a balanced one — we try our best to really feel for the suffering of others while keeping just enough of a distance to have a clear head on how to determine the best course of action. It seems sensible, and I can personally relate with both extremes: owing to my own bouts of depression and compassion fatigue, I find myself at times to be either too distant or too empathetic, and in either state I feel off. It is only when I have struck that delicate golden mean between empathy and dispassion that I feel hopeful in making a decision. But such an arrangement can be difficult to maintain without conscious effort, and one can only be so emotional or so distant before breaking down.

But that is just my experience and observation. What about you all?

The Science of Compassion

The New York Times reports on two studies that give a remarkable glimpse into the simplicity of compassion.

The results were striking: the simple act of tapping one’s hands in synchrony with another caused our participants to report feeling more similar to their partners and to have greater compassion for their plight: it increased the number of people who helped their partner by 31 percent and increased the average time spent helping from one minute to more than seven.

What these results suggest is that the compassion we feel for others is not solely a function of what befalls them: if our minds draw an association between a victim and ourselves — even a relatively trivial one — the compassion we feel for his or her suffering is amplified greatly.

What does this mean for cultivating compassion in society? It means that effortful adherence to religious or philosophical dictums (often requiring meditation, prayer or moral education), though clearly valuable and capable of producing results, is not the only way to go. There is nothing special about tapping in synchrony; any such commonality will do. Increased compassion for one’s neighbor, for instance, can come from something as easy as encouraging yourself to think of him as (say) a fan of the same local restaurant instead of as a member of a different ethnicity.

Simply learning to mentally recategorize one another in terms of commonalities would generate greater empathy among all of us — and foster social harmony in a fairly effortless way.

It doesn’t take much to connect to another human being, and even these trivial commonalities are enough to instill altruism and harmony. Fascinating.

The Angels of Ciudad Juarez

Mexico has become a byword for violence and dysfunction ever since its government began a bloody crackdown on the country’s brutal drug cartels several years ago (comparisons to Colombia during the criminal reign of Pablo Escobar abound). This is unfortunate, given that much of the population is still untouched by gang violence, and the country is far more prosperous than it once was, with economic growth last year being among the fastest in the world. Like many other third world countries, I fear its overall reputation will be tarnished by the negative headlines that dominate any mention of it in the media.

At any rate, Mexicans have become understandably fed up with the state of their country. As part of the recent worldwide trend in political demonstrations,  thousands of people took to the streets, protesting against the violence of the drug war, in addition to the widely perceived incompetence of their public officials. Like their neighbors to the north, most the Mexican population believes their country is heading in the wrong direction. Sure enough, they too have a contentious presidential election ahead of them.

But some brave citizens are speaking out in more creative ways, choosing to defy the gangsters on their own turf within the violence capital of Mexico, Ciudad Juarez – by dressing up as angels.

Angels are not a common sight here in Mexico’s most violent border city, where the public cemetery is putrid and overflowing, and where a handful of churches worship the skeletal saint of death, Santa Muerte.

But at crime scenes and busy corners recently, more than a dozen angels have appeared — 10 feet tall, with white robes and wide feathered wings. The fact that these angels are mostly teenagers from a tiny evangelical church on a dirt road makes their presence no less striking: they carry signs to murder scenes that say “murderers repent.”

Many residents of this blighted community have become emboldened in the face of a relentless crime wave that has claimed journalists, police officers, city officials, and innocent bystanders. Some grim findings include a mass grave of women believed to have been migrants heading for the U.S. Rather than flee or remain silent in the face of such brutality, the people of Juarez have remained insolent, no longer hiding their names in public reports, and leading public cries for law and order. Even by such remarkably bold standards, the angels – most of whom are young teens – are incredibly audacious.

They got started last year, after intense conversations at a Christian church on the city’s outskirts, Psalm 100. Carlos Mayorga, 33, a leader of the group, said the church’s young people had become frustrated with the relentless violence and wanted to do something hard to miss. So they persuaded city officials to donate old curtains that became angelic robes. They raised money for makeup and collected feathers for wings that jut above their heads.

Then they wrote up signs that by and large speak directly to criminals and corrupted officials. “We wanted to prick the consciences of the people who have caused this city so much pain,” Mr. Mayorga said.

Early on, the angels focused on busy intersections. They stood on folding metal chairs for extra height, their robes reaching over the chairs and down to the ground. Israel Santillan, 15, one angel, recalled that there were always a lot of people honking in support and asking if they were being paid.

Later, to make sure they reached their target audience, they started going to crime scenes, where their angelic messages were often greeted with odd stares, and occasionally tears.

The last thing most people would have the gumption to do is visit a recent crime scene, or draw attention to themselves by calling out the very perpetrators of said crimes. Yet that is precisely what these kids are doing by their own volition. How many of us would dare speak truth to power in such a daring way? These gangs have allies throughout the city, including among police, and have shown few scruples in targeting children. What these brave kids are doing is putting them in real danger (though thankfully, last I checked, none of them have yet been targeted).

Thankfully, the beauty and audacity of these actions has inspired people elsewhere in to stand-up to the forces that had once gripped them in fear.

Generally, though, the Messenger Angel idea seems to be catching on. The group has been traveling lately to other dangerous cities — Matamoros, Torreón — where they join with other young Christians dressed as angels. The messages there tend to be just as confrontational.

Mayorga said he hopes that somehow, eventually, they will help bring peace. “The idea is to keep going,” he said. “We have to.”

Indeed, the human capacity for endless perseverance is a remarkable thing. With enough resolve, daring, and patience, few determined human beings can ever be stopped in their efforts. Even the most seemingly harmless demonstrations of raw will can speak volumes in the long run, just its very nature of defiance. I hope Mexico will soon be free of this underserved horror.

 

Love, Knowledge, and Compassion

Humankind has become so much one family that we cannot insure our own prosperity except by insuring that of everyone else. If you wish to be happy yourself, you must resign yourself to seeing others also happy.

Bertrand Russell, a philosopher, social critic, historian, and logician, has long been one of the most influential people in my life. A noted humanist, atheist, and rationalist, he is the model for my own aspirations: to value love, knowledge, and compassion as the greatest pursuits in one’s life. Indeed, my personal mission statement, and that for this blog, is based upon these principles, which he so eloquently espouses in the following tract:

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness–that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what–at last–I have found.

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.

This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

I should hope to live a life so rich in goodness and enlightenment. Few men have ever been as ethical and moral. Furthermore, Russell gives lie to the popular notion that a rational mindset devoid of religious belief is too cold, calculating, or prone to nihilism to be compassionate and sympathetic. Empathy, love, and the sincere desire to see other people be happy and prosperous are not predicated on any particular dogma – such things should pervade all of humanity, regardless of religious, political, or ideological persuasions. Virtue for virtue’s sake.

I could devote an entire blog on the prodigious amount of writing and thought that emerged from this great thinker, and I’ll no doubt be revisiting him more than once in the future. If anyone would like at least a sample of his wisdom, visit this collection of his sayings and observations.

The Layaway Angels

Sometimes, it takes just a single flicker of light in this often dark world of ours to instill in me great hope for our species. No good deed is too small or insignificant: the world may have its vast problems, often too big and complex to tackle within our life times. But what matters is that we do what we can to make life better for our fellow humans, who often share the same fears, concerns, and desires that we do.

Consider the recent trend in so-called “layaway angels,” individuals who anonymously pay off the layaway accounts of complete strangers. First noticed a couple of weeks ago in a single store in Michigan, it seems to be picking up throughout the country, perhaps as an example of the pay-if-forward approach to altruism that has been observed before.

A 10-year-old boy walked into a Kmart store in San Mateo on Wednesday afternoon, placed $20 on the counter and said he wanted to pay down a stranger’s layaway account.

Sameera Chatfield, the supervisor who helped the young “layaway angel,” an anonymous shopper who pays off layaways for strangers — a recent trend occurring at Kmart stores nationwide — said the boy walked in with his mom and specifically requested an account that included toys for boys.

“It was perfect,” she said. “I wish he had stayed around for a few minutes, because the people whose account he paid for came in.”

She said the family smiled when she told them that the “angel” who paid down their account was a 10-year-old boy.

The boy is one of several such do-gooders Chatfield has helped since Friday, when people started coming in and offering to pay down layaways.

“It has been absolutely fabulous,” Chatfield said. “It makes me want to go out and do something for someone else.”

The contagious good will, which has spread to Kmart stores around the country, appears to have its roots at a store in Michigan, where an anonymous woman reportedly paid about $500 toward the layaway accounts of strangers earlier this month.

The “angels” vary in age and ethnicity, but most request to remain anonymous and that their money go toward paying off accounts that include toys or children’s clothes. On Friday morning, a man in his 30s walked into a Kmart in Hayward with $10,000 in cash.

“He came in and said, ‘I heard what’s going on in other states.’ I’d like to do it,” said John Pawlik, 52, a manager at the Hayward Kmart. He said the man paid $9,800 toward layaway accounts and donated the remaining $200 to the Salvation Army.

Pawlik said in another instance, a couple came in and said they wanted to pay off an account because they don’t have children of their own.

“I think it’s great,” Pawlik said. “It puts your faith back in how you feel about people.”

Michelle Caldwell, 30, said that in the 10 years she has worked at the Kmart in San Leandro, she has not seen anything like this. Since Sunday, Caldwell said she has helped about five people who offered to pay down layaways.

“It’s just really touching,” she said. “If I had the money, I would be doing it myself too.”

John Garcia, a 44-year-old assistant manager at the Kmart in Redwood City, said that when sales associates inform the lucky customers that an anonymous person has paid down their accounts, most of the time their reaction is tearful.

“It’s almost like they’re in shock,” he said. “Like they’ve won the lottery. And in those instances, they have.”

Garcia said the trend is improving morale among sales associates and benefiting Bay Area families who are in need at this time of year.

“I’ve seen lots of demonstrations of goodwill towards people, but never one that gained such momentum,” he said. “It’s something that’s very special that’s happening.”

I’ll say, and that should never been underestimated. For all the confirmation bias we have in focusing mostly on the negative and reprehensible side of our nature – which is sadly quite persistent across our species – we should never overlook our continued propensity to love and be concerned towards one another. We could argue about the amount of good that transpires throughout the world versus all the evil, but it doesn’t remove the magnificence of any act of compassion, no matter how seemingly small or ephemeral. If anything, it’s made even more beautiful.

Now imagine if this sort of thing was to keep catching on, and everyone took it upon themselves to care about each other, if only for a moment. It’s a great thought to entertain, whatever your thoughts on the feasibility.

 

The Christmas Spirit

It is lamentable, if the data is to be believed, that acts of charity and compassion increase during the holidays only to fall precipitously thereafter. We shouldn’t devote a particular season or time period to acts of human decency – it should be a constant concern, to the best of our individual ability.

Granted, I don’t want to come off as a scrooge, in that we should certainly be grateful for any level of altruism no matter how ephemeral. The pragmatist in me knows to appreciate whatever good may come, even though I’d much prefer that such decency be more sincere and deeply-rooted. In the end, any light of good-will in this often dark world of ours is better than not.

But I don’t want to be to glum. Enjoying the fruits of our fortune and helping out others needn’t be mutually exclusive: religious or not, most of us spend this season with our loved ones, pondering all that we’re grateful for. To me, such gratefulness is best applied to bettering the lives of others in any way we can. Nothing lightens the soul of any decent person more than seeing others share in this love and kindness. Most people are good at heart in my opinion – we just need to make it a full-time consideration.

Logic, Reason, and Emotions

We readily assume that rationality is necessarily contingent upon our ability to suppress or suspend our emotions. In other words, we view emotion as an enemy of reason, and believe that both are mutually exclusive. To be more reasonable means to be more calculating, emotionless, and detached; to be emotional is to be erratic, reckless, and unstable.

This formula is pervasive across popular culture, entertainment, and media. The individual that exercises logic, critical analysis, or some other form of higher intelligence is usually portrayed as having suspended all feelings, to the point of being cold and aloof. By contrast, the more passionate and expressive character is often hot-headed, unreasonable, feckless. They’re two sides of the same coin, complementary in some cases but otherwise intrinsically in conflict.

This Manichean perception is widely held among most people and is arguably intuitive. In fact, I once prescribed to it as well, and only as I delved into topics like politics, science, philosophy, and other disciplines (mostly in the humanities) did I come to realize the beneficial synergy of my emotional proclivities and my intellectual ones. I now find myself battling this stigma that holds that any demonstration of logical or rational thinking is indicative of callousness or arrogance.

Many people even regard the use of inquiry, skepticism, and analysis as symptoms of an unethical and immoral worldview; those who take such approaches are stereotyped as mechanical utilitarians looking strictly at the efficiency or cost-benefit nexus of a given issue, dismissing the “human” element (though such methods of analysis aren’t necessarily heartless in and of themselves, but rather only when applied without ethical considerations). Maybe it’s just a confirmation bias on my part, but I’ve encountered it frequently enough in both media and personal experience to find it to be a relatively widespread notion.

For one, there is an issue of semantics. Emotions need not be personified strictly in their most explicit forms: being emotional isn’t only about being sensitive, quick to anger, or manic, as the average person would think. Emotions pervade every thought, action, and belief. When we’re saddened or perturbed by poverty, for example, we’re in a technical sense being emotional. If we feel a strong sense of justice and fairness, then we’re demonstrating an emotional investment: contentment at seeing justice prevail, compassion at making sure it does so, and anger if it’s violated. In both these examples, we’re also displaying the crucial emotion of empathy, which I’ll get back later.

Moreover, there is psychologically no such thing as distinct, inseparable components of either emotion or reason. No normal human being could ever completely shut down or suppress one or the other, nor would doing so  strengthen one at the expense of the other.  Displaying one’s emotions and exercising one’s higher thinking faculties is not necessarily a zero-sum game. Certainly, we all have varying degrees with which we utilize either one, depending on the subject, mood, or individual (as well as numerous other externalities that shape our minds, such as chemical imbalances, how we were raised, neurological pathologies, and so on).

In reality, the two areas are inseparable, and often even dependent upon one another. We need an emotional capacity for our rational minds to operate. Without emotions, we have no deep-seated sense of right and wrong. We’re naturally capable of being passionate about truth, justice, the well-being of others, and other moral and ethical considerations. Therefore, we need these emotional considerations to feed our desire to think critically and determine what is right from wrong, or to figure out what course of action is best for benefiting ourselves, our loved ones, and our sense for virtue.

Too often, we assume being logical and rational means you must be cold, mechanical, and even inhumane. On the contrary, a more intellectually and philosophically developed mind is far more suited to developing a reliable basis for justice and morality, provided that our heart is also in the right place. Generally speaking, however, a well-developed and critically-thinking mind is more adept at weighing the many options of a given choice, or of knowing the deeper details of topics pertaining to law, politics, psychology, and other crucial areas dealing with human well-being in some form or another.

Thus, exercising our higher faculties requires a level of emotional commitment. There is no reason to think critically or rationally about the nature of injustice or the solutions for poverty without some emotional investment – compassion, altruism, disgust with unfairness – to promote it in the first place.  If I don’t care about living a virtuous life, or helping others to flourish, why think about it in the first place?

This is not to suggest that one must be a sage to be capable of just or good behavior. Plenty of smart people can be well-versed in absorbing the raw data of knowledge, but be less keen in their ability to perform the requisite critical thinking needed for understanding and developing a moral/ethical worldview; similarly, they may also have less empathy, or have failed to apply their higher faculties for good causes.

Thus, the key to being a good person – defined here as being knowledgeable, virtuous, and compassionate* – is to dispel this false choice between being emotional and being rational. Sure, lacking self-control of one’s emotions can be detrimental, just as thinking too much can lead to indecision or detachment from a subject. But that doesn’t mean that being emotional or reasonable is, in principle, a matter of choosing one and rejecting the other. Humans are meant to display emotions. It’s healthy and necessary, and it makes life better for us. But we’re also meant to be problem solvers, to use our unique capacity to think, analyze, and reason to address any number of obstacles – practical, ethical, existential – that inevitably come our way.

As a great philosopher once said, an education of the mind without an education of the heart is no education at all. Indeed, the same works the other way around. We must utilize the best aspects of our minds, and take a holistic and balanced approach to how we better ourselves, our loved ones, and the world around us.