In an era of grim news headlines and harsh political discourse, it’s often hard to believe that civility and kindness are palpable for American society. Dacher Keltner would argue otherwise. This year’s Calvaruso Keynote speaker emphasized the importance of collective thought towards these topics.
Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. He has led many studies regarding emotion, which has included work on the Pixar film, “Inside Out.”
Keltner began his speech by explaining how fitting it was that he was speaking at a liberal arts institution like Albion College. Keltner had always wanted to teach at a smaller, liberal arts college, but instead taught bigger schools like the University of Wisconsin and UC Berkeley.
He provided notions that challenged how we deal with both conflict and interpersonal relationships, and the extensive studies done to support them. Given today’s rocky social climate, Keltner’s words were all the more inspiring.
One of his studies, as he pointed out, researched how human babies are some of the most vulnerable beings on earth. Thus, they rely on acts of compassion to further develop physically and mentally.
A big part of our wiring for compassion, according to Keltner, is the vagus nerve, a spinal cord that wanders through the human nervous system and causes us to do actions like nodding, gazing and speaking. Components like these make our responses and needs for compassion all the more apparent.
Keltner’s overarching message, though, was to continually emphasize kindness in today’s society. He believes that individuals who are kind and civil tend to rise in the social spectrum and that his research has helped prove that. We can rise by doing two simple things: listening and asking questions.
“One of the great virtues in life is to be a good listener and ask great questions,” said Keltner. He then guided the audience through a series of exercises that involved asking personal questions to one another, with the goal of eventually gaining a deeper understanding amongst the individuals involved.
As a whole, Keltner’s discussion was an intriguing insight into the human psyche. The Albion College community certainly learned a lot about kindness in that 45-minute period at Goodrich Chapel, and we can only hope to see those messages manifest.
Photo by Andrew Wittland