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Written by Daniel Martin, Ph.D.

A few years back, I was having a conversation with a brilliant Stanford student about crime maps. He suggested that a really cool use of mapping technology would be to map compassion. I thought to myself, that is a crazy idea, how would we do that? I shrugged it off and tried not to think about this issue, but it became something of a puzzle that I want to solve. How could this be done? Who would map compassion? Compassion is complex and can manifest itself in myriad ways, and most folks are not familiar with the technical definition of compassion as 1) noticing suffering, 2) feeling empathy and 3) taking action to ameliorate the suffering which would cue folks to see it in actual behavior.

Recent social psychological studies in university settings suggests that witnessing both compassionate and pro-social behavior inspires others to behave in a similar manner, with significant psychological benefits for those witnessing the positive event. How do we feel when we witness others working together? Kindness? Compassion? Sharing? Giving? Haidt (2003b) calls the emotion ‘elevation’ (based on a 1771 description by Jefferson). Elevation is an emotional response to witnessing others acts which make us feel unselfish, often with a desire to act similarly. Haidt describes participants witnessing good deeds giving them a pleasurable feeling, sometimes feeling warm or pleasant in the chest that triggered desires of doing good deeds. 

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Dr. Daniel Martin

Associate Professor at CSU East Bay
Daniel E. Martin is an Associate Professor of Management at California State University, East Bay and a Visiting Associate Professor at CCARE, Stanford University. He has worked with private, public and nonprofit organizations on pre-employment selection, training, and organizational assessment. His research interests include: social capital, ethical behavior, racism and prejudice, human resources assessment, religiosity, spirituality and humor.