Mirror neurons are neurons that fire when an animal acts and when an animal observes the same action. It’s crazy to me that these weren’t discovered until the 1990s. I’ve taken the Myers Briggs test and my result was that I’m an INFJ. According to that, I am basically a big ball of empathic energy. I naturally feel the energy of someone else, and they don’t have to move or talk. That is why I say it’s crazy to me that these mirror neurons weren’t discovered until the 1990s, seems like that’s a really long time to figure it out. Even the word ‘Empathy’ didn’t appear in English until 1909.
This study is centered around how children in the Toraja, an indigenous Indonesian group, learn how to empathize and express emotions. This is a fascinating thing for me to read on, as I feel like children in America in the current generation are having some trouble empathizing with each other and expressing their emotions to each other IRL. One particularly interesting quote the author mentions is referring to a Guinean tribe. “The culture fosters a certain style of personal expression, one that allows considerable leeway for individual foibles and eccentric behaviour.” I personally think we could use some more room for eccentricities and imperfections in our culture as well. Also FYI, the Samoan translate ‘empathy’ to their native term - alofa - meaning love, affection, compassion, pity or kindness. Children learn alofa by being of service to others and learn to receive it by taking part in hosting parties for other villages. These parties teach children the social ideal of shared feelings in action.
For the Toraja children, cooperation is a cultural value and moral requirement. One boy from the study, age 13, is quoted, “If there is work to be done, it must be done cooperatively.” Another girl, age 14, after attending a funeral reacts by saying, “By taking part I’ve learned that we must help each other in every task.”
It’s pretty fascinating to read another culture’s norms for developing empathy and kinship in their youth. This article didn’t go much into how children are educated in a formal setting, but I sometimes wish American schools put a bigger emphasis on things like this. It would be nice to have more interaction with each other as regular kids in school. More activities that foster learning about each other and how we think. More activities that help us develop the compassion to support one another. More activities based on cooperation and learning how to work together to accomplish goals.
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