It’s good to cry
You see acts of kindness in movies. Your heart beats faster. Tears well up in your eyes. You tell yourself you’re a sentimental softie.
Well, think again. You’re experiencing ‘moral elevation’ – and it’s something to be encouraged.
I discovered the concept of ‘moral elevation’ through happening upon an article ‘Wired to be inspired’ by Professor Jonathan Haidt. A few clicks later, I was watching a YouTube clip from the 1946 film ‘It’s a wonderful life’.
In that clip, George Bailey (played by James Stewart) who is on the verge of emotional and financial meltdown, steps back from the edge. For reasons that need the rest of the film to explain, he changes from a state of desperation into a manic acceptance of his fate – only to find that his family, friends and neighbours have come to his rescue. As they streamed into his house and joyously piled up dollar bills in front of him (and his stern-faced creditors) tears rolled down my cheeks.
Now, I know I’m a sucker for emotional set pieces like that. But there is a serious point here.
I imagine that you, like me, want a life filled with love, meaning and a sense of belonging. When we witness tragedy, struggles and despair, followed by acts of kindness and redemption towards people and animals, we tend to experience a moment of ‘moral elevation’. It’s an uplifting sense that we do indeed live in a world in which good things happen.
And transient though that feeling may be, it inspires us act altruistically with compassion and kindness. Despite the prevalence of violence, racism and cruelty in the world, it seems to be a characteristic of human nature that we are responsive to good deeds, even when we are not directly benefitting. Physiologically, it’s the consequence of arousal in our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system at the same time.
When participants in studies of ‘moral elevation’ were asked about their responses to witnessing unexpected acts of kindness, they reported being emotionally moved and inspired to help others. They were also attracted to the doers of good deeds, feeling admiration and a desire to be closer to such people and to sing their praises.
Let the tears flow! Keep watching movies that stimulate ‘moral elevation’. It will reinforce your natural tendencies towards compassion and make your world a better place.
For more information, you might like to read this article.
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