synergy: (n) the interaction between two or more factors such that each works more efficiently that the individual parts alone
To review, we now have three elements for empathy: emotions, knowledge, and beliefs. While I have split these off for the sake of discussion, each of them is occurring with any activity we participate in and each influences the others. The synergy of these interactions results in what we call experience. Whether we are doing something mundane, such as washing the dishes, or something novel, such as reaching the summit of a hike over looking the New River Gorge, we are experiencing some level of emotion (boring dishes or exilerating hike), using knowledge to accomplish the task (how much soap & hot water to apply or how to avoid falling off the rock cliff), and expressing a belief that this task is valuable (such as a clean and orderly kitchen or the beauty of a vista).
The interaction of these three elements I call curiosity, contemplation, and passion.
Curiosity is the link between emotions and knowledge. We learn better when we are enjoying ourselves, laughing, and excited about the material. We do not learn well when we are annoyed, anxious, or angry.
Remember a favorite teacher. Most likely you had a good time in that class and you learned a lot. Contrast with the Charlie Brown‘s teacher who goes “Wah-wah-wah”. Boredom does not make for learning.
Similarly, when we learn something, whether how to spell and write, how a physic experiment works, or how to turn an opponent into an ally we feels desirable emotions from excitement to relief. Our confidence is boosted by both the learned knowledge/skill and the emotion. Conversely, when we fail at learning, we are likely to feel frustrated and discouraged.
From my observation of evangelical Christians, as both emotions are knowledge are suspect, curiosity “killed the cat”. Enjoying oneself suggests that a good time will lead to a downfall. We once saw a church sign that read: “Sin usually began as fun”. This position puts evangelical Christians in a bind. If they are having a good time, curious, and learning, where is the threshold between good and evil?
At the same time, even in evangelical Christian worship services, emotion and knowledge are prime elements. What is the praise band doing other than evoking emotions of joy and exhilaration? What is the minister doing in his teaching, other than imparting knowledge? We will have to curve over to belief to answer the question about that threshold between good and evil.
Paul certainly evokes emotion and knowledge, illustrating that both have good and evil ways. He talks about his fervent approach to his mission to eliminate The Way, then transforming this fervency to teaching Gentile communities of God Followers about The Way. Every city that Paul went to, he tried to teach. First, he taught about Jesus in the synagogues, then in the secular stoa and forums. If the Jews would not learn, the philosophers and curious might.
Contemplation is the link between knowledge and belief. If one has only knowledge, facts and data, without beliefs, one has only meaningless information. If one has beliefs, no matter how strongly held, but no facts and data which support those beliefs, one just has wishful thinking.
I could be able to spell (well actually not), create a vaccine for the next Covid variant, build a bridge, buy BitCoin at $19, or possess any other type of knowledge, but without some purpose why bother? If I spell fantastically, but write without belief that what I say has meaning, who cares? I could save lots of lives with my vaccine, but if life is meaningless anyway, am I just adding days to this or that persons existence? If my bridge is a bridge-to-nowhere, who is going to pass over the river, valley, or road below? I could make a fortune selling my BitCoin for $50,000, but if I have no meaningful reasons for possessing such profits, whom am I benefitting (right Scrooge?)?
I might believe in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Deep State, or spiritual vortexes in Sedona, Arizona. But, eventually I will figure out that Mom is the Tooth Fairy, wanting to pay me off for my misery of loosing baby teeth. Or, I Saw Santa Kissing Mommy by the Christmas tree, and Dad’s the one putting the presents out at the same time. No omniscient gift-giver is out to reward my simple morality and punish my inevitable mis-deeds. Q is in the queue of some Internet hack from… who knows, San Francisco, Beijing, Moscow, the Vatican? Hey, don’t question vortexes, hexes, voodoo, and snake handlers!
If we contemplate, we ask why our knowledge has value, and we ask what evidence we have to support our beliefs. This increases the strength of both our knowledge and beliefs. We can coordinate our knowledge with our assumptions. We can address facts and data which both support and question our assumptions.
A difficulty that I have with debating with evangelical Christians is that they reverse facts and assumptions. I believe that much of this comes from their literal interpretation of Biblical texts and belief that God directly inspired those who wrote the texts (and no mistakes slipped in with copying texts and interpreting from one language to another… or as one evangelical Christian told me once, with a straight face, “If the King James Bible was good for Jesus, it’s good for me”). They assert their beliefs as facts (e.g. the six days of creation were six days) and dismiss my facts as assumptions (i.e. interpreting the 3 Oxford commas, the Second Amendment should read “A well regulated militia… shall not be infringed”, as Madison would have understood the sentence structure 200 years ago). Such a debate is not even a discussion.
Passion is the link between belief and emotion. When we pursue our beliefs, whether religious rituals or healthy meals, we do so with passion. When we talk with people about our beliefs, our passion of emotion is usually what they pay attention to.
When we have a heightened emotional experience, we believe that this is good and desirable. It is likely to lead to developing and reinforcing a belief system. Conversely, when life does not support our beliefs, or we act in a way that violates our moral codes, we feel anxiety, despair, rage. Emotions can establish beliefs; and beliefs can evoke emotions.
On January 6th, when thousands of Trump supports marched over to the Capital building, and some entered the building by force, we should all agree that they had a fervent emotional experiencing going on. Maybe elation about believing they were going to destroy the Deep State and turn the election results around. Maybe fear that if they did not act on their beliefs that Congress was about the commit an evil act, which they could valiantly stop with their USA, Don’t Tread on Me, Confederate Battle, and Jesus Loves You flags. This was not just a mosh-pit at a Death Metal concert. These were people with strong beliefs and intense emotions.
On January 6th, members of Congress, the press, and those of us watching the live-feed news streams felt a different set of emotions and held a range of different beliefs about the election.
One event, multiple beliefs, multiple emotions. Passion.
Synergy occurs when we combine emotions, knowledge and beliefs through curiosity, contemplation and passion. The cycle can go either direction and start at any point.
We engage in a task. We recognize an emotion. Our curiosity might lead us to recognize what we are learning, or our passion might direct us to recognize what beliefs we are acting upon.
We engage in a task. We tell ourselves that we believe that this is the right task to do. We might contemplate what knowledge and skills allow us to do this task. Or, we might follow our passion to experience the emotions that we associate with that task.
We engage in a task. We might start with the knowledge of how to accomplish this task successfully. Our curiosity might allow us to feel the happiness and pride of our confidence. Or, our contemplation might guide us to recognize the underlying beliefs that we have about why this task is important.
With these ideas in mind, we should return to our original quest: to understand how empathy may foster forgiveness and reconciliation.