Another article from the book The Compassion Instinct, “Wired to be Inspired”, author Jonathan Haidt writes about the feeling one gets when witnessing acts of kindness. Haidt calls this feeling “elevation” and suggests that it leads people to do acts of kindness themselves.
I think that he is probably right and he cites several scientific studies that have been done that demonstrate the link between seeing kind acts and being inspired to do them. But I am caught this morning on just that feeling of “elevation” because I know exactly what that is. One incident comes to mind because it was such a powerful one for me.
When I worked in early childhood, I had the opportunity to substitute for another parent educator one evening. I wasn’t familiar with the families that attended the class. During play time, I noticed a young father sitting at one of the preschool tables with his son standing in front of him. The dad surrounded the child with his knees and his arms and he leaned in close as he worked with is son on a picture he was drawing. I could see the intimacy of the moment as dad spoke softly and guided the child’s hand holding the marker. The child, now and then, would look over at the children playing with cars in the sand box nearby. But the father continued to cuddle him and help him with his picture. The feeling I had was exactly what Haidt is talking about. I actually felt “elevated” observing such love between parent and child.
After class, as the child teacher and I cleaned up, I mentioned what I’d witnessed and how touched I’d been. The teacher, a special education specialist, said to me, “That was even more special than you realize. That little boy at five years old has never completed a picture on his own. He is a child who is unable to give attention to any activity for more than a minute before he runs off to do something else. Helping him to do so is something his father has been working on since the class began. He completed a picture today and it was quite an important moment.”
Being witness to that moment felt akin to catching sight of a shooting star or the northern lights. You just have to be there and enough in the present to pay attention.