We all know the experience of the irresistible nature of yawning — when someone we loves yawns we yawn right back. Somewhere I read that those with good skills of empathy yawn when others in a room yawn while those with low skills in empathy don’t yawn back. Yawning, then, is a starting point to explore Andrew Root’s 8th chp, “Can I read your mind?” in his new book, Relational Ministry.
Personhood is about relationships. Empathy is about our ability to indwell one another and so share life and love. Our brains are designed in such a way that relationships lead to mutual brain activities.
What is the best sign of empathy? What do you recognize in another when you know they are empathic?
Andrew Root observes that brain science today concludes that we are all wired to indwell one another through brain activities. Our brains are made to read one another’s minds and to feel each other. The opposite of empathy is Schadenfreude, the joy in another’s defeat or misery. Schadenfreude is rooted in radical individualism and competition and comparison: we compare because we compete for limited resources so that we — I — can get what I want and be happy in getting what I want. Comparison breeds competition and competition breeds Schadenfreude.
He appeals to Daniel Goleman and the brain theory of the “open-loop nature of our limbic systems” where our brains respond and form responses in response to the facial and physical and verbal expressions of another person. This shapes our emotional stability. We have “antennas to indwell each other” (104). Our minds are “social organs.”
This leads Root to consider “mirror neurons.” We have a group of neurons in our brains that are designed to mirror other persons, their actions and their feelings. They wave a hand, our brain says wave your hand. Mirror neurons are the hard wiring of empathy and are “mystical” and “spiritual.”
We can also pollute the other person by communicating fear and anxiety…