Namegosibiing Anishinaabe compassion: A cure for modern day ills

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Agger, Leslie
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Compassion is a universal concept that is and has been cultivated in many different ways throughout time and across cultures. Most if not all traditions recognize that individuals must cultivate their own compassion, as it is not necessarily an inherent human trait. Compassion is has been defined in the western literature as the recognition of and desire to alleviate suffering in self and others. It is distinct from empathy, which is the vicarious experience of other people’s suffering. Research based on neuroimaging has shown that the brain experiences suffering regardless of whether it is first-hand or empathically induced while feelings of compassion involve an entirely different part of the brain that do not overlap with empathy. These findings suggest that many of the common adverse effects associated with the condition of empathy (for example, burnout, depression, and desensitization to suffering) can be mitigated if one shifts his/her perspective from empathy to compassion. This thesis suggests that while Anishinaabe constructs of compassion are all but absent in the scholarship, they exist at the grassroots level embedded in language, traditional stories, and social practices. Interviews with elder members of Namegosib Anishinaabeg of Trout Lake, Ontario demonstrate that compassion was fully integrated into daily life, a central tenet of spiritual and moral beliefs and practices. Its manner of cultivation ranged from participation in dream fasting ceremonials to making and offering gifts for and to others. The belief that compassion brought about peace of mind and other beneficial states of mind associated with the good life was salient for the Trout Lake community. Moreover, moving from an empathy to a compassion paradigm in health and social welfare based in traditional Anishinaabe understandings of compassion could have many benefits for Indigenous health as well as its workers.
Compassion, Indigenous studies, Anishinaabe, North American Indian, Traditional knowledge, Indigenous compassion, Indigenous kindness, Indigenous ethics, Indigenous philosophy