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Instict, Love, and Empathy

Updated on March 29, 2013

We all agree that instinct is a basic function in man kind as well as all the other animals we share the earth with. But what is it? Perhaps the best way to pin it down is to say that it is a programmed or hard wired behaviour. We humans, of course, can think for ourselves. So most of us wouldn’t argue too much with the idea that thought takes over from instinct, leaving us better than just a fight or flight response for any given unknown situation. But that isn’t really an accurate picture of what is happening at all.

Consider for a moment how it is you learn to do something well, and it becomes evident what’s really going on. Learning to ride a bike is a good example. But we could be talking about performing surgery and the same process would apply. When you first learn to ride a bike there is so much information you have to cram into your head and process that more often than not you end up on the ground for the first little while. You have to concentrate on finding your balance as well as how to move your body to pedal or reach for your break. You are learning a new skill and it takes a lot of thought. There is trial and error involved. You experiment, dissect the information, and process it; and then there is much that your body learns to adapt to that you don’t control directly at all.

As you learn more and more, thought itself becomes a hindrance. That too is a little counter intuitive, isn’t it? But think about it. You can’t think about every movement or every breath and expect a smooth performance. Thought is too slow. In fact, doing so consciously would probably lead to another fall. The idea is to get to know the bike so well that it becomes part of you. When that happens our mind is free to watch the road, take in the sights, or correct for small errors. The brain doesn’t have time to think about every movement the body makes. Automatic response is much faster.

So what has happened? Suddenly the bike has become an extension of the body. This is what I call educating the instinctive. Just like when riding a bike, if you have ever learned to drive a car you know you are not consciously controlling every foot or arm movement. You have to have that down pat before you can be a safe and confident driver. The conscious part of the brain needs to be free to watch the road and determine the next course of action. Everything else has to be automatic or you become prone to hesitate or overcompensate. 

For any musicians reading this, the same holds true for playing an instrument. There is a great deal of thought and effort put into reading music, the right fingering, training the hands to do acrobatics without missing a beat. If a musician by the stage level had to think through every note, they would be paralyzed. The musician or artist more than anyone perhaps, is heard saying that the words or the music or the art: “just come out as if from someone else.”  It’s automatic.

Does anyone imagine that any martial arts expert has to deliberate before executing his moves? I would say not. In fact, the martial arts world is built on educating the instinctive. You can’t be a martial arts expert until you have made martial arts part of who you are.

So educating the instinct is how we learn. We don’t deliberate a great deal once we know what we are doing. Thought becomes secondary. So thought then is a tool for educating the instinctive. Then when it has done its job it is set aside. Thought is not the be all and end all of a human mind. It’s just a tool. The instinct is the real panicle here.  Everything goes back to instinct.

It starts as instinct, gets educated though thought and deliberation,  and then reverts to instinct, ready to be used at a moment’s notice.

But there is something else going on. I am saying that in order to understand something really well we have to make it part of us. What is the definition of empathy? We step into someone else’s shoes and try to feel what they feel. In a sense we try to make them part of us.

And this is what humans do. When we like something we try to make it an extension of ourselves. We include it in self. In fact, anything we do well we make part of us. But it doesn’t just apply to things or skills.

What is love? A lot of people will tell you it’s just a feeling or we can describe it as a set of chemical reactions to do with child rearing and procreation. But what is really happening, and the best way to explain love, is to understand that when we love, we try to make that person part of us. We want to include them in self.

So empathy is the highest form of love. Empathy is also the highest skill level we can reach. Isn’t it strange how intimately connected love, empathy, and instinct are? I said in another hub that there is no such thing as a selfless act. In fact, love and empathy and instinct are not selfless. They are inclusions into self.

And yet, when we include things in ourselves, we also become part of them. This is why inclusion is the answer so much suffering. When we do not include others we shun them or we don’t care. Exclusion makes it possible to make wars and kill. We demonize the “others” or make them sub human so we can justify our actions. Because if we didn’t we couldn’t do the things we do. If something is part of you, you aren’t as likely to hurt it. You would be hurting yourself.

The Beatles said: “all you need is love.” But more to the point, all we need is inclusion. If we have that, love comes naturally.

I just want to point out one final aspect to this. Many people wonder where consciousness comes from. It seems that consciousness and instinct are worlds apart. But consciousness is an emergent property of instinct. Consciousness is just a more evolved or more complex instinct. But I will leave that foe another hub.

Thanks for reading


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    • Slarty O'Brian profile imageAUTHOR

      Ron Hooft 

      7 years ago from Ottawa

      D William.

      Thanks so much for reading this hub. I can not but agree with you on pretty much all you have said. In fact, I have been discussing those issues in a new series of hubs called: The road to becoming a warrior.

      I'll be glad to your read your hub on the subject when it's finished. ;)

    • d.william profile image


      7 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      P.S. I hope you don't mind but i decided to take my reply to you, and create a hub around it. Of course, i will direct all traffic back to your hub in the process. I look forward to reading more of your work. I promise i won't be as verbose on the rest of them. LOL

    • d.william profile image


      7 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      Good article. Good thought processing. You are right on, with your comments. But there is another element that is missing.

      Instinct, love, and empathy are not innate qualities in every human being. They are learned by imitating (emulating) parents, teachers, etc.., and hopefully brought to fruition by logical reasoning of those facts they have taken in by emulating others.

      And you are correct that if these aspects are learned and honed properly, we would never have the need to harm others for any reason. If we could teach our children the concepts of compassion, sympathy, tolerance, etc.., this would make for a well rounded, happy, considerate adult, and not leave much room for the negative emotions.

      but unfortunately there is a radical negative factor that disrupts those positive emotions that can never be dismissed as unimportant, or irrelevant. We should be teaching children to take in new ideas and concepts, how to mull them around in their minds, consider all the possible outcomes (both negative and positive) in making their choice of accepting or discarding them.

      Instead, 99.9% of all children born into this world are bombarded with fear, guilt, distrust, hatred, intolerance of others, through their narrow minded, tunnel visioned religious teachings. These thoughts are not just in passing, or for the purpose of enlightening the child. They are severely driven into the child's psyche, continuously over many years.

      These indoctrinating techniques cause cognitive dissonance that sometimes cannot be reconciled by the child as it grows up and experiences alternative points of view.

      And the end result? The young man in Norway that was so conflicted, he became paranoid schizophrenic, and who not only took a heavy toll on others around him, but to his very inner core. Such sadness and violence would never have taken place in a mind that was properly taught love and empathy. And it seems that there are more and more like him coming to the fore front in our world today, with the emergence of greater pressures on the individual by governments out of control, religious zealots preaching out right hatred against gays, Muslims, Jews, women, and an (unwanted by many of those radical zealots) a black president of the 'white' America of yesterday.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Good morning. Yes, it is interesting how some hubs get hits and others not. I have one that is still with 0 comments despite the strategic mentioning/linking it into another hub I recently wrote, LOL.

      When I view what other work a writer has posted it is usually the title or opening sentences that draw my attention to it first.

      Other times-it is the fact that there are no comments. After I read it and find it an amazing piece, such as yours, I am puzzled and astounded that there were no comments previous to mine.

      Hope you have a week full of interesting events.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile imageAUTHOR

      Ron Hooft 

      7 years ago from Ottawa

      "I'm in disagreement that war happens because someone (or a society/country) has not included the differences of 'other' within themselves. If that is what you are stating here."

      Well in effect it is the same as saying if every one loved each other we couldn't possibly go to war with each other. It just stands to reason. Unfortunately that isn't going to happen any time soon.

      You are absolutely correct in saying you can't love others unless you love yourself. And this is exactly because love is the desire to make something else part of you. You don't want to make anything part of you if you hate yourself. Why would you?

      I also agree with you ideas about projection. It is definitely something to be aware of and avoid.

      In fact I agree with pretty much everything you have said.

      I also want to thank you for commenting on hubs no one else has want to comment on. Strange how some hubs get a lot of hits but no comments.

      Thanks again, ;)

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      I'm looking forward to reading that hub about your views re: consciousness. Interesting hub. I'm in disagreement that war happens because someone (or a society/country) has not included the differences of 'other' within themselves. If that is what you are stating here.

      I believe we cannot 'love' other and hence, embrace 'other and their differences' until we recognize our hatred within our own hearts for ourselves. When man is unaware of his hatred for his own self he arrogantly projects this onto the other. It is part of human nature to do this.

      The more clarity a person has about their own feelings, hatred, lust, jealosy, and other negative traits, the more he is able to NOT judge another for he will see his own self in his brother.

      Just some of my thoughts that have arisen from your hub. Thanks for sharing. It was an interesting read.


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