Today, I came across a video that informed the watchers in a very sombre, yet glorifying tone that people who cried when they watched movies were high on empathy and compassion. They wept because they “became” the character.
I am someone who is a perennial weeper. When I watch movies, I get so emotional that I can’t stop the rivers that flow out of my eyes. I cry when I watch emotionally moving videos. And I also cry when I grow emotional over the lyrics of songs. You see, I am a weeper.
So, when I watched the video that informed me that I was a highly compassionate creature, I felt in tune with the Buddha. He is the most compassionate person I have heard about. I realized that I Kanika Kumar, should have, by this time, accumulated my own band of devotees who will be called “Kanikists” and who would follow the religion called “Kanikism.”
As I wondered why the world had not yet acknowledged my powers of compassion, I understood that I had accumulated my powers because my brain had accumulated a chemical called “Oxytocin.”
So, what is this Oxy…something?
Oxytocin is the brain chemical that helps us connect with others. This chemical goes on a high even at the slightest suggestion that another person wants to connect with us. This explains a lot, especially the reason why I feel sorry when I don’t tip the waiter more than enough; or feel sad for the plumber who is standing in the bathroom doing his job; or get agitated on behalf of the driver, because my husband keeps the cabbie waiting while getting the money out of his wallet.
The point is, Oxytocin gets released the moment we think someone else is suffering. That is why some people are instantly ready to part with hard earned money when they hear about a stranger’s suffering and rush to meet their plea for help.
All right. But what has any of this got to do with crying at the movies?
The problem with oxytocin is that its release jigs up the brain. The result – the brain cannot differentiate between real people and images of real people. In other words, we lose the ability to see reality and alternate reality as two separate entities.
Oh my! Why does this happen with the movies?
It happens with every story. And it is because storytelling takes over our brain.
When we listen to a story, our brain simply loses itself and falls into love. There is no focus like the focus of listening to a good story, whether it is the story of Cinderella, or that of your aunt. And trust the researchers and your own experiences on this one – focus is a scarcity when it comes to the brain.
Our brain is programmed to process storytelling. And that is why we can still recollect the tale of the Lion and the Mouse like we heard it only yesterday, while forgetting how the heck we calculate HCF and LCM. Well, that is how powerful the brain is on storytelling.
So, imagine a story with running images. The brain is a goner. Which means, the oxytocin gets out of control and makes us cry. Simply put, when we are watching a movie, the brain gets a bit haywire, making us…um…lose control.
And it does not stop with that. The impact that a story leaves transforms into a subconscious slow build. That is how some of us fell in love with the Star Wars franchisee so much enough to buy fake lightsabres and mini Starship troopers that are technically useless stuff. Not to mention going gaga over the actors. It’s called slow build, people.
Movies, at the end of the day, are just a bunch of images stitched up together, messing up our brain chemistry. And that is why we cry, feel angry or race to save the universe along with the character.
So, where does all of this leave me on the compassion factor
Compassion, as a feeling exists in alternate reality, a space built within our heads. Compassion, as an act, is reality and that is what truly matters.