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Saturday, November 28, 2020

Guest Commentary

What we see, we emulate: Pharmacology professor urges people to act with kindness even when leaders don’t


UH Pharmacology Professor Samina Salim calls for a social awakening that will urge us to act with compassion and sensitivity even when our leaders don't. | Courtesy of Samina Salim

UH pharmacology professor Samina Salim calls for a social awakening that will urge us to act with compassion and sensitivity even when our leaders don’t. | Courtesy of Samina Salim

A normal weekday morning like today typically starts with a Darjeeling brew and NBC news. The pandemic has modified our mornings to a large extent. 

My work commute, which is typically one hour from Katy to the UH main campus, is temporarily not part of the schedule. This drive time saving has created a little more space for my morning television. 

As I prepared avocado toast for breakfast, I heard Hoda Kotb talk about the story of a dog with paralyzed hind limbs on the “Today Show” this morning. The dog gave birth to a bunch of puppies, most of whom walked upright, but two of them dragged their hind legs as they walked; not because their legs were broken but because they saw their mother drag her hind legs.

A classic example of learned behavior I said to myself. 

As a basic neuroscientist, neurobehavioral studies always catch my attention. The story was lost in the commotion of the day, yet the thought kept surfacing in my mind each time I had a moment to myself.  

The story reminded me of how we model what we see that surrounds us; and what we see, we emulate. 

I was reminded of the profound power of the unsaid. The words that are embedded in the contemplative curves of the face, the suggestive gestures of the body or the crevices of our character often generate profound shifts in consciousness and determine our responses. 

According to the social learning theory, people learn by watching others. For instance, the famous Bobo doll experiment demonstrated how kids imitate adult behavior. Researchers discovered that children treated the doll the same way adults treated the children. 

It is also true that not only as children, but as adults we look up to our leaders, peers and family not just for inspiration, but also for determining responses in situations of crisis or moments of a dilemma; sometimes this becomes an excuse for our behavior.  

But where are our role models? Who do we model after? Did you all watch the last presidential debate? 

Respect, grace, honesty, integrity, truth and trust seem part of a lost world. 

What we need is an awakening from an unsustainable world in peril, unaware of life’s fragility, into a world that treats others with greater sensitivity, compassion and mindfulness. 

Individually and collectively, we must cultivate a higher emotional and spiritual benchmark for our family and society at large. And, in doing so, help co-create a more loving, peaceful and connected world, one heart at a time.

Samina Salim is a pharmacology professor and can be reached at [email protected]

[email protected]

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