Compassionate and Cooperative Attitudes in Yucatec Mayan People: Cultural and Cognitive Alternatives to Violence

Roberto Emmanuele Mercadillo Caballero

CONACYT Research Fellow-Neuroscience Area, Department of Biology of Reproduction, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Unidad Iztapalapa, México.

María Dolores Cervera Montejano

Full-Time Researcher, Departamento de Ecología Humana, Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados-IPN, Unidad Mérida.

Compassion is considered a prototypical moral emotion defined by feelings of sorrow elicited when perceiving suffering in other which motivate pro-social attitudes and actions. In recent years, some neurobiological and cognitive approaches have proposed compassion as a route to regulate aggressive and violent behaviors, as well as to develop actions to maintain the social welfare. In this work we present ethnographic descriptions and interpretations to identify cultural and cognitive elements to develop compassionate attitudes in the Mayan location of Kiní, Yucatán, which belongs to an ethnic group with a large history of cultural conflicts, but representing a remarkable cooperative system in one of the less violent geographical regions in Mexico. When perceiving expressions of sorrow or pain not only the other’s expressions are relevant for Mayan observers, but the empathetic self-identified feelings too. Empathy for the other’s suffering is differentiated from a sensorial and dichotomous quality: pain and sadness; the first is physical and the second one is emotional and more important to be solved. Human mind is considered as the essence of cooperation moving moods and thinking to regulate moral and empathetic inhibitions of aggressiveness. Education from both, school and family, is based on notions of equality, communal responsibility and a restorative sense of morality, while compassionate feelings are expressed as attitudes to maintain the other’s and own welfare, equanimity and self-control of the emotions and moods. We propose that these cultural Mayan qualities may favor the understanding of cooperative systems regulating emotional and cognitive elements related with violent behaviors.


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