Our Emotional Footprint

The world has become concerned about our “carbon footprint,” and we’re finally taking seriously the potential consequences of global warming. We’ve been remarkably resourceful and creative in overcoming challenges, and I’m optimistic that our ingenuity and dedication will ultimately reduce our carbon footprint.10426894_419467618215804_6640225536560289598_n (1)

I am less confident that we will be successful in meeting another footprint endangers our existence, a negative emotional footprint. “Our emotional footprint” is what we contribute, psychologically and socially, to each other and to our communities, how we behave towards and affect each other.

As with our carbon footprint, our emotional footprint can be positive, created with care and benevolence, or it can be negative, influenced by our selfishness and abuse.


I sometimes think that we’re living in an age of incivility. Many politicians and celebrities have been nasty in public, and many people are rude even in their daily dealings with each other at home, at work and in stores. Some seem to feel it’s their right to be loud, pushy and antagonistic. Some media pundits fill our airwaves and screens with verbal assaults, while trolls deliver abuse on internet blogs and via cyber bullying.

This come at a cost: Incivility does real damage to the social atmosphere we live in, and serves as a sad model for our children. Having different opinions is as human as breathing, and in a democracy differing views are appreciated. But when they are delivered with invective and derision, we enter into an unpleasant atmosphere, raising the level of nastiness, affecting us all, engendering “bad moods,” abrasiveness, and even demoralization. Whenever we resort to incivility, we are contributing to a Negative Emotional Footprint.

We have a choice: We can continue on paths of antagonism and conflict, or we can concentrate on acting with more tolerance, respect and kindness. The Yiddish concept of “mentsch,” a respectful and decent person, comes close to the ideal of acting with generosity of spirit, tolerance and cooperation. A positive emotional footprint is related to the Bantu concept “Ubuntu”, which Bishop Desmond Tutu calls “the essence of being human.” We are members of many different communities, but essentially of one common social network, the “Community of Humanity.”

We know that in small or large groups with inherent patterns of rudeness and intolerance, the seeds are planted for further rancor among the participants. But in a group or culture that stresses mutual respect and cooperation, the predominant mood is much more positive and generative, and antagonism diminishes.

Whether Our Emotional Footprint is positive or negative has a direct bearing on those around us throughout our lives. Even after we are have passed on, the nature of our Emotional Footprint serves as a legacy for future generations.

We should be paying attention to improving our civility on a personal level, and also in the communities in which we live, and even internationally. We could bring the same kind of global awareness and commitment to the task of increasing civility everywhere as we now bring to reducing global warming.

Just as we can decide in many small and large ways either to increase or decrease our carbon footprint, we can also choose between behaving with rudeness and discord, or concentrating on civility, respect and cooperation – a positive emotional footprint.

By the way, what is your emotional footprint?

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