‘It Could Be Worse’: Is This the Best Form of Consolation?

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Consolation, from the Latin root word consolari, means the comfort that someone receives after a loss or disappointment, or while experiencing misery, distress, or anxiety. To console someone is try to offer support, encouragement, relief, and a more cheerful attitude. Interestingly, consolation is not a uniquely human behaviour. Scientists have discovered that a range of non-human animals have the capacity to console. For example, mice in experiments allowed to roam free will visit other mice who have been caged and injected with vinegar (this was to induce a painful experience and to then see how the mice not in pain react). Primates, especially chimpanzees, will console the losers of fights, and elephants will console each other in times of distress. These observations are indications of pro-social behaviour (behaviour that aims to benefit the group rather the individual), which depends on empathy. To console another is to enact one’s empathetic connection with that being.

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Originally published at https://www.samwoolfe.com on March 2, 2020.

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