The Moral Molecule — Aspen Ideas

How do we navigate through the sea of strangers that we all live in without having something in our brains that tells us who to be around and who not to be around, who is safe and who’s not safe?

You have to imagine this tiny little room in the county jail. We’re sitting almost knee to knee, about to have a long clinical interview. She’s in an orange jumpsuit, her hands are shackled, and there’s a guard outside the door. Slowly I start talking to her, asking her questions. “When did you first start smoking marijuana?” She said age thirteen. And then I asked, “When did you first start smoking methamphetamine?” She said age thirteen.

So what’s the natural question? “Gee, what happened to you when you were 13?”

She said, “Oh, my mom was a meth user, and she wanted to have someone to party with, so she introduced me to meth.” And then she started to cry, and she said, “And now when my mother calls me in prison to say she loves me, I can’t say it back to her.”

Breaking all appropriate clinical protocol, I said, “I don’t think you have to. Your mother did a terrible thing to you.” And indeed, Lisa had been raped because of meth, she had prostituted herself to get meth, she had married a man who was a meth user who beat her regularly, once fracturing her skull. She had two teenage children who lived in a state far from her because she couldn’t care for them. And she supported herself — though she was homeless — by selling meth.

 – Paul J. Zak

Source: The Molecule Behind the Golden Rule | TIME