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Studies show that people walking side by side naturally tend to synchronise their movements.

I remembering reading years ago that, in a business meeting, sitting beside someone you normally disagree with makes you both feel more akin. I know that when I tried it, I felt friendlier toward the other person, less antagonistic.

That insight came to mind recently when I read an article at the Conversation by Liam Cross, a lecturer in psychology at Edge Hill University in the UK.

“It’s often said,” he writes, “we feel a connection to those we are on the same path as or in sync with. … Many metaphors for conflict and resolution seem to revolve around walking or moving together. But maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised by this – research shows that moving in time together with another person can result in positive social consequences.

One study, for example, found that people who walk in step with one another are more likely to cooperate – even if doing so comes at a financial cost to them. Studies have also shown how coordinating your movement with other people – such as tapping to the same rhythm – can lead to greater rapport and the desire to help each other.

“We are also more likely to conform to and obey requests when they come from someone we have coordinated with.

“Given then that we are living at a time in history when many people are marching for equality and an end to discrimination and prejudice, in our latest research project we wanted to find out if walking together could be used as a tool to foster better relationships between polarised groups. And it seems it can – in more ways than you might imagine.

“We tested whether walking in synchrony with a member of a disenfranchised minority group could improve people’s attitudes towards that group. We asked native Hungarians to walk with a Roma person. Roma people are a particularly disenfranchised group in Hungary. …

“One week before coming into the lab, we asked 70 Hungarians to fill in an attitudes assessment towards the Roma online. They were then introduced to a Roma person and spent five minutes walking laps of a large room with them. They did so either synchronously (landing their steps at the same time), or at different speeds.

The study found that following synchronous walking, people rated their Roma co-walker as more likeable, felt closer to them and had more empathy for them. They also showed increased empathy and a reduction in negative attitudes towards the Roma group as whole.

“We then wanted to see if just imagining walking in step could have the same effects. … Research has also shown that imagining having a positive conversation with members of different social groups can help bring groups together akin to actual positive interactions. Previous research has also shown how imagining walking in synchrony with a group of people can increase rapport in line with actually walking together.

“In a follow-up study, 60 Hungarian people came in to the lab and were asked to just imagine walking with a Roma man or woman after a video introduction. They were simply asked to imagine walking either in or out of sync with them. The study found that just imaging walking in synchrony improved intergroup relations akin to actual walking. …

“This kind of bodily synchrony is something we, as humans, have been doing for many thousands of years. From prehistoric cave paintings of our dancing ancestors to the remains of Palaeolithic pipes people have practised moving in time with each other throughout history.

“For coordination to have persisted across culture and time, it likely served some adaptive purpose in terms of evolution. Perhaps one of these purposes was to do with helping people get on the same path and move forward together. It seems then that there might just be something to the idea that we can empathise with others by walking in their shoes.”

More at the Conversation, here.

“Walk Together Children, Don’t You Get Weary,” sung by Mt. Olives Church Choir, Naalya, Uganda.

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When I was growing up in Rockland County, New York, my parents liked to buy art from artist friends and, when possible, offer other kinds of support. They hired the Hungarian-American artist André Dugo, for example, to paint a portrait of my brother Bo and me sitting in an armchair and reading one of the artist’s children’s books. We often read his book Pete the Crow or the books featuring a cardinal and a blue jay, or the one about the calf that ate the wrong kind of grass and puffed up like a balloon.

One day, Mr. Dugo came to our house to watch television with us. (We had one of the first TVs because my father was writing a story on Dumont for Fortune magazine.) We kept asking Mr. Dugo what he would like to see, and he kept saying he just wanted to see whatever we ordinarily watched.

As we worked our way through several programs, Mr. Dugo noted our reactions, sometimes asking questions.

Not many months after, a children’s book came out. It was called Tom’s Magic TV, and its premise was that a boy traveled through the TV screen and into adventures with sharks, circus clowns, puppets, cowboys and spacemen. Bo and I were not mentioned. The mother didn’t look like my mother. This was an early exposure to children’s-literature research — or poetic license.

I’m pretty sure that Gene Autry was the model for the cowboy adventure.

030916-Toms-Magic-TV-Dugo

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OK, it’s not really a totem pole, but I was afraid the word kopjafa wouldn’t ring any bells with readers.

Today at church we dedicated a wooden pole that was carved by the minister of our sister church in Transylvania when he visited Massachusetts last year.

A translated Wikipedia entry says that, originally, two kopjafa poles were to used to carry a coffin to a cemetery. The poles were then placed at the head and foot of the mound. But according to my minister, nowadays kopjafa poles are set outside churches and, as in our case, sometimes given to a partner church.

The minister read the poem below as he spoke about our church’s connection to Transylvanians of the (almost) same religion. The subject is a little sad for what we do at Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog, but it fits with our previous discussions about the value of preserving language and customs in minority communities. (Hungarian Transylvania was handed over to Romania after World War I, and has had some challenges, starting with language challenges.)

“Leave, if you can …
“Leave, if you think,
“That somewhere, anywhere in the world beyond
“It will be easier to bear your fate.
“Leave …
“Fly like a swallow, to the south,
“Or northward, like a bird of storm,
“And from high above in the wide skies
“Search for the place
“Where you can build a nest,
“Leave, if you can.
“Leave if you hope
“Against hope that homelessness
“Is less bitter abroad than at home.
“Leave, if you think
“That out in the world
“Memory will not carve new crosses from
“Your soul, from that sensitive
“Living tree.”

Read about the poem’s author, Hungarian poet Sandor Remenyik, here.

Transylvania-kopjafa-at-sister-church

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Photograph: James Montague for The New York Times
Outside the Vakar Lajos rink, where the Hungarian name of the Romanian ice hockey team, Hoki Sport Club Csikszereda, is printed on the ice.

I don’t follow ice hockey, but a recent article on ethnic Hungarians playing for the Romanian ice hockey team caught my eye.

I already knew that a chunk of Romania is like a little Hungary because my church and a church in Transylvania (20 percent ethnic Hungarian) have a longstanding relationship. Exchanges back and forth occur nearly every year.

So in flipping past the sports section the other day, I couldn’t ignore an article by James Montague on the irony of Romania, a country that under communism repressed ethnic Hungarians, having so many of them on their national ice hockey team. A feeder team in Miercurea Ciuc, Romania, calls itself Szekely Land, after a former province of the Kingdom of Hungary.

“The Szekely Land, named for a warrior tribe that dates to the Middle Ages, is a Hungarian-dominated area of Romania, covering three counties in the center of the country. The roughly 1.2 million Hungarians represent Romania’s largest ethnic minority, about 6 percent of the country’s population. The fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I marooned millions of Hungarians in what is now Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Serbia. The Szekely found themselves cut off and subject to a policy of assimilation, including heavy restrictions on the use of their language, under the former communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.”

Sometimes having so many ethnic Hungarians on the Romania team can lead to unhockeylike situations. The “anomaly reached a critical point during a 2011 game between Romania and Hungary in Miercurea Ciuc,” writes Montague. “After the game, almost all of Romania’s players joined with their opponents to sing the Hungarian anthem.

“ ‘Some of the paparazzi caught it, and it was a big scandal,’ said Attila Goga … who has played for the Romanian national team for a decade but holds dual Romanian-Hungarian citizenship. ‘It’s a little bit strange, but I can see that, too. They don’t understand our situation here.’ ” More.

My advice to autocrats: Don’t try to change people’s language. It always ends badly.

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