Emotional memes?

Robin Faichney (robin@faichney.demon.co.uk)
Tue, 25 Aug 1998 13:02:33 +0100

Date: Tue, 25 Aug 1998 13:02:33 +0100
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
From: Robin Faichney <robin@faichney.demon.co.uk>
Subject: Emotional memes?

It was an unbearably steamy August afternoon in New York City,
the kind of sweaty day that makes people sullen with discomfort.
I was heading back to a hotel, and as I stepped onto a bus up
Madison Avenue I was startled by the driver, a middle aged black
man with an enthusiastic smile, who welcomed me with a friendly,
"Hi! How you doing?" as I got on, a greeting he proffered to
everyone else who entered as the bus wormed through the thick
midtown traffic. Each passenger was as startled as I, and,
locked into the morose mood of the day, few returned his

But as the bus crawled uptown through the gridlock, a slow,
rather magical transformation occurred. The driver gave a
running monologue for our benefit, a lively commentary on the
passing scene around us: there was a terrific sale at that
store, a wonderful exhibit at this museum, did you hear about
the new movie that just opened at that cinema down the block?
His delight in the rich possibilities the city offered was
_infectious_. By the time people got off the bus, each in turn
had shaken off the sullen shell they had entered with, and when
the driver shouted out a "So long, have a great day!" each gave
a smiling response.

The memory of that encounter has stayed with me for close to
twenty years. When I rode that Madison Avenue bus, I had just
finished my own doctorate in psychology -- but there was scant
attention paid in the psychology of the day to just how such a
transformation could happen. Psychological science knew little
or nothing of the mechanics of emotion. And yet, imagining the
spreading _virus_ of good feeling that must have rippled
through the city, starting from passengers on his bus, I saw
that this bus driver was an urban peacemaker of sorts,
wizardlike in his power to transmute the sullen irritability
that seethed in his passengers, to soften and open their hearts
a bit.

Emotion Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, Bloomsbury, London, 1996,
pp ix-x, emphases mine.

It seems to me that (a) the fact that this kind of thing does
happen, and (b) that it can be viewed as a form of behavioural
contagion, are uncontroversial. What I'm less clear about is
the relationship between this and memetics. Any comments?

Robin Faichney

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