Vocalists Improve Their Jen Ratio

Susan Raeburn, PhD, shares the idea that the key to improving the quality of your vocal work may lie in improving your Jen ratio:

Confucius introduced the concept of Jen to refer to kindness, humanity, and reverence and bringing the “good things in others to completion.”

But what does this have to do with being a vocalist?

Dr. Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, describes the science behind positive human emotions such as gratitude, humor, compassion and awe, and suggests that one can increase the meaning in one’s life by improving what he calls “the Jen ratio.”

Keltner describes the “Jen ratio” as a simple way to look upon the relative balance of good and uplifting versus bad and cynical in life.

Despite Western culture’s ongoing glorification of unbounded self-interest and competition as inherent to human nature, Keltner provides convincing evidence from neuroscience that as people we are also wired for Jen via emotions such as empathy, compassion, gratitude, altruism, kindness, humor, and cooperation.

The Math of Positivity and Negativity

Keltner then applies this to everything from personal relationships to the health of nations:

“In the denominator of the Jen ratio (that is the bottom half of the equation) place recent actions in which someone has brought the bad in others to completion –the aggressive driver who flips you off as he roars past, the disdainful diner in a pricey restaurant who sneers at less well-heeled passersby.”

One could add to this list the sour remarks or cynical observations you hear (or have) about other performers, venue owners, musicians, etc.

Back to Keltner: “Above this, in the numerator of the ratio (that is, the top half of the equation), tally up the actions that bring the good in others to completion – a kind hand on your back in a crowded subway car, the young child who compliments an elderly woman on her bathing suit as she nervously dips her toe in the swimming pool, the woman who laughs as a stranger accidentally steps on her foot.”

One could add to this the acknowledgment that is given to behind-the-scenes workers at a venue or in a band, or the kind acts that fans do for vocalists or that vocalists do for their fans.

Keltner concludes: “As the value of your Jen ratio rises, so does the humanity of your world.”*

As an aside, from the cross-cultural studies that have been done, apparently the Scandinavians do a lot better than the Americans or the British when it comes to the Jen ratio!

A Vocalist’s Random Act of Kindness

So, how might increasing your Jen ratio look for you?

It has to do with scanning the horizons of your life, looking at what is happening with your friends and associates and hatching a plan to make a positive contribution.

Here’s an example from a vocalist’s life:

Barbara was going through an exceptionally busy time with gigs and recording a new album.

In the midst of her busyness, she was surprised and sad to hear that her friend, Mary, had been in a car accident.

Mary was only mildly banged up and a little freaked out, but her stand-up bass had been seriously damaged and she didn’t have insurance to cover a repair or a replacement.

Mary had some important studio gigs coming up and really needed her bass.

Barbara was determined to help her friend but, at first, didn’t know what to do.

Yet, Barbara got on the phone with all of the musicians she knew and enlisted their help for Mary.

Within three days, not only did Mary have multiple offers for “loaner” instruments from their circle of friends, she was presented with the gift of an exceptional bass from the widow of a musician she had never even met who had recently passed away.

Everyone who attended Mary’s next gig with the new bass commented that she’d played with more heart than ever before.

Barbara and her circle of friends had increased Mary’s Jen ratio for the performance and for the year.

* Quotations from Dacher Keltner, Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life (W. W. Norton & Co., 2009)

Useful Links

Greater Good Science Center

Eric Maisel and Susan Raeburn, Creative Recovery

Susan Raeburn, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist. She is the co-author of Creative Recovery with Eric Maisel. Susan maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Berkeley, Calif., and is a staff psychologist in the Chemical Dependency Services program at Kaiser Permanente. Susan’s mother, Ginnie Powell, was a professional vocalist in the Big Band era with the orchestras of Gene Krupa, Harry James, and Boyd Raeburn.

© Susan Raeburn and Gregory A. Barker January, 2010.

Image Used for Article Picture – http://www.flickr.com/photos/donabelandewen/470780785/