Bargell: Elevation at altitude (column) |

Bargell: Elevation at altitude (column)

Just when I was positive I had discovered a phenomenon deserving serious scientific study, I learned, once again, I’m only just catching up.

That’s OK because knowing the research exists helps confirm I am not crazy — at least, not completely so. Last week, I witnessed a friend responding to a simple inquiry with an equally simple answer. When asked for a few minutes of her time, she responded without hesitation, “What can I do to help?” Not, “What do you need?” or “We’ll see, but my plate’s pretty full right now.” Nope, just simply “What can I do to help?” It stopped me in my tracks.

Too often, I forget that how we frame our communication has a profound effect. Wise friends used to remind me when I complained about an upcoming commitment — whining that I “had to go” to one of the kids’ activities — they were pretty sure I meant I “get to go.” One tiny shift in vernacular changed my perspective. Inevitably, the light bulb would go on, and I’d offer up a sheepish shrug while they exchanged knowing smiles recognizing the event soon would be a wistful memory, and I would indeed be glad I “got” to go.

My pal’s response the other day similarly impacted me. Not just because she’s one of the busiest people on the planet, but instead because it was as unceremonious as it was heartfelt. Later in the day, I confessed to eavesdropping and the example she unintentionally set, whereupon we both stemmed an unexpected flow of tears. I can’t say with confidence we are not merely crazy ladies, but, even so, there was something edifying in the air.

Apparently, scientists have examined the phenomenon for the last several years, labelling it “moral elevation.” It is a physiological response that occurs when we witness profound acts of kindness. My guess is anyone who saw Mother Theresa in action came under the spell of moral elevation. New York Times op-ed writer Arthur C. Brooks wrote an engaging piece about how carrying a briefcase received as a gift from BYU propelled him to act differently and compelled him to think differently about politics. Moral elevation often wafts through our Summit hills and seems especially pungent during times of hardship.

Most in our community know the raw pain of loss is again washing over local teens as they grapple with the death of another classmate. Hefte Flores’ drowning blew another hole in our community, accompanied by a familiar gnaw of helplessness. On a recent card of condolence, I could only say no words seem adequate to speak in the face of unspeakable loss. The loss of two young men full of promise in recent months, both merely scratching the surface of their potential, is gut-wrenching.

Amid the search for nonexistent answers, or eloquent words, the simplicity of my friend’s response speaks volumes. Surely there’s something I can do to help. Perhaps it’s words of encouragement or a hug for a hurting sibling. Many are taking a Sunday afternoon to participate in the “Out of Darkness” suicide prevention walk on September 13, to show support and unity for friends and family still reeling from our recent losses. All are welcome. There’s a chance to help with much needed funds for the Flores family as they deal with unanticipated funeral expenses. What can we do to help? Opportunities abound, all we need to do is ask and set the wheels of elevation in motion.

Cindy Bargell is a mom and attorney who lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters. She welcomes your comments at

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