Are we wired to be kind? Absolutely! Although I think some would disagree. It seems that the business model that’s operated for the past hundred years or so has been based on ‘survival of the fittest’, with the idea that humans are inherently selfish. But I would say the concept has been widely misunderstood.
The fittest is not the strongest, the toughest, or the fastest. The fittest is more about whether we can form strong relationships. This fittest is often he or she who shows most compassion or kindness.
What ‘fittest’ actually means is being most suited to the environment. It’s having qualities that allow us, as a species, to thrive. Being selfish does not. It fractures relationships. It is helping others, forming strong relationships through compassion and kindness, that help us, as a species, to thrive.
Several pieces of research clearly show us that we’re genetically wired to be kind. There’s a gene known as the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) and scientists studied one section of it.
What most people don’t know is that each of our genes have several ‘shades’ or versions. So let’s say the OXTR gene was pink; so there would be several different shades of pink, ranging from light (baby) pink through to a deeper pink that’s close to red.
It turns out that the shade of pink a person has is actually related to their tendency to be kind. So people who have a lighter shade of pink, for instance, tend to be kinder than those who have a deeper shade.
The point of me telling you this is to help you understand that we have kindness genes. It also doesn’t mean that if you happened to have a deeper shade of pink you’re stuck not being a kind person. Genetics generally doesn’t work that way. We make choices every day that overrule how our genes behave.
Other pieces of evidence that I believe show we’re wired for kindness are those that show we are healthier when we’re kind. Kindness benefits our emotions and also the heart. For instance, research clearly shows that kindness makes us happier. You’ve probably noticed this in your own life. Don’t you feel good when you help someone?
Kindness also benefits the heart. Oxytocin is produced through emotional warmth, something kindness delivers. Research now shows that oxytocin dilates the arteries, reducing blood pressure, and it also helps clears our arteries of free radicals and inflammation, the precursors to cardiovascular disease. For these reasons, it’s known as a ‘cardioprotective’ hormone.
In other words, through improving our health, kindness helps us thrive as individuals and, collectively, as a species. Through millions of years of evolution, nature has ‘selected’ kindness as something that has aided the survival of our species and, thus, as something that is crucial as we move forwards as a species. I have an ulterior motive for writing this article. Cue rubbing of hands and deep theatrical laugh!
I believe that kindness can change the world and so we need, as a species, to understand that it is actually wired in us, that it is good for us, that it is essential for our species to thrive, especially, yes, especially, in these difficult times. It is who, actually, what we are. I would say we are that which is kind.
I’m hoping that you’ll share this information with others so that we can finally start to change the way we do business, the way we make decisions that affect others, the way we think of others, and so that we even make little tweaks to the way we live our lives.
Each of us has responsibility for improving the world. We don’t all need to do big things. A little act of kindness today, a comforting shoulder, a warm embrace for someone who needs it, helping someone who feels they’re alone to not feel alone, a heartfelt compliment, a smile, gratitude, even making someone a cup of tea – all these things make a difference.
Imagine how our lives, our communities, our businesses, our governments, our societies, our world, would be if there was, say, 10% more kindness! Can you picture it?
OK then, what are we waiting for?
Copyright 2013 David R. Hamilton PhD.