The World is Messy: Here’s Why Kindness is Our Last Bastion of Hope
Current events, interpersonal conflicts, social media trolls and mobs, and a culture of “every man for himself” can leave you feeling downright discouraged about the fate of the world. But there’s a good reason for you to have faith in the power of kindness: Kind acts beget more kindness.
Kindness is Measurably Contagious
Even simply bearing witness to kindness and compassion results in what researchers refer to as “moral elevation,” a measurable physical and emotional reaction that is believed to trigger oxytocin, the “love” hormone that is released after orgasm and during breastfeeding. “I think we have a tendency to absorb what we’re witnessing and that it has an impact on our body and brain,” said Sarina Saturn in an interview with UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.
Saturn authored a 2015 study on moral elevation that had participants watch videos of incidents that were either compassionate or amusing. Amusing videos did not elicit any change, while the compassionate videos triggered participants’ heart rate and as well as a section of the brain that corresponds with empathy. “We’ve found that just showing an inspiring video of people being kind is enough to cause these dramatic events taking place in the body and to allow you to want to pay it forward and be prosocial in turn.” This means that your kindness will not only benefit you and the recipient of your compassion: It also will make other people feel good and prime them for their own acts of kindness.
Kindness Creates Space to Heal in an Age of Hurt
I’m glad somebody said it. Even if it is a little soon. A ruthless, fat-phobic misogynist shouldn’t be posted all over the internet as a saint gone-too-soon. Talented for sure, but not the best person. https://t.co/RK3Q9HilpP
— Jameela Jamil (@jameelajamil) February 19, 2019
Shortly after the death of Karl Lagerfeld, the Twitterverse witnessed how kindness can play out in a disagreement between two strangers in the tinderbox of social media. Jameela Jamil spoke out against Lagerfeld’s legacy of misogyny, racism, and body-shaming mere hours after his death was announced, which incensed his friend Cara Delevingne who was grieving his loss. What could have devolved into a media-fueled catfight (some publications tried to spin their dialogue that way) was instead, in Jamil’s words, “a really interesting thread between two people with very different views who aren’t trying to win, or be rude, just trying to appeal to the other’s empathy.” Kindness didn’t require either of them to compromise their own points of view or sense of integrity. Instead, it created space for both women to hear each other out, disagree, and heal.
Hurt People Don’t Deserve Kindness… They Need It
Sometimes, kindness requires one person to take a huge leap and recognize that hurt people hurt people. Remember Sarah Silverman and her Twitter troll at the end of 2017? Silverman responded to the sexist slur that @jeremy_jamrozy posted on her feed by responding with love and compassion: “I believe in you. I read ur timeline & I see what ur doing & your rage is thinly veiled pain. But u know that. I know this feeling. Ps My back F**king sux too. see what happens when u choose love. I see it in you.” One thing led to the next and the two carried out a dialogue that ultimately inspired people from all around the country to help fund his treatment for back pain. This was an instance in which an unexpected, undeserved gesture of kindness was just the relief that someone needed.
It’s not always easy to follow the golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated, especially if you’re unable to understand what it means to be treated well. If you need practice in being kind, or even if you don’t think you do, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center offers a online course called The Science of Happiness that cultivates mindfulness, kindness, and empathy. You can audit the course for free over an eight-week period, or pay a small fee to get unlimited access to the class, along with a certification of completion.