Shiv Harsh has sent me a new guest post for the Kindness series, along with plenty of wonderful pictures to substantiate his thoughts, reaching back into history, as well as science. Make the most of his positivity! Thank you, Shiv!
If Kindness Is Overrated, So Is Being Human
By Shiv Harsh
There is a modern concept: each one for himself, dog eat dog, a take-no-prisoners attitude toward the world. But we are not in a zero-sum game. For one person to win, another one does not have to lose. And how do you tabulate wins and losses anyway? The guy with the most marbles, the biggest house, the largest yacht is not always the happiest or the most satisfied.
It was not always thus.
The value of cooperation and interdependence was learned fairly early by our ancestors.
Early humans attacked animals, and animals attacked humans. Cooperation among humans helped them to fight off attacking animals, and also made hunting easier. There are findings suggesting that a party of Homo erectus hunted a giant baboon in Kenya 400,000 years ago.
As such, it is clear that there were both cultural and genetic reasons for cooperation. Groups of people who helped each other had a survival advantage, and their genes were passed on. Within groups also, people who were more selfish and less likely to help others often got killed, and were removed from the gene pool.
Human beings living in small groups in ancient times realized their interdependence. As such, they had a direct interest in the welfare of their colleagues in that group. This is one reason advanced for the origins of altruism, or kindness to others, which we humans possess, but most animals do not.
However, there was one side effect of this. Our ancestors started to develop a strong sense of “us” versus “the other.”
People belonging to a small group, a tribe, recognized each other, trusted each other, and “had each other’s back.” “Others” were viewed with suspicion, because they could be hostile.
Even today, we see evidence of this kind of behavior. Members of fraternities, clubs, religions, nationalities, are more likely to be kind and helpful to each other. “Outsiders” are not as readily trusted.
This appears to have distorted our inborn tendencies. The race to be bigger, better, stronger, richer, at all costs has subjugated our humanity. Acts of kindness are sometimes seen as evidence of weakness, as a lack of the “killer instinct.”
“Do unto others before they do unto you.” Is that going to be our new motto?
Individual acts of kindness still occur. But group behavior is veering off in a dangerous direction.
Altruism and happiness
Studies on students have found a clear relationship between altruism and happiness. Those people who consider themselves to be the most happy are also generally the most altruistic. Happiness makes us more open to others. Acute depression, on the other hand, makes it more difficult for people to express love for others.
Fun versus philanthropy
Martin Seligman is a researcher who has studied “positive psychology.” In one of his studies, he asked a group of students to do two different things. The first was a run-of-the-mill fun activity: enjoying ice cream, going out with friends, or watching a movie. The other activity was an act of disinterested kindness.
The results were dramatic. There was a profound and lasting sense of satisfaction associated with performing an act of kindness. By contrast, the pleasure from movies and ice cream was short-lived.
Empathy, altruism, joy
More and more data suggest a connection between these basic human traits and emotions.
All human beings share the same desire to avoid suffering and enhance their sense of well-being. We are more alike than different. We depend on each other much more than we care to admit.
Contrary to previous beliefs, the brain is malleable. You can teach an old brain new tricks. Western scientists are studying with modern technology the brain activity of Buddhist monks who practice meditation, compassion and empathy. The results are astonishing.
Monks who were studied while meditating on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion” demonstrated the presence of powerful gamma waves on the recordings of their brain activity. These waves are related to consciousness, attention, learning, and memory.
Some experienced practitioners of meditation show more activity in the brain’s left prefrontal cortex, compared to the right, when meditating on compassion. This reflects a larger capacity for happiness and a lower tendency for negativity.
People who are vastly experienced in meditation obviously show the maximum amount of change. However, some changes can be seen even with three weeks of 20 minutes daily meditation.
Thus the practice of compassion is a way of demonstrating oneness between ourselves and the outside world.
Joy and satisfaction are related to love and affection. Selfishness tends to breed misery.
Inner joy generates kindness. Expressing kindness leads to lasting fulfillment.
The best of life
The term human being invokes a state of being, not just existing. Without kindness, humans would be merely existing. And how would you rate that?