On the Biology of Kindness: is Kindness the Antidote of our Time?

As we experience saddening events around the world, looking for instances that will restore our faith in human nature, here are science and research, again, that are proving that positive values prevail, and that there are millions of individuals who do perform random acts of kindness, for the sake of a fairer and more inclusive world. 

I have always been a believer in the power of kindness, often discouraged by statements such as: ‘Kindness is for the weak’; ‘careful, because practicing kindness will have others take advantage of you.’ And now, low and behold, documented stories are affirming what my heart has trusted for a while: that kindness can have a revolutionary effect. It can be the doorway to the universal values of dignity, equity, and compassion, I believe. And it can address complex issues such as poverty and inequality. Such values can teach us partnering: a way of relating and listening to each other that is more empowering.

Daniel Lumera, researcher of the Biology of Kindness, argues how practicing this value could be essential for our survival and thriving. This theory is proving that acts of kindness in our lives create emotional warmth, which releases a hormone known as oxytocin, which enables our blood vessels to dilate, and thus benefit our body in general, and cardioprotective system in particular. Lumera argues that the gratitude released when experiencing kindness creates optimism, reduces stress in the body, and improves relationships.

\"\"Taking us back to our studies of Darwin’s theory, Lumera explains that this adapting to change has been misinterpreted as a rush to dominate, separate, and manipulate, having us behave as Ego Sapiens, rather than Homo Sapiens. However, the Darwinian theory could have been about adapting through the strategy of kindness, of slowing down and opening our heart. Of practicing kindness for the sake of manifesting solidarity, empathy, and support. After all, we have seen the power of this way of being through the lives of Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela through non-violent acts which transformed communities.

When used to aggressive responses around us, it can be disarming and moving to be treated with kindness. It can transform situations for the better.

However many the benefits of kindness, it may not be easy to have the discipline of practicing it. The key to this, Lumera argues, is to hold the intention and then practice kindness with perseverance, discipline, patience, and effort, especially when we:

  • feel that we are being wronged,
  • experience the other as being combative, ready to fight,
  • assume that we don’t have time to be kind, or
  • feel we are losing hope in circumstances.

The above are the best times to challenge ourselves to be kind.

The Muscle of Kindness Can Be Developed

With effort we can work on ourselves and develop the habit of being kind as constantly as possible. Learning from the biology of values, we can infer that who will survive in the future, is perhaps the kindest one.

The invitation is to have three practices of kindness every day: towards the self, towards other, and towards animals and nature (through the tone of our voice, expression, words, and action). With kindness, we can deeply listen to a colleague complaining, we can offer to shop for a neighbour who is not feeling well (or raise resources for needy families – the work of Taye Worku on social media is a case in point), help an elder cross the road, pay someone a meal, look after an abandoned dog, or give ourselves a break of self-care. And who knows how such individual acts, compounded with others’ acts of kindness, can shift dynamics in our families, communities, and countries.

Written by: Nadia Waber