Human Kindness

In this study, small acts of kindness happened every 2 minutes, 79% said yes to requests for help and, on the rare occasion that a request for help was denied, there was more often than not an explanation to go with it.

To support this finding, this from an earlier post:

Why do people help others for nothing in return? The answer is: It’s not for nothing. For one big thing, unselfish regard for others, altruism, is not 100% unselfish, when we consider that it helped perpetuate our species, with the mother/infant relationship being a primary example of that.

Here and now – in work, play, love, and life – giving without expectation of return makes us look good and who doesn’t want that? ‘I’ll scratch your back. It’s fine; you don’t have to scratch mine. In fact, I hope you don’t because it’ll make me look really good if I give you something for nothing in return.’

This is exactly what the North American Indian Potlatch is about. The potlatch is an over-the-top gift-giving feast arranged precisely for the purpose of making the party giver look good. They who give the most win the most status and best reputation. Evolutionary psychology tells us that those with the best reps have the best access to resources and the most power to divvy them up.

According to the Yerkes National Primate Research Center studies, chimps picked cooperation over competition 5 times as much, which they suggest is the way it is for humans too. Other scientists have even discovered a “generosity” part of our brain, the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, which was seen to activate when people were learning to help others.

It appears, then, that we humans are good after all, so why all the cynicism?

Why So Much Cynicism?

According to Kathleen Vohs, a psychologist and behavioral economist at the University of Minnesota: “Cynicism is the belief that people will exploit one another, and use and abuse one another, because in essence, at their core, people are, we say ‘morally bankrupt,’ meaning people are just essentially looking out for themselves….It’s this underlying idea about human nature, and for a person who’s a hardcore cynic, human nature is selfish.”

So how do we square how caring we are with findings that our lack of trust in our institutions and each other is at an all-time high?

Let’s take a look at the Negativity Bias: “across an array of psychological situations and tasks, adults display a negativity bias, or the propensity to attend to, learn from, and use negative information far more than positive information.

In other words, even if humans exhibit both pro-social and anti-social behaviors, why would it be that more and more of us are focusing more and more on the negative—and what is the impact of that?

In the simplest of terms, back in the day when the modern human brain was forming if we missed an opportunity for food or sex, oh well, there will be another. But if we missed something negative, like a predator coming down the pike, we were lunch.

So, it makes sense that the survival advantage went to the ones who were best able to detect the negative, and here we are—basically noticing the negative over the positive as much and as well as we can.

Unfortunately, as Stanford psychology professor, Jami Zaki, put it:

In other words, we imagine a version of others that is much worse than the flesh-and-blood folks actually out there. And when we interact with that version rather than with their true selves, our responses can cause harm and spread cynicism further.

Reversing the Downward Spiral

America is suffering a mental health crisis, and who could argue that it would help for us to show kindness to each other.

But I am saying something else here, which is that we begin to notice what tends to go unnoticed—that is, the kindness to one another that is already there.

It may not feel natural to notice and make a big emotional deal out of the good humans do, but it is not impossible. What if, at the end of every day, we named 3 acts of human kindness that we noticed that day.

Practice, practice, practice…and let us know what you find. And for help with this or something else Contact Me at [email protected]



Photo by Freepik

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About the Author: Madelaine Weiss
Madelaine Claire Weiss (LICSW, MBA, BCC) is a Licensed Psychotherapist, a Board Certified Executive-Career-Life Coach, and bestselling author of “Getting to G.R.E.A.T. 5-Step Strategy for Work and Life.” sfas

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