Monday, May 6, 2024

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, January 14, 2023 - The Implications of Goodness

What are the implications of goodness? Even more, what are the implications of the proven fact that exhibiting kindness has a positive effect on things like the immune system?

That fact alone should make one think about what is natural to us as humans. War and conflict are not natural to humans. If they were, there would be a physiological benefit to practicing them. But there is not.

There are other phenomena like this. Gratitude? Natural. Compassion? Natural. Healthy self-awareness? Absolutely natural. We know this because when people do them they live longer. What other conclusion is there to draw other than that we were literally made for goodness? And when we contravene that natural tendency over and over, we get sick, we even die. 

This is the basis of my optimism for the future of humanity.

When we are kind to just ourselves, there is a benefit, but only momentarily. It does not last, nor does it make an impact on our overall immune system. Yet when we are kind to others, it has a powerful and beneficial impact on our health and happiness that lasts.

Of course, you need to keep the practice going, because all bodily improvements have their shelf life. But the effects of kindness toward others compound when you do it often enough.

Does that make you want to be nicer to people? Maybe you’re already one of the unfailingly kind ones. Good! Keep it up. Take note of the fact that it’s healthier and correctly assume that the quality of your life has been improved by it.

If you struggle with being kind to others, if you’re overly judgmental, critical, or even hostile, take note of that too. Consider if your life and health could use some improvement in that area. Fake it till you make it if you must.

Some could conclude that this is an indication of having been created by a divine being with love at the center of It. That may be true. It’s not indisputable proof, but it stands in as such. Why are we like this? Are there other species among creation who exhibit greater levels of health and lower tendencies toward stress when they behave compassionately? Yes. Neural activity associated with empathy has been observed in mice, dogs, and monkeys. Whales, dolphins, and porpoises also demonstrate levels of caring and empathy similar to humans. Elephants, certainly. Sometimes even cats (when they feel like it). 

This compassion is demonstrated cross-species as well. What could be the evolutionary benefit of kindness across species? Why does it exist? Why does a dolphin help a whale? Or a human? It seems to go against the common understanding of the Darwinian “survival of the fittest” model of evolution. Unless, of course, “fittest” doesn’t just refer to physical strength. 

We now know that forbearance, patience, trust, forgiveness, and even vulnerability are able to be seen as strengths. They certainly do make relationships stronger. Shouldn’t these be seen as forms of evolutionary fitness? Are they by design? 

When we look at the current age with despair, and fear for what comes next in human history we might look to statistics for answers. In them there is both cause for concern as well as hope. Statistics show that there had been a steady decrease in kindness and empathy during the study period from 1979 to 2009. But that trend reversed itself dramatically during the pandemic. Kindness is steadily on the rise now. Hopefully, we can keep it going.

The decline we were seeing in kindness is a result of the media and politics twisting and distorting our views of one another; encouraging us to fear our neighbor. That makes people hoard resources instead of sharing them. It makes them perceive greater levels of competition among us than is actually real. 

But since kindness is our natural tendency, it is my faith that the distortion of truth cannot last. Our perception of separateness will be seen for the lie that it is; convenient only to those who profit from it. For as the Buddha said, “Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

Kindness is humanity’s truth. It is in our DNA. The proof is in the benefits. Lean into it. For it is far more contagious than any disease or dubious meme on the Internet. It has a power those who practice it know and understand quite well. Make good use of it.

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