Deliberate Acts of Kindness

The phrase “survival of the fittest” is often used to
describe the tough tactics people use to get ahead in modern society, but scientists have determined that a
far more effective coping strategy might be “survival of
the kindest.” The second week of November is World Kindness Week, a perfect opportunity to make kindness
a part of our everyday routines.

Humans have evolved into one of Earth’s most social species. While many people tend to think of humans
as inherently competitive with each other, fighting for resources, mates, or even promotions at work, scientist and psychologist Dacher Keltner takes another point of view. He believes that humans are built to be kind. Our generosity, self-sacrifice, play, modesty, compassion,
awe, gratitude, and even embarrassment all present powerful evidence of our innate drives for kindness and caring. Research shows that when people act kindly toward others, they take more pleasure in society and
are more likely to feel satisfied and happy. New research suggests that our vagus nerve in particular may have evolved to support and encourage altruistic behaviors. Perhaps stimulation of the vagus nerve is what prompted writer Anne Herbert to write, “Practice random kindness
and senseless acts of beauty” on a placemat in a
California restaurant in 1982.

Herbert’s notion that we should practice random acts
of kindness is not new. Jews have practiced mitzvahs,
or good deeds for others, for millennia. In the cafés of Naples, Italy, hardworking people who unexpectedly
come into money pay for two coffees, a tradition called caffe sospeso, taking one for themselves and leaving

the other for someone less fortunate. In 2006, the Free Hugs Campaign was launched on YouTube, encouraging people to share the simple act of a hug with others in
need of comfort. For some, kindness is easy. For others, sharing public acts of kindness may take practice. Start
by doing one small, kind thing for someone. As the Greek fabulist Aesop once said, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”