What does it mean to be kind? People associate the word with being considerate, warm, gracious, and empathetic. It’s derived from a Middle English word that means “noble deeds” or “courtesy.” Historically, kindness has been treasured, but for many societies, it’s no longer valued as much as it used to be. Why should people care about kindness? Where does it come from? Here are five essays that shine a light on the nature of kindness:
Sarah Friar and Cynthia Bissett Germanotta
In this opinion piece, two women dedicated to kindness explore how the pandemic’s effect on the world. More isolated from one another, many communities have stepped up. Stories of small acts of goodwill from around the world reveal a pattern. People become kinder during a crisis. This can be seen on many digital platforms. People are also using the internet to connect with others through online concerts, exercise classes, and more. Science shows that communities need kindness to survive. We need that now more than ever.
Sarah Friar is the CEO of Nextdoor, a neighborhood social networking service. Cynthia Bissett Germanotta is the president and co-founder of the Born This Way Foundation. The foundation launched Channel Kindness in 2017. It’s a digital platform for young people to share their stories.
Eva M. Krockow, Andrew M. Colman, and Briony Pulford
While the benefits of kindness are clear, what motivates kindness? How does evolution play into it? It seems like altruism goes against Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. Scientists have wrestled with this issue for a long time. In this essay, the authors explore some of the ideas that have been discussed over the years. One of them theorizes that kindness towards close relatives is about survival. Do we help our families because they share our genes and we want to protect those genes? If so, what does it mean when people are kind to non-relatives?
Eva Krockow (in 2017) is a postdoctoral research associate in Health Sciences and Psychology at the University of Leicester. Andrew Colman (professor of Psychology) and Briony Pulford (associate professor of Psychology) also work at the University of Leicester.
What would happen if someone decided to do something kind every single day? That’s what Bernadette Russell set out to do in 2011. Her project was so meaningful to her, she was still doing it when this essay was published. It led her to think deeply about what kindness truly means beyond giving money. Besides sharing a bit of Russell’s story, this essay goes over the benefits of kindness, which include happier relationships and better physical health. It also raises an important point: kindness is missing from public policy.
Gavin Haines is the Digital Editor for Positive News. Positive News is a magazine focused on the good in the world. It’s a co-operative owned by journalists and readers.
Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer
A conversation about kindness must include the concept of kindness toward one’s self. In this essay, which is excerpted from The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook (Guilford Press), Drs. Neff and Germer dig into why self-kindness is so important. Based on recent scientific research, people who are compassionate towards themselves are happier, healthier, and more motivated.
Dr. Neff is a leading expert in self-compassion research. Her pioneering work has earned coverage from publications like The New York Times, NPR, and Psychology Today. She hosts self-compassion workshops around the world. Dr. Germer is a clinical psychologist, teacher, and author. With Dr. Neff, he co-developed the Mindful Self-Compassion program.
Adam Grant and Allison Sweet Grant
In this essay from The Atlantic, authors Adam and Allison Grant emphasize the importance of teaching kids to be kind. Most kids aren’t given the message that kindness is valuable. Based on what they see and hear from their parents, success and happiness are more important. Society feels the impact as empathy becomes harder to find. But how do you “teach” kindness? It’s important to encourage children’s natural helpfulness and not put as much emphasis on individual achievements. That doesn’t mean ignoring a child’s accomplishments, but success shouldn’t be held in higher regard than kindness. Kindness benefits everybody. If we want a happier, healthier society, we need to teach children well.
Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. He’s an author and host of TED’s WorkLife podcast. Allison Sweet Grant is a writer. With Adam, she’s the co-author of The Gift Inside the Box, a book that sparks conversations with kids about generosity.