“My religion is Kindness” HH The Dalai Lama
You’ve probably heard of ‘The Selfish Gene’. Many have mistakenly taken this to mean than humans are naturally selfish.
That’s not what the term ‘selfish gene’ refers to. Selfish gene really refers to the process of evolution where genes are copied and passed onto the next generation.
Rather than being selfish, humans are actually born kind.
We have kindness genes. The most prominent of these is the gene for oxytocin, a little hormone associated with reproduction, breast feeding and social behaviour. It is also affectionately known as the love hormone, cuddle chemical, and even a molecule of kindness. The reasons for these more affectionate names is because oxytocin makes us love more, cuddle more, and it makes us kind. It is one of our oldest genes, at around 500 million years young.
What does this tell us? It tells us that the gene is highly important otherwise it will have phased out a long time ago. It causes mothers to love and care for their children, thus ensuring that they grow up and are able to reproduce themselves, thus carrying on the human species. It also causes us to help each other, to work together for a common good. The oxytocin gene truly is a kindness gene.
So rather than being selfish, kindness is genetically ‘wired’ in us. Our kind nature is deeply entrenched in us. It is ancient.
So what about selfishness and all of the unkind things we hear about and experience? These things don’t mean we’re not kind, only that life happens. How a person behaves is often a product of learning, or their circumstances or even their early background in life.
A person whose life is comfortable might find it easy to be kind to others partly because life is uncomplicated by stress. Someone else who is having a really difficult time might out of necessity be more focused on survival or just getting through the current phase of their life. At times they might make decisions based on their own immediate needs rather than those of someone else. Person 1 might be regarded as kind and person 2 more selfish. Yet given the same set of stress-less circumstances they will both most likely be kind.
The point is that deviations away from kind behaviour are not necessarily because of a selfish nature but because of circumstances. Although some people undoubtedly do have a more selfish nature.
It’s difficult to argue with that. But how much of this is their true nature and how much is a product of learning and experience? I don’t have the answer to that as each of us is unique. But undoubtedly there is a full spectrum of natural kindness.
Each gene comes in slightly different versions. If you imagine the oxytocin gene to be coloured pink then we’d find that it comes in many different shades of pink, from light pink all the way to a dark pink that is almost red. Some have the lighter shade, some the darker. If we think of the gene’s lightness of colour as generally associated with tendency to be kind, then we would find that some people are more naturally kind than others and therefore some people are more naturally selfish than others.
But the point is that we ALL have the oxytocin gene. There is no one alive who doesn’t have it. If a person didn’t have an oxytocin gene they wouldn’t be alive, which I suppose is quite an odd thing to say but I think you get my point. Oxytocin plays a crucial role not just in reproduction but throughout the cardiovascular system, the immune system, the digestive system, the process of making stem cells into muscle cells, heart cells, even skin cells. Without oxytocin, we quite simply would not be here. Now read this another way – without kindness, we quite simply would not be here.
The 1976 book, ‘The Selfish Gene’, written by Richard Dawkins wasn’t about humans being selfish. I think many have generally misunderstood its title. In some ways, the selfish gene has actually produced a kind species. Evolution has wired in us the tendency to be kind.
It is kindness, not conflict or exclusion, that is the answer to society’s problems. Where there is misunderstanding, we need empathy. Where there is hurt and suffering, we need compassion. Where the opportunities present themselves, we need to be kind. We are wired to solve our problems through empathy, understanding, dialogue, sharing, and finding common ground.
Kindness elevates the human spirit. Kindness opens the heart and mind and helps us see the same things in new ways. That’s it’s power.
If you’re ever in doubt about which way to turn, about what to do, about what choice to make, choose kindness. It is your nature, after all.
You might like to read about the Born This Way Foundation, which is all about helping to create a kinder, more compassionate world. They have declared 2017 to be A Year of Kindness.
I have been following since I saw a presentation given in Narberth many years ago. I firmly believe that a collective kind consciousness has phenomenal power. For me being a vegan is integral to not causing harm and promoting kindness. It has a ripple effect . I see this as the future. Davids insights are an inspiration.
Thanks for your kind words, Trudi. I, too, believe that a collective kind consciousness has phenomenal power. It can, quite literally, move mountains. 🙂
Thanks, David for all that you are doing to increase awareness and understanding about the benefits of genuine kindness. The more aware we are that our daily choices matter and that we can impact our own health as well as create a better by world by showing genuine kindness to ourselves and others, the more it will help us live and choose from a more mindful place. Best wishes with all that you are doing!
Well said, Therese. 🙂
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