Survival of the kindest

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You’ve probably heard of the term, ‘survival of the fittest’. Most people assume it means that only the fastest or physically strongest people survive, that nature favours big muscles, speed and strength.

In actual fact, that isn’t exactly what the term means. It simply means that the species who is most suited to an environment (i.e. a good fit for it) is more likely to survive in the long term.

For example, a species with thicker skin and lots of hair would more likely survive extreme cold than a species with thin skin and no hair. They would be a better ‘fit’ for the environment and so would more likely thrive there.

Evolutionary biologists now agree that a more accurate term that relates to us, on the whole, is ‘survival of the kindest’. 

In fact, it was the feature story of an edition of New Scientist last month. New Scientist is a weekly science magazine that features stories and news on current thought and new breakthroughs in multiple areas of science, including quantum physics, cosmology, psychology, biology, AI, evolution, and much more. I have a subscription. 🙂

It turns out that it has been our kindness to each other, our compassion, parents caring for their young, our willingness to share and help each other, that has seen the human race survive through eons. 

It wasn’t our physical strength that got us this far, but the strength of our kindness.

In challenging times that lasted hundreds and sometimes thousands of years in the distant past, it was the fact that our species shared food and resources with each other, that they lived and worked together to find solutions to challenges, that ensured we’re here today. 

Over time, psychological and physiological consequences of helping behaviours became etched into the human genome, such that kindness feels satisfying and that it’s also good for our mental and physical health. I’ve written a lot about this in my books, ‘The Five Side Effects of Kindness’, ‘The Little Book of Kindness’, and ‘Why Kindness is Good for You’.

Working together, looking out for each other, showing empathy and compassion to those who are suffering, being kind in our words and deeds, is what makes life work.

We all sometimes forget. Let’s face it, life can be challenging at times. But time and experience teaches us that helping one another gets us through challenges. This means offering a hand to those who need it, but also asking for a hand when we’re the ones who need it. The latter can be begin with reaching out and telling a friend, family member or work colleague that you’re struggling.

Like all things, it takes effort to practice the things that work for us. But we improve with practice. I’ve noticed that compassion and kindness have come easier for me through time. I’ve still a long way to go. I might write and speak a bit about kindness but I’m absolutely a work in progress, not an example to follow. I’m continually in awe at the people who are out there, on the ground so to speak, caring for others on a daily basis, making themselves available to those in need.

One final thing. Kindness doesn’t have to be a visible, grand gesture. It’s the small, silent acts that no one sees that sometimes pack the bigger punch. In the grander scheme of things, these are the kindnesses that shape our spirits the most. And in the shaping of our spirits do we become higher versions of ourselves. And that’s when everything we do has more impact.

So on that note, may the subtlety and the strength of your kindness be present in your life today.

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13 Comments

  1. Michelle V on January 5, 2022 at 12:11 pm

    I appreciate the narrative of kindness on history and evolution. I always thought how weird history books were to mostly focus on acts of strength and violence (US history) at least. With that said strength is also necessary to get through or face difficult times. Is strength and kindness a sort of dark/light or ting/yang ? Thank you

    • Sherri on January 5, 2022 at 8:22 pm

      Thank you for being the gift you are. I’m looking forward to these weekly newsletters! Wishing you peace, Sherri

    • Sandra Ward on January 6, 2022 at 9:07 am

      Thank you for this article David, it’s a very interesting read. As Michelle comments, it is very refreshing to understand that kindness, rather than warfare, has led to the survival of our species! It’s also very true that small, ongoing kind actions have a greater impact than others may think. Happy New Year to all and very best wishes for a happy and healthy 2022.

  2. Cindy Legorreta, New Orleans on January 5, 2022 at 12:45 pm

    I go out and visit my local grocery, mail a bill, poke my nose in a fave shop, ask about a shuttered store I love, talk to a security guard, and the post office desk lady. Each moment can create a kindness opportunity. We are free to choose what we make of these encounters. “A stranger’s just a friend you haven’t met”- Will Rogers.

  3. Sandra Ward on January 6, 2022 at 9:07 am

    Thank you for this article David, it’s a very interesting read. As Michelle comments, it is very refreshing to understand that kindness, rather than warfare, has led to the survival of our species! It’s also very true that small, ongoing kind actions have a greater impact than others may think. Happy New Year to all and very best wishes for a happy and healthy 2022.

  4. Pippa TB on January 6, 2022 at 9:21 am

    I’m isolating this week with my family as we all have covid. We’re not too ill but very tired and testing each other! It’s hard. I’m trying to get us all to think about acts of kindness towards each other to get us through. Kindness = strength!

  5. Lisa Burnage on January 6, 2022 at 10:38 am

    I’m so pleased you’ve talked about this David! I think I’ve read similar themes in Gregg Braden’s book “Human by Design”, where he talks about co-operation and being community-minded, rather than competition, as being the drivers fir human evolution. Mary Portas also talks along the same lines in her book “Work Like a Woman”. I think Darwin’s ideas have either been misinterpreted or misunderstood.
    Kindness is Key! Thank you

  6. Patricia Williams on January 6, 2022 at 10:40 am

    I will if I can help any one who needs it.

  7. Pauline Cornes on January 6, 2022 at 10:40 am

    Like yourself a work in progress .love to do the voluntary work in our community ,that I,ve been envovled with for the last 8years,get so much back helping others.and Loving your kindness Letters,thank you David.

  8. Patti on January 6, 2022 at 1:20 pm

    Thank you David! Sometimes the small things can make or break us♥️ Always try to be kind!

  9. Linda on January 6, 2022 at 4:04 pm

    I am currently reading your book “Why Woo Woo Works”, catchy title. I have been working on several of these things and find them very helpful and glad to read how science is coming to understand how much we can change with just our thoughts.
    I have also read several of your other books with great pleasure.

  10. Emma M on January 6, 2022 at 6:14 pm

    may the subtlety and the strength of your kindness be present in your life today.
    – I just love that! I’m adding it to my daily morning reminders.
    Thank you

  11. Jacqui M. on January 6, 2022 at 10:20 pm

    A beautifully written article David and one that will give a lot of people food for thought. Very importantly you emphasise the need to be kind to ourselves – it truly is necessary if we want to be kind to others. I’ve seen too many people give so much of themselves that they have nothing left to nurture their own being. We have to value ourselves too. Like you, I struggle with that at times. However we are a work in progress!

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