Some video games have moral choice systems. Depending on the circumstances, you can choose to be “good” or “bad.” A good character is likely to come up against more significant challenges in the name of saving as many people as possible or even sacrificing something important to them to protect someone else. The interesting thing is that in a world that has zero consequences in real life and thus allows for moral experimentation, a significant majority of players enjoy sticking to the “good” morality of these video games.
And why not? After all, it feels nice to be nice – most of the time. Barring the incredibly complex morality of “doing something hard because it’s the right thing to do,” most acts based on real, genuine kindness make the person feel good. There is a very real satisfaction in helping someone else, extending a kind word or a supportive ear. Some careers that fuel our economy and afford us our livelihoods are founded in a kind spirit. After all, why would a mean person become a geriatric nurse?
So, why is it so satisfying to be kind? Why do we gravitate towards it as humans? What can we gain from kindness?
The Evolutionary Component
The basis of kindness can be thought of as sociality, the natural desire to cooperate with or help someone else. For example, if you’re a neonatal nurse, your outlook may be that the emotional and physical stress of the position is worth the sense of fulfillment that your duties give you. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the job is inherently exhausting. How could nature establish that this altruistic behavior is advantageous and, therefore, worth coding into our genetic makeup?
The thing about all behaviors, animal or human, is that they didn’t just happen. They evolved over millennia of genetic mutation through beneficial actions and physical traits used for survival. Over time, animals evolved social behaviors and thus formed groups of varying complexity. These social groups formed because somewhere along the way, one prehistoric animal and another of its species realized that they could accomplish several things together that they couldn’t on their own.
They could engage in sentinel behavior, allowing herds to simultaneously feed and keep a lookout for predators. They could defend themselves more easily and outrun predators with more success. Predator species that display social behaviors do so in order to secure more territory and take down larger prey items.
Even more staggeringly, there are different kinds of sociality:
- Altruism: behaving in a way that benefits a member of your community at the expense of yourself.
- Reciprocity: the sharing of resources on equal terms.
- Kin Selection: assisting family at the expense of yourself.
- Eusociality: The formation of colonies where every member of that colony performs a specific function.
The fact that sociality and social behaviors are not only selected for but have been carried over into the current apex of the evolutionary tree – humanity – shows that society is not merely a construct of varying cultures. It is inherent to our survival.
The Gift That Gives
So we’ve taken care of how sociality develops, but people can be social and still not be kind. So, how does kindness itself occur? Well, it seems that our brains have worked out a very real way of rewarding us for acting in the best interests of others.
You see, once evolution has established that a trait or behavior is essential to a species’ survival, it then needs to go about making that trait or behavior easier to do or access. Our hands evolved the opposable thumb so we could more easily grip tools. Our teeth and mouth have changed in response to the growth of our brain and the change in our diet.
What about sociality? Co-operation? Kindness?
Studies show that when we perform acts of kindness, the brain releases chemicals associated with pleasure. When we are kind, the neurotransmitters that create feelings of joy and accomplishment fire off, and the brain also produces Endorphins – the body’s natural painkiller. Kindness is also proven to relieve stress, improve overall mood, combat symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders, and even increase life expectancy!
A Case For Kindness
Of course, kindness can mean many different things, and the benefits of kindness come only when it is given genuinely. Think of it this way: when you’re nice to someone but only so that they’ll give you something or do something for you, that’s not actually kind is it? It is actually selfishness, and depending on what you’re trying to do, it’s cruelty.
That is perhaps something incredibly significant to keep in mind. Kindness is easy. Kindness is the act of seeing someone or something in need and respecting that it is a living, breathing, feeling person or creature. Kindness requires only as much time and energy as you are willing to give but soon provides its own reward. Kindness builds connections, creates bravery, and furthers humanity.
Cruelty takes planning stress and creates anger and distress in both the victim and the perpetrator.
Kindness And The World
Everyone in the world has an effect on each other. Our actions ripple and bleed out into the world, the social consciousness. We have an incredible gift in that we are able to choose how we act in all things. Our very small decisions can reach people and creatures we can’t even see, and all because of our choices.
This ripple effect is utterly undeniable and has a distinct scientific basis. As such, it then stands to reason that if we are truly as interconnected as science dictates – then kindness is the best way to look after not only ourselves but each other. One person’s happiness can very quickly become our own, and we can spread that joy through true and genuine acts of altruism, care, and, of course, kindness.
And the best thing is, it costs nothing to be kind.