Imagine this – an airplane has to make an emergency landing; it doesn’t go well and the plane breaks into three parts upon landing. The passengers are now fully aware that they can’t stay inside for much longer and must get out before the plane bursts into flames. What happens now?
Planet A: Passengers ask their neighbours if they are okay and need help. Those who have suffered most damage and need immediate attention are offboarded first. People are ready to sacrifice their precious time, their lives even, for absolute strangers.
Planet B: Panic and commotion ensues. Children and elderly get shoved and pushed around. It’s everyone for themselves. Survival of the fittest at its best.
Now a question to you: Which planet do we live on?
If you chose Planet B, you’re not alone. Professor of social psychology, Tom Postmes at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, who has been asking this question across years to his students, estimates that 97% of the people think we live on Planet B. The truth, he says, is that almost in every case, we live on Planet A.
Author of the book ‘Humankind’, Ruter Bregman supports this claim and says that mankind’s most momentous disasters have played out on Planet A. On September 11, 2001 when thousands descended the stairs calmly as the Twin Towers burned and would even go on to say, “No, you first” to those around them. Even when faced with devastating catastrophes, humans have shown their kindest side.
Kindness is unique in many ways. You don’t need to wait for a change in events to display it. It can be something seemingly small, like holding a door open or speaking politely and with respect to someone who is socially or professionally lower ranked than you. There are no barriers of entry, anyone can be kind to any person. There is no qualification required to receive it. You don’t even have to be human. People lay out water and bird seed for birds in the sweltering summer heat and water parched plants that they don’t own. That’s kindness. There is no capping on it. It lasts long because we categorize random acts of kindness into a special place in our brains. The person who displayed it is remembered fondly, often coupled with a small, telling smile on our face that displays the inner joy the memory brings us, each time it resurfaces. The act of kindness itself is as boundless and limitless as its effects are upon the world.
Benefits of being kind are also backed by science. Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey states that people who give contributions of time or money are 42 percent more likely to be happy than those who don’t give. Oxytocin, a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others is released when people display generosity. There also exists a concept of ‘helpers high’, quite similar to the well-known and widely acknowledged, ‘runners high’. The brain produces endorphins and stimulates production of serotonin when we are kind. People who are compassionate are also said to have 23% less cortisol, the hormone that makes us more stressed. Once you have been kind and have experienced the physiological benefits, you want to do it again.
When the pandemic started to grip the world, videos started surfacing of people in their balconies, singing, clapping and encouraging those risking their lives to save ours. They were termed as our ‘everyday heroes’. We recognized their ultimate service to mankind and did what we could from the limits of our homes.
As kind, loving and generous we may be to those around us, we often forget to be kind to ourselves. You are better equipped to lend a helping hand to others when you have been forgiving and loving towards yourself. It’s okay to take time out for yourself, in fact it is crucial. When you respond to emails late in the night, skip a meal, don’t practice mindfulness, postpone you plan to start meditating when you have promised yourself you will begin from the first of this month, you are giving up on your workout or yoga time to squeeze in yet another task of this demanding life – stop right there because you’re doing yourself a disservice. Be kind to yourself and do what is important for your wellbeing. To be kind to others, you need to start with yourself.
Kindness begets kindness, the more you display it, the more it spreads. It is exactly the kind of contagion we need. Happiness derived out of material objects is short lived. When we prioritize material objects over service to others and oneness, we are bound to experience dissatisfaction. Everyone fights a battle that only they are privy to. We may not see it but it is there and that fighter in them who is constantly at war deserves our kindness. Perhaps in love, we can reach beyond this material reality and ascend to a truer reality of oneness with God. We will experience moments when we want to lose our temper and let someone have it but remember, later when you are no longer seeing red, your outburst will only bring you shame, regret and reveal how little control you have over yourself. Being a kind person reveals to you who you are, what matters to you. It tells us that we can make a difference in this world, no matter where we are or how little we have. The Bible says, ‘to whom much is given, much will be required’. We as humans are given much in terms of our consciousness, it helps us to recognize human pain and we have a gift to ameliorate that pain by our love, kindness and generosity.
Mark Twain observed “kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Humans have survived hundreds of years by forming groups and alliances. It is time to think about survival of the kindest, we thrive because of the generosity of our peers. In these trying times, we must learn to be kind to others and ourselves.