Kindness, Key to Survival By Daniel M.T. Fessler Ph.D.
“The World is Yours, The World is Mine,” 2014. Vegetable color, dry pigment, watercolor, and gouache on hand-prepared wasli paper, 40.5 × 28 cm. Created for The New York Times “Turning Points” magazine and opinion page, December 4, 2014. © Shahzia Sikander. Courtesy of the artist and Sean Kelly, New York.
Our species is fundamentally social, meaning that, throughout our evolution, humans and their predecessors have relied on living in groups to survive. In turn, sociality involves an ever-present tension between self-interest and cooperation. Both biologically evolved human nature and culturally evolved institutions reflect this tension. These two factors converge in that we are most inclined to be altruistic toward those who are like ourselves and are urged to do so by cultural norms. Similarly, we are inclined to see others who are unlike ourselves as competitors, and often, cultural norms urge us to view them this way. As a result, from neighborhoods to nations, people find it easier, and often more rewarding, to be kind toward members of their in-group, and easier, and sometimes rewarding, to aggress against members of out-groups.
We readily construe crises as competitions, and we easily lay blame at the feet of outsiders. Yet, at the same time, we are capable of remarkable unity, of oneness of purpose, and of shared sacrifice toward the common good.
At the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, scholars from a wide variety of disciplines are researching the factors that promote or hinder kindness, at scales ranging from individual psychology to international diplomacy. We do so motivated by the firm belief that kindness holds the key not only to humanity’s wellbeing, but to our very survival.
Daniel M.T. Fessler, Ph.D. is the Director of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute and Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles. kindness.ucla.edu
*Kindness, Key to Survival by Daniel Fessler, and The World is Yours, The World Is Mine by Shahzia Sikander, were originally published in the UN 75th anniversary issue of CENTERPOINT NOW "Are we there yet?”, the publication and ©2020 of World Council of Peoples for the United Nations, co-produced with Streaming Museum.