Promoting, sharing and uniting kindness
A Quick Chat About Kindness
Kindness UK
By Dr Andrew Curtis
A Quick Chat About Kindness – 12th June 2014

The chances are that you have recently been the recipient of an act of kindness or conducted an act of kindness yourself. These acts may not instantly spring to mind. They might have seemed insignificant. Like helping someone carry their luggage or a pushchair upstairs.

Alternatively someone may have helped you, for example by letting you in front of them in the queue at the supermarket because you were just buying coffee whilst they were doing their weekly shop that would take ages. Taken in isolation these acts are not life changing. But they make us feel good, whether we are the giver or recipient. And, in a small way, they make the world a better place. And it does not cost anything, other than our time. So why aren’t we talking about kindness more?

The cynic would suggest kindness suffers from something of an image problem. In an age that often emphasises the individual over the common good, kindness can be seen as a waste of time or indeed a sign of weakness. Yet this can only make acts of kindness more important when they do occur. In a time of economic hardships we need to help each other more, not less.

And what do we mean by kindness anyway? In Rhetoric Aristotle defined it as: ‘helpfulness towards some one in need, not in return for anything, nor for the advantage of the helper himself, but for that of the person helped.’ But kindness is not limited to individuals. Kindness can be displayed in attitudes towards groups of people. It is not limited to humans either, with kindness to animals being a central part of many people’s philosophy. Furthermore, the planet itself, that is to say the environment, is something we can be kind to, though, alas, it appears as a species we are more often than not unkind to it.

Although there is a danger that we take the value of kindness for granted, various attempts have been made to capture its value. There are analyses of kindness in works of philosophy going back to Aristotle, in addition to a body of scientific research attesting to the benefits of conducting acts of kindness. Indeed, Richard Dawkins wrote of how the closely connected concept of altruism was vital to human evolution itself.

An intriguing and appealing aspect of kindness is that we can instigate it ourselves and do so spontaneously, with little thought or planning. Whilst aspiring to foster a more kind society will take time, and an individual’s chances of effecting change on a large scale are limited, we can make an individual impact instantly. In terms of our own day-to-day actions, we can commit a kind act, or a series of kind of acts. In the same way that an environmentalist finds it challenging to reduce a society’s carbon emissions but can recycle their own waste, being kind is something we can all do. And, in contrast to recycling, we can see an effect straight away, and feel it too, a warm glow from helping others, or, to put it more scientifically, initiate a rise in our serotonin and oxytocin levels by committing a kind act.

At Kindness UK, we advocate kindness and promote kind acts, including packs for schools. As well as this practical support we are amassing a body of research on kindness, from its philosophical background, kindness in cyberspace, the link with well-being and kindness in religion. This will form a repository of information that will provide information about kindness and also provide a springboard for other’s research on the subject. Over the next few months I will write a series of blogs on various aspects of kindness, including about initiatives that encourage kind acts.

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