That Other Thing Darwin Said

Well, it turns out that calling “not it!” for the Christmas flu might have kept the influenza away, but both J and I had to have a run at stomach flu, instead. Merry Christmas to us! J’s been in bed most of today, which is how I spent yesterday. Luckily, it’s a fast-moving bug and I felt better today, because I had to go back to work. Long about one o’clock I thought to myself, should I be worried that J is still in bed? It turns out yes, if your husband who usually gets up before you is still in bed at one o’clock, you should be worried. Hopefully he recovers as quickly as I did.

I read a quote today that prompted me to look into the topic of kindness a little bit more. (After it prompted me to have to look up benevolence) The quote is as follows:

“Humans have evolved to be caring and helpful to those around us, largely to ensure our survival. In Darwin’s “Descent of Man”, he mentions survival of the fittest only twice. He mentions benevolence 99 times.”

~Stephen G. Post, Author of “Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier Life by the Simple Act of Giving”

The first thing I thought, of course, was WHY DIDN’T I KNOW THIS BEFORE? If the “survival of the fittest” was not the overwhelming theme in Darwin’s book, then why is it the ONLY thing everyone really thinks about when you say the word Darwin? If there is a theme of benevolence (I am totally pushing this word this year now that I know it), why is there a mean-spirited (real or fake) award called the “Darwin award”? I have added Darwin’s “Descent of Man” to my “to read” list and will get to the bottom of this. I’ll keep you posted.

I also wondered, after reading this quote, where the phrase “killing them with kindness” came from, so I looked that up, too. It seems it originated in the 1500’s, because of adult apes that would hug their beloved babies so hard that they would inadvertently kill them. That’s what the internet thinks, anyway- but if that is the case then it’s just the saddest thing ever.

There is little risk of me killing anyone with kindness in such a manner since I was raised to reserve hugs for immediate family and weddings and funerals only. Because of this I have encountered several uncomfortable situations where someone, typically a colleague I am meeting for the first time in person, will go to hug me and I will stick out my hand for a handshake at the same time, leaving us in an awkward moment before the person adjusts and shakes my hand instead. I am not generally a hugger, but over the years have learned to adapt to people who are. If I hug you and you are not in my immediate family, and it is not a wedding or a funeral, then I am hugging you just because you are a hugger and I simultaneously hate it but am happy to do it for you if it makes you happy because I like to make people happy because, you know, that makes me happy.

My Uncle C used to joke that a flick on the shoulder means “I love you” and we quickly adopted that as a recognized form of physical affection in my family. There is no need for all that hugging when a simple flick will do.

But kindness, and being kind, is about a lot more than hugs. Hugs can be totally awesome when they are with the right person and they are meaningful, comforting, loving, caring. But many times, like when someone I don’t know goes to hug me, they are a habit with little meaning. Being kind, though, that can change the world. Starting with yourself.

Today I learned about some of the physiological and psychological benefits of being kind and compassionate-BENEVOLENT, if you will.

Did you know that being kind is contagious? If you do something kind for someone, your brain is activated to release the pain and stress relieving, “feel good” chemical dopamine. The hormone oxytocin is also released, lowering your blood pressure. Endorphins are released. Your flight or fight response is reduced, relieving anxiety. But what’s even cooler, is that the same center of your brain is activated if you WATCH someone else perform an act of kindness. It is good for you, for your physical and emotional health, to be kind. You are preprogrammed to be rewarded inside of your own body for being kind, and for recognizing when someone else is kind.

We all are.

So why aren’t we all kind? Maybe it’s cause we’re too busy going around trying to be the fittest?

Scientists have shown that people who are emotionally and behaviorally compassionate live longer, have less aches and pains, less anxiety, less hypertension. Kindness makes you more fit, actually.

I started to tell you this big giant story about a time when I was faced with ruthlessness and overcame with kindness, but in the end the whole story took seven pages and NO ONE wants to read a seven-page blog.

I am sure there are times in your life that you can think of where you did something nice for someone or being kind prevailed over evil or you refused to stoop, took the high road, set out to be the better person by remaining kind. You don’t need me to tell you a story, there are opportunities for kindness everywhere.

Next time you’re feeling down, you can think of that time when you were kind to someone, or they were kind to you, and your brain will do its thing. You can pass it on to someone else by being kind. You can make someone’s day. You can surprise someone. You can help us all, but you can also help yourself.

Isn’t it great?


“Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind, than I am of what is true.”
~Robert Brault

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