Noodle* on this…
His Holiness, The Dalai Lama
One of my fundamental convictions is that basic human nature is more disposed toward compassion and affection. Basic human nature is gentle, not aggressive or violent… I would also argue that when we examine the relationship between mind, or consciousness, and body, we see that wholesome attitudes, emotions, and states of mind, like compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness, are strongly connected with physical health and well-being. They enhance physical well-being, whereas negative or unwholesome attitudes and emotions—anger, hatred, disturbed states of mind—undermine physical health. ~Dalai Lama
Recent neuropsychology research supports the Dalai Lama’s conviction that “basic human nature is disposed to compassion.” Many researchers, including Richard J. Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and his associates discovered, through rigorous scientific research, that just as we have a biological imperative for language, we have a biological imperative for kindness and compassion. Davidson calls it “innate basic goodness.” And, like the human imperative for language,** our innate goodness, our biological imperative for kindness and compassion must be nurtured. We must attend to it and nurture it or it will shrivel up and die, just like a plant that is not watered.
An Experiment in Nurturing Innate Kindness
After learning about Davidson’s research, I decided to conduct an informal experiment in nurturing basic kindness to see what would happen. For three days, I acknowledged every person with whom I crossed paths. It was not a big deal, just a hello, eye contact, a head nod or a smile. It was amazing what happened. A young man on the street gave me a high-five, a cashier in a book store asked about my flowered shopping bag and discussed the latest Martin Cruz Smith book with me. I said hello to a security guard as I left a hotel and when I returned, he was still on duty. He asked me about my day and walked me to the elevator. In a Vietnamese restaurant, the server and I discussed the connection between Albert Einstein and chopsticks (the eating utensils, not the music) and yes, there is a connection.
Practicing basic kindness just felt good. My feet didn’t hurt as much (I had walked a lot) and things I was worrying about gradually took on new, less troubling perspectives. Nurturing my innate kindness boosted my well-being and seemed to touch those with whom I interacted.
What can you do this week to nurture your innate kindness? Tell us about your kindness experiment and how it affected your well-being in the Comments section below.
* To noodle: A verb meaning to mull over, think about, contemplate, ponder, puzzle over or brainstorm.
** Every group of human being throughout history has developed some form of language.
Image courtesy of the Buddhist Climate Project.