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Being Kind Gives Us An Evolutionary Advantage

Posted on July 31, 2019 by All In

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Here is a word from one of All In’s founder Daniel Tan, who is currently the Honorary Assistant Secretary of the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS). He is also the Chairman of the Residential and Community-based Care Services Committee.

In this article, Daniel shares the findings of a research study that shows that being kind is an evolutionary advantage, as well as how parents can nurture kindness in their children. 

Written by Daniel Tan

Why nurture kindness?

Research has shown that babies as young as 6 months old are able to observe and evaluate people based on how kind they are to others. These babies show a marked preference for people who are kind than those who are not. From this study, the researchers conclude that social evaluation is a fundamental biological adaptation, which then leads to moral thought and action.

What this means is that at the individual level, being kind gives each of us an evolutionary advantage because people who are kind will receive a more positive social evaluation than those who are not.

At the societal level, having more kind people who are willing to help each other means that the group has a better chance of survival.

How do we do it?

As a parent, I want to be able to nurture the kindness in my children as they grow, and one way is to lead as a positive role model.

However, amidst the busyness of my everyday life, I find it very difficult even to demonstrate simple acts of kindness; what’s more to be a role model to my children.

I recently read the book, The Kindness Advantage: Cultivating Compassionate and Connected Children. This is an excellent read that lists practical and specific steps that we can take as parents to nurture the kindness in our children. (An article that extracts key points from the book is available here)

The authors pointed out that kindness is very important for children’s social connections and well-being. They quoted a study where it was found that children who performed acts of kindness on a regular basis not only showed improvements in their academic experience, but were also more socially accepted by their peers. Their acts of kindness also ended up benefitting their entire community as they tended to be more inclusive and were less likely to bully others as teenagers.

Be a role model in your own connections with others

One key idea introduced by the authors is to help our children recognise connections in their lives. This is because connections with others are important for our health and happiness.

In addition, we ourselves need to be conscious about how we relate to these connections. For example, if we speak negatively about individuals or communities that are different from our own, our children may learn to avoid exploring relationships with those people.

Conversely, if we grab every opportunity to include others, then our children can learn to connect and develop relationships with them.

Be a role model in giving to others

 Another way to be a kindness role model to our children is to encourage them to give to others. The authors highlighted the importance of continually talking to our children about why we give to others, and how it impacts us and others, so as to encourage them to continue to give of themselves as they grow older.

I believe that volunteering is an excellent way to incorporate the two points above (making connections with others and giving to others).

Volunteering allows us to connect with many different types of people, including many outside our social groups (though they would then become part of your social groups after years of volunteering together), allowing us to demonstrate to our children how we connect with others.

Volunteering allows us to demonstrate to our children how we can show empathy and how we can give of ourselves to others.

In addition, research shows that volunteering leads to better mental and physical health for ourselves. This means that volunteering sets up a virtuous cycle for our interactions with our children.

But how do we find time?

 But if we already find it difficult to show simple acts of kindness amidst our busy schedules, how do we even find time to volunteer?

I would like to share my story: I’ve been volunteering for more than 20 years. When I first started volunteering, it was purely to satisfy the school community service requirements at that time. However, the main reason why I’ve continued for so long is the friendships that I’ve established throughout my years of volunteering, which have enriched my life deeply and the inspiration that I draw from all who have contributed numerous decades of their lives to the causes they choose.

I think the first thing we need to do is to make the conscious decision volunteer. This decision necessarily means that some adjustments need to be made to accommodate this activity in our lives. For me, it propels me to become more effective and efficient at work. That allowed me to be able to spend my time volunteering.

Hopefully, with us acting as positive role models for our children, they will grow up to be kinder and more inclusive individuals, including towards persons with disabilities.


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