Kindness encourages trust and engenders positive feelings; perhaps this is why kindness is so often associated with successful marriages and happy families. The trust and positive feelings kindness creates is why kind people often find themselves surrounded by many close friends. After all, who doesn’t want to be around kind people?
Although kindness is something we tend to admire in others there has been surprisingly little written about it. Few books are published on kindness, and a search of scientific journals finds the research into kindness surprisingly sparse. This is odd given the high praise Americans give to those who are kind.
I became interested in studying kindness as psychologists study human behavior, and because kindness is a highly valued form of behavior that has been rarely studied or discussed. In part, this is because psychologists tend to focus on problematic behavior – drug abuse, domestic violence and suicide are examples – and these are certainly problems we want to reduce. But we psychologists have historically studied problems while ignoring the study of virtuous acts and how we can help increase pro-social behaviors. Only in recent years have psychologist begun to focus on virtuous behavior, why people engage in it, and how to increase positive behavior. I devote a section to this movement, referred to as “positive psychology”, later in this book.
Americans clearly value acts of kindness. When a NY police officer was caught on video buying new shoes for a homeless man, the officer was praised around the country and the video was widely shared on social media. Less well-known to civilians, but well known to members of the US Military: that stories of soldiers’ meals being anonymously paid while dining out happen with regular frequency. Americans also volunteer to help others at astoundingly high rates. Even my local New Orleans bartender’s guild has weekly fundraisers where members donate their tips to charities. In a recent year this selfless act by local bartenders raised almost $50,000 for local charities. Nationwide Americans participating in the United Way and the Combined Federal Campaign donated billions to those in need. This would not happen if kindness and compassion for others were not so highly valued. Yet there has been little discussion or study of kindness and compassion. This book is an effort to help change this. We need to be studying and talking about kindness more often for the simple reason that what we regularly read and think about, we tend to act on. This point is so important it bears repeating: What we regularly read and think about we tend to act on. It is a basic principle of psychology.
While few articles or books have been published on kindness specifically, many books have been published on great teachers and practitioners of kindness. Mother Teresa, Bishop Desmond Tutu, President Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King are all revered in the United States as men and women of great kindness and compassion who worked for a better world.
Yet we still read little about kindness itself.
— Ron Hill