By Steve Taggart
With a history that pre-dates even the Ancient Greek scholars, the Golden Rule or treating others as you would like to be treated by them, is a concept that, once practiced, allows us to reap rewards in our relationships. Further, by helping others we are inadvertently also helping ourselves; improving our mood, strengthening our self-respect and confidence and making us more attractive to others.
From an evolutionary perspective the development and adoption of this rule makes sense. We are social animals, we live in groups and reciprocity in caring behaviours, involving emotions such as empathy and compassion, to other members of our group is something that can only help the species to survive. Of course, motivation to effectively practice this behaviour requires that we have a healthy view of ourselves as being equally deserving of receiving kindness from others.
Supporting this theoretical perspective is neuro-scientific research which has suggested that our ability to treat others with kindness is actually hardwired into the brain. Research by Dr Marco Iacobini has found that our brain contains ‘mirror neurons’ which automatically fire when we observe the actions of others, prompting us to naturally empathise with them, in other words feel what they are feeling. Firing of these neurons only ceases when we attribute a negative label to the other person that dampens our empathic response.
Further, kindness can also be learned through a process of conditioning. When we are kind to others we are rewarded by the release of a cocktail of neurochemicals, such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. These are known to improve our mental and physical well-being. This improvement in our mood then reinforces the likelihood that we will repeat that behaviour.
So why do I say that kindness can improve our attractiveness to others? It is interesting that research literature reports that kindness and warmth are the most desirable traits in any kind of relationship and are considered even more important than physical attractiveness when selecting a romantic partner.
Professor Arthur Aron, whose research interests including discovering determinants of successful long-term romantic relationships, states that being attractive “doesn’t help that much,” suggesting that people tend to fall in love more readily with kind people. Further, he argues that kindness is the strongest indicator for a successful long term relationship.
Decades of research by the Gottman Institute, an organisation that helps couples to create and maintain healthy relationships, goes some way to explaining why these traits are important. They found that in order for relationships to flourish, emotional needs, a fundamental human requirement, have to be met by both parties with an interaction style involving kindness and generosity rather than contempt and disinterest. Observing the interaction styles of couples has enabled psychologists at the Institute to predict, with ninety four percent accuracy, whether the couples will remain together or not.
There are a number of ways that we can develop kindness:
• To ensure that our future is not continuing to be influenced by past experience
we can practice forgiveness and tolerance towards others as well as to ourselves for things that have happened in the past.
• We can give our time to other less fortunate than ourselves, perhaps through volunteering.
• We can demonstrate random acts of kindness to those that we are either connected to or unconnected to.
• We can express gratitude to those who have shown us kindness.
Being kind to others does not mean that you have to be taken for granted and it is important for us to recognise that there are some individuals for whom no amount of kindness will prompt them to similarly respond to you, respect you or even like you. Being kind doesn’t mean that you relent or sacrifice your needs for the needs of others. You can be kind and assertive, they are not mutually exclusive traits.
The important point to remember is that by being kind, you are respecting yourself and can be proud of your behaviour and further you are increasing your own attractiveness by being both kind and positive.
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