The Kindess Series

The Kindness Series - Part 2 (The Science and Power of Kindness)

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What does it really mean to be kind? How do we learn it and what force drives us to execute kindness? Our intern, Bailey O'Mara, wrote a research article about this and came up with some interesting facts. 

The average person is unaware of the effect they have on the lives of those around them, mainly because of the natural human tendency to become infatuated with sequentially focusing on our personal tasks and challenges throughout the day. If we look at life with a macroscopic lense we realize every action has a consequence, whether or not we intend to cause change to our environment, it will happen. While we usually focus on our own experiences and the events of our lives, it is equally important to think about how we affect others.

Considering this perspective on human interaction we could focus on the negative effects of our actions; for example, choosing not to throw out your gum but instead spitting it on the sidewalk, eventually causing someone to step in it, ruining their shoes. This is merely the initial effect of our choices, those people who were upset, delayed, or frustrated by our actions are likely to then continue this mentality, which will in turn have a butterfly effect making even more people unhappy.

On the other hand, the impact we have on the world around us can be utilized as a tool. If we choose to be considerate, responsible, and kind, the positive impact we have can be extensive. Learning these skills starts as a child, when the brain is developing our cognitive responses and habits.

The ability to process kindness can be derived from two major aspects of early brain development, a child’s home environment and the learning they do at school. A study at the University of Wisconsin has determined “The brain is constantly changing in response to environmental factors… we can actually enhance well-being by training that induces neuroplastic changes in the brain” (Tenenbaum D). Neuroplastic changes affect the function and interconnectedness of the cells in the brain.

The importance of the research conducted was a conclusion that specific teachable practices can “cultivate new connections in the brain and enhance the function of neural networks that support aspects of prosocial behavior, including empathy, altruism, and kindness” (Tenenbaum D). The practices can be as simple as observing empathy, giving gifts, and sharing, all of which are learned as a child.

Kindness is hardwired into the neural circuitry of our brain, meaning that instead of learning kindness we simply need to develop and foster its importance from a young age. According to a recent study in Science, people who spend more of their income on others instead of themselves are happier. Other neuroscience studies focusing on the areas of the brain that are activated by pleasure have discovered,‘charitable giving’ causes these areas to ‘light up’ especially when it is entirely voluntary. Researchers concluded that the brain is responsible for the natural warmth we feel from kindness. Interestingly, another study on charitable giving discovered a connection between moral processing and charity. Those who volunteered more had developed a stronger bond between the “moral” and “reward” areas of the brain, making “altruism” feel even better in the future (Simon-Thomas).

The circular nature of life is responsible for the spread of kindness, the shared observation from each of these studies is that the kindness we learn has a massive impact on our neural pathways, and as a result will determine whether or not we are kind and empathetic in the future.

The importance of kindness extends much further than we consider, and if everyone contributes to their community, their home, and the people in their lives by performing one act of kindness each day, the impact of their actions will create a better world for everyone around them.  

- Bailey O'Mara (B Kind intern)

Reference sources:

Simon-Thomas, E. R. (2008). Is kindness it’s own reward? UC Berkeley: Greater Good Science Center http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/

Tenenbaum, D. (2012). Changing brains for the better; article documents benefits of multiple practices. University of Wisconsin, Madison: News http://www.news.wisc.edu/20572

The Kindness Series - Part 1 (James)

We at B Kind are fortunate enough to work with an intern for a few weeks. He is a wonderful young man with a bright future ahead of him. Our intern, Bailey O'Mara, is a graduating senior from Darien High School and will be playing Division 1 water polo in the fall for Fordham University. He has written for us three articles on kindness - The Kindness Series. "James" is the first of three and is based on Bailey's own personal experience. 

 

Kindness is a fundamental part of human happiness and is an innate ability to motivate, comfort, and share a profound sense of affection.Without kindness life would be bleak and unfulfilling. A natural sense of warmth is derived from feeling kind and making your fellow human happy. A recent experience with kindness made me reconsider the impact we have as humans on one another, and this is that story.   

James Wilson*, one of hundreds of students living in Norwalk, Connecticut, is constantly working to balance his dedication to school work with all the opportunities to shut down, stop studying, and turn towards drugs or alcohol. The influence of drug abuse in and out of school is rampant, teenagers no older than 13 hiding marijuana in their sunglasses cases and fueling their addiction to nicotine with juul and vaporizers. These are his peers, and their slowly increasing detrimental influences are reflected in James’ change from an excellent student in Middle School to a less than scholarly start in High School.

James has every reason to create excuses for his decline. He could blame the distractions of living in high density housing, a 2 bedroom apartment with four other siblings. He could blame the bullying and the thugs who beat him up on the train tracks after school. He could blame his family’s low income.Yet, James isn’t an ordinary kid, he looks past all of this blaming no one and nothing, instead working to correct his academic trajectory.

I am James’ volunteer tutor at Norwalk Grassroots Tennis and Education, a program for underprivileged youth in Norwalk, a seemingless insignificant part of his life compared to the hundreds of daily stressors and temptations he encounters. An hour a day of studying, doing homework, and working has a large opportunity cost, he could be playing football with friends, or making money trading clothes. For me, James was an amazing guy, even though he was routinely late and chronically sassy, I appreciated his ability to overcome obstacles and his friendly demeanor.

James is a young, slightly chubby, mixed race teenager, one of many in his area. It would be easy for him to fall through the educational cracks unnoticed. In February, on our first meeting, he was 15 minutes late, unprepared without his homework, and obviously unenthusiastic. His recent difficulty in school had clearly caused him to waver in his love of learning. He was passing only three of his five classes, and didn’t have a concrete work routine. Although he wasn’t ecstatic about working with me, we had a mutual understanding to dedicate our time to work.

Months passed of two day weekly meetings, and hours of homework. Over the time we grew to be a solid team, catching up on our day at school, getting work done, cracking jokes, and shaking hands goodbye at the end of each session. As the school year wound down, we played basketball for 15 minutes at the end of each session, growing to be friends.

Summer rolled around 12 months ago and the tutoring stopped because of new academic and athletic commitments. With a new year and new obligations, there was no time when our schedules aligned. James was on his own this school year. A few weeks ago my mother and her friend were eating lunch when a woman approached her, Helene, one of the women who run the tutoring organization. As she talked to my mother about my work with James tears began to well up in her eyes. My impact had extended much farther than I had believed. For me it was two hours a week of extra homework and sitting down to help James’ organization skills, but for James it was much more.

According to Helene, this year James had become kinder, a more reliable student, and an approachable person. James began passing classes again, staying out of fights, and showing up to study on time. This story is one of many, not unique.

A simple act of kindness each week can have repercussions that extend into the future and into the lives of more than just one other person. The ability to dedicate a seemingly insignificant amount of your life to another person through tutoring, raising money, or organizing supply drives, can change the lives of many. I urge you to consider your possible impact on your community, your friends, your family, and everyone in between, and donate your time to show them kindness today.   

* James Wilson is a fictional name created to protect the student’s real identity.

 By Bailey (B Kind Intern)