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Friday, November 29, 2019


From The Atlantic:
America’s Epidemic of Unkindness
A new research institute at UCLA wants to start a virtuous cycle of generosity and do-gooding.

Take five minutes to meditate. Try to quiet the judgmental voice in your head. Call your mother. Pay for someone else’s coffee. Compliment a colleague’s work.

In an age of polarization, xenophobia, inequality, downward mobility, environmental devastation, and climate apocalypse, these kinds of Chicken Soup for the Soul recommendations can feel not just minor, but obtuse. Since when has self-care been a substitute for a secure standard of living? How often are arguments about interpersonal civility a distraction from arguments about power and justice? Why celebrate generosity or worry about niceness when what we need is systemic change?

Those are the arguments I felt predisposed to make when I read about the newly inaugurated Bedari Kindness Institute at UCLA, a think tank devoted to the study and promulgation of that squishy concept. But it turns out there is a sweeping scientific case for kindness. In some ways, modern life has made us unkind. That unkindness has profound personal effects. And if we can build a kinder society, that would make life better for everyone…
Interesting. From NPR:
“…in terms of kindness, an important feature of our species is that we are perhaps the most cooperative animal on the planet. So in no other species do you see cooperation between large numbers of unrelated individuals, or even, in many species, tolerance of large numbers of unrelated individuals.

And at the same time, our species is also an extremely conflictual one. So there's a good argument to be made that the reason we're so cooperative is because we have a long history of intergroup violent conflict. And trying to understand how the cooperation aspect of it works, the helping-one-another component of it in juxtaposition with the conflict aspect, is an important step towards understanding how we can promote a more harmonious society and a more harmonious world…”

A lot to ponder. I look forward to this initiative getting up to speed. We'll see how good the "science" is.
Update: Turns out they're out over their skis on this in PR terms. I reached out, and got a reply from a UCLA subordinate. There's as yet no physical facility, no staff, no firm agenda, no website or social media presence. And, I was told, any research output is "several years away." They're "gratified and overwhelmed" by the widespread immediate interest, but these press forays were just a tad premature.
Hmmm... Of topical relevance? Two latest books up now in my endless reading pile (click the images for links).

Is persistent chronic incivility/hostility ("unkindness") materially relevant to forthcoming potential tragedies, up to and possibly including unprecedented human mass demise? Below, I've read this one. Having trouble getting all the way there. I know he's largely right, in theory.
"...Have you been told by a newspaper pundit, politician, college professor, or television host that your friends, family, and neighbors on the other side are knaves and fools, implying that if you have any integrity, you must stand up to them or leave them behind? That people with a different perspective hate our country and must be completely destroyed? That if you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention? That kindness to your ideological foes is tantamount to weakness?

...We are responsible for our contempt addiction, of course, just as meth addicts are ultimately accountable for their addiction. But there are also our pushers—the political meth dealers. Knowing our weakness, dividing leaders on both the left and right seek power and fame by setting American against American, brother against brother, compatriot against compatriot. These leaders assert that we must choose sides, then argue that the other side is wicked—not worthy of any consideration—rather than challenging them to listen to others with kindness and respect. They foster a culture of contempt..."

That lower banner above is that of the Maryland Department of Aging BYKOTA senior center in Towson, a few miles from my house. I just joined, initially for the basketball games (and the geezer discount of my Y membership). They take the Be Ye Kind stuff seriously. My new hoops pals could not be nicer.

I am married to the kindest person I ever met. I like to think I am generally a kind and generous person (she'd not have otherwise put up with me for our 45 years to date), but I do have to admit that I episodically engage in snarky provocation responses that some would say paint me as a sarcastic jerk. e.g., see my "Bundy's World" post with its inventory of anti-militia Photoshop savagery (I've had "Keyboard Kommando" 'death threats' over that stuff).

Then there's my pointed "Obamacare Free Riders" song and YouTube music video:

No Kumbaya magnanimity in that little ditty. In general, my M.O. is to sometimes engage in biting humor when confronting pomposity or mendacity.

At what point does "humor" bleed over into "unkindness" toward adversaries. I posed the question in a tweet to Arthur C. Brooks. He did not respond.


Recent discourse with a FB "friend."

Hey, I was kind in reply.


An old friend and former guitar student sent me this link:

Nice, Very nice.

More to come...

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