Some Kind of Kindness

Scenario one: you are in perfect health and in a loving relationship. You are not rich but your material needs are met. You live in a society that allows you to be yourself. However, people treat each other poorly. Kindness is rare and hardly anyone will ever lend a helping hand, no matter what the need. Are you happy there?

bolder4According to statistics, probably not. On the whole, people prefer to live in a society in which humans help each other. Whether it is a town picnic to raise money for the family hit with insane medical bills or a nationwide effort to send relief to flood victims, the fact that folks look out for each other, even somewhat, makes us all feel better. Interesting, huh?

Where do I get this idea? Well, several times now I’ve posted about a report on which countries have the happiest people. I spent some time reading the report once I became intrigued to learn that six attributes account for most of the variation in world happiness. I summed up the six categories as health, wealth, freedom, love, kindness and fairness. I’ve already written about the first four and today I’m thinking about kindness.

The very idea that humans prefer a world in which people look out for each other flies in the face of the writings and philosophies of a still popular author from the 1950’s named Ayn Rand. Ms. Rand grew up in a totalitarian country, and she brought her hatred of government and social obligations with her to the United States where her flair for writing fiction enabled her to reach a wide audience with her ideas. Part of her philosophy, known as objectivism, involved the importance of personal freedom and personal wealth, and these concepts resonated with many. It’s not surprising. Both have been shown to play an important role in human happiness.

raising8As to health and love, the heroes of Ms. Rand’s books were always in perfect health, in spite of smoking a great deal of cigarettes, and they generally found love, at least the romantic variety. However, they all really hated the idea of helping out anyone else, and I think this is where Ms. Rand ultimately lost a lot of followers.

One could argue that we prefer a kinder society simply because each of us hopes that we would be helped if we were in desperate need, but I think it is more than that. Somewhere deep inside, most of us get that we are linked. A natural disaster elsewhere effects us with its ripples, a tragedy in our town saddens not just our neighbors, but us as well. Pulling together to overcome the problems foisted on us by fate or by acts of human destruction makes us all realize that we are stronger together. Being strong feels good. Overcoming adversity makes us happy. We can overcome more adversity when we work together. Working together requires kindness. It’s an equation that resonates inside each of us.

sungazing4How did the happiness survey measure kindness? Good question. For each of the attributes they sought out simple, black and white yardsticks and in this case I do not think that they were able to find one that was adequate. They went with using philanthropy; normalizing donations made based on population and income. While this might be be somewhat indicative of kindness in wealthier counties, even there it also reflects extraneous variables like tax codes and social norms. And for countries in which people barely make enough to meet their own needs, helping others is more likely to be found in giving shelter or food to strangers, or by providing services like health care or construction help to those beset by disasters. These acts of generosity work to hold the society together and bring joy to all, and yet they were missed by the yardstick used. I suspect that many low-income countries received lower happiness scores because of this.

In the end, of course, no country’s ranking matters. What does matter is how the people who live there feel. Are they happy? If it is common to extend kindness, any kind of kindness, to others, then yes. They are happier because they do so.

(For more posts on the subject of what makes us happy see If you want to be happy move to a cold country?, Happiness fascinates me, None of us are normal if we’re lucky, Four Reasons I Love It When “Love Wins”, The fairest of them all?, and When is it time for “More”?)

 

Learning as you go

The story of Biafra’s failed struggle for independence moved me so much when I researched my first book, x0, that I spontaneously decided to pledge 10 per cent of x0’s proceeds forever to the international aid organization that was born out of the conflict, known in the U.S. as “Doctor’s Without Borders.”

At the time I was sort of feeling my way along with this whole book writing thing anyway, and with the idea of blogging as well. I made a blog called Face Painting for World Peace to discuss everything from Nigeria to telepathy to, well, world peace. Turns out that I’ve enjoyed keeping up the blog ever since, and been proud to send a couple of checks off to DWB as well.

When y1 came along, it seemed like I needed a second blog. I wanted it to make the URL http://www.tothepowerofone.org to be similar to the x0 website http://www.tothepowerofzero.org. I liked the symmetry. However, that web address turned out to already belong to a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating poverty throughout the Pacific Islands. Wow. y1 was about Pacific Islands. I decided that was pretty amazing, and meant that ten percent of the proceeds from y1 were destined to be donated to To the Power of One. So while this organization was in no way involved with or endorsed my book, I encouraged the readers of y1 to visit their website and consider supporting them. Because, well, it just seemed to fit.

Healing Light 1Several months ago I finally got around to sending that first check off from my y1 sales. At least I tried to, and was sad to see that To the Power of One had vanished from the web. I was unable to find another organization that they had perhaps morphed into, and concluded that for what-ever reason, the group no longer exists.

It’s not like I have a lot of proceeds from my books to donate. If you know a self-published author you probably realize this. But a promise is a promise and I was determined to send my small check off to someone. But who?

Afi, one of the main characters in the book and Zane’s eventual love interest, is from the islands of Kiribati. These low lying Pacific atolls will likely be one of the first causalities of climate change as rising sea levels submerge an entire nation.

I looked around for a group working to abate climate change in sensible ways and I was delighted to discover the World Resources Institute.

According to their website WRI’s mission is “to move human society to live in ways that protect Earth’s environment and its capacity to provide for the needs and aspirations of current and future generations.” You can hardly quarrel with that. The organization receives top ratings from GuideStar, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, the Better Business Bureau and Philanthropedia. They organize their efforts not just around climate change,  but also around clean energy, food, forests, water and cities and transportation.

So off my check went, and now I get regular updates (and requests for more money) from them. It’s okay.  I like them and what they do and I like the idea that y1 is in some small way making a contribution. It’s not quite what I had in mind when I started this, but then none of this adventure in writing novels has turned out quite like I expected. I’m learning as I go. I think that’s a fine thing to do.