We've remarked before on the lack of civility in today's society. Part of it, I suspect, is as it's always been (According to Plato, Socrates famously complained about the disrespect of the youth of his time and warned against the growing indolence of society). Part of it is the ease of anonymity of the internet age allowing you to express your basest self without fear of being known. But we have also become a society where facts matter less than emotion, where self-righteousness and demonization triumphs debate and understanding and too many people assume that you exercising your freedoms mean less for them. It all adds up to a society for which kindness is the least appreciated virtue.
Curiously, according to a recent study, that's actually going against our most successful instincts:
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.
In contrast to "every man for himself" interpretations of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of "Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life," and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits.
They call it "survival of the kindest."[..]
While studies show that bonding and making social connections can make for a healthier, more meaningful life, the larger question some UC Berkeley researchers are asking is, "How do these traits ensure our survival and raise our status among our peers?"
One answer, according to UC Berkeley social psychologist and sociologist Robb Willer is that the more generous we are, the more respect and influence we wield. In one recent study, Willer and his team gave participants each a modest amount of cash and directed them to play games of varying complexity that would benefit the "public good." The results, published in the journal American Sociological Review, showed that participants who acted more generously received more gifts, respect and cooperation from their peers and wielded more influence over them.
"The findings suggest that anyone who acts only in his or her narrow self-interest will be shunned, disrespected, even hated," Willer said. "But those who behave generously with others are held in high esteem by their peers and thus rise in status."