Bending the arc of human kindness

By admin
November 14, 2013

By Lana Turnbull

I was watching the news recently and it started me thinking about how some days feel like a tug-of-war between goodness and evil, kindness and meanness, caring and disregard. It’s nothing new. I suppose since the beginning of man, we’ve struggled to understand a world where we can be shocked by indescribable cruelty but also humbled by the depth of human kindness. Are both primal conditions of being human? Which side is winning?

I went to the Internet for “statistics of good and bad,” hoping to find some recent study that has indisputably proven that good is triumphing over evil. That would be nice, but it’s just not there. What I did find was an article by Robert Krulwich of Krulwich Wonders on NPR last December, “Which is there more of: kindness or unkindness? A Christmas Accounting.”

Krulwich’s idea came from his friend and writer Kevin Kelly who proposed the idea that if you could “count every kindness, every good deed, every smile, … and add them up you would have the Total Incidence of Kindness” for the year. Then, by the same token, if you were able to count all the bad deeds, frowns, hurtful acts… every unkindness, and tally them up you would have the Total Incidence of Badness. Now, you have two columns, side-by-side to compare. The idea reminded me of a popular Christmas song and Santa’s “naughty or nice lists.”

Kelly’s theory is that after adding up both lists, you would find the two columns almost even, but good would top out just a little ahead of bad. Granted, he admits this is not based on science, but on the idea that over the millennia the little edge that kindness has starts to add up. Eventually, he apothesizes that we humans take “tiny steps, from the dark toward the light.”

Call me a sap, but I like the idea of the human race getting better, not worse. Of course, it’s hard to believe sometimes, especially for a news junkie like me, but I think we somehow have to find balance in what we allow ourselves to be exposed to, so we aren’t overtaken by negative impressions. We have to look for the good with the bad…the kindness among the cruelty.

One source of inspiration for me is the overwhelming outpouring we see when there has been a natural disaster, or horrific act of terror. We see everyday people rushing to help, giving when they are in need themselves, and flocking to the rescue of their fellow men, time after time, when it would seem the well of human kindness must be about empty. But somehow, we find a way to pull up another bucketful.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., talked about the human trajectory toward good, after the violent episode at the Edmund Pettus bridge near Selma, Alabama. King urged his followers to believe that someday people will be kinder to each other, “because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I applaud Krulwich for this “Christmas Accounting” because when I think about it, it is the same message we take from the story of the birth of a baby born 2100 years ago. It is a message of hope, that Christ was coming to bring love, light, kindness and peace to the world…and that we must have faith that goodness will prevail. For that to happen, we need to choose kindness in our big and small actions every day. The arc of the “moral universe” may be bending toward human kindness, but it can’t hurt to pitch in and give it a little push.

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