In a recent commencement speech which quickly went viral, fiction writer George Saunders said one of his biggest regrets was not being kinder to a shy girl in his grade school. How do you define kindness? If there were times in your life when you wish you were kinder, what got in your way?

Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology and co-founder of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and author of books including "Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life"

  • geraldfnord

    David Kelley is viewed by hard-core Randroids as an heretic for exploring a principle he labels ‘benevolence’, which I understand to mean that one should be as good to other people as seems comfortably possible even in the absence of obvious gains for oneself.

    I believe it might be something like this: your food may moulder in the store-house, or your interesting information seem dull one year from now, but if you benefit someone else with either today, you have increased your chances of their reciprocating (in kind or otherwise) at some other point when you might need it. Sometimes ‘society’ looks like a gigantic energy bank, historically first for calories, now for calories and other sorts of useful energy….

    (I was taught kindness by twelve years’ near-unending mockery and assault by other children and adolescents…I can’t recommend that course of study, but I might as well take what benefit I can therefrom….)

  • Bob Fry

    Kindness, a luxury of older people who no longer hurry and struggle to get ahead so much, and who have learned the folly of insecurity and peer pressure.

    “Youth is wasted on the young”. Russell

  • Ross

    A couple years ago I moved to Oakland from San Francisco. I was surprised how friendly people were walking down the street. Everyone says hello to each other. My surprise wasn’t about Oakland’s vibe, but how unfriendly San Francisco as in comparison. Now, working in the city, I say hello to people when I make eye contact with them. I’m spreading Oakland’s friendliness, and it improves my day every time.

    • Pontifikate

      A smile is easy. Real kindness takes a bit more involvement.

      • Ross

        If it’s so easy why don’t people do it more often? Breaking the barrier isn’t easy

        • Pontifikate

          Maybe because people are more stressed? People don’t smile so much in NYC yet I’ve found people kinder there than in SF.

  • Lyn Powell

    I have very strong memories of kindnesses to me. As a teen i was at boarding school in UK whilst my parents were in the far east. Three times a year i made the trip on my own home and back. One trip I only had enough money for dinner or headphones on the very long trip (we had to pay for them then). I decided that I had to eat, took a seat at the counter and was shortly engaged in a conversation with an older couple nearby (children traveling alone were not common). After they left and when I went to pay for my meal I found that they had paid for me. As a parent of teens 40 years later I have always tried to pass it forward in whatever way I can. People haven’t always been kind to me but my experiences have convinced me that there is such a thing as karma.

  • Guest

    NPR’s recent piece on a study about how power displaces the capacity for empathy rang so true and significant to me. Being nice requires some level of empathy, and I wonder if we might be able to look more carefully at the powers that be, especially in the workplace and corporate life, to see if there are ways to influence the effect of feeling power over others on the ability to be kind. http://www.npr.org/2013/08/10/210686255/a-sense-of-power-can-do-a-number-on-your-brain

  • Kate

    when my dad passed the turnout from the business community was much larger than we ever expected. On customer of his, about 40 who was an architect came and told me, when I was a new employee, a nobody your dad treated me like I was the president of the company. I remember that every day in how I treat people. All I could think of is what a better legacy to leave. It opened up a side of my dad that I never knew and I am so grateful and changed

  • Pontifikate

    As far as being a parent making you kinder, I find that it may make you kinder to someone else — your nuclear family — but that it doesn’t necessarily translate to the stranger. In fact, it might work in reverse.

  • Bob Fry

    My wife and I have had the good fortune to travel some. We’ve found that 99% of the time, people respond to you as you first approach them. Even in Paris! The stereotyped rude Parisian just hardly exists if you’re kind yourself. Of course this works throughout life. People do want to help, given a bit of a chance.

    • Robert Thomas

      During my visits to Paris, locals have been cheerful and helpful. My experience in New York City is mostly the same.

  • Vicki McReynolds

    My granddaughter, her first week in Kindergarten, made friends on purpose with the autistic kid, because she sensed his isolation. It was the first connection he made with another child, and his parents were amazed. We come with kindness.


  • Al

    Kindness provides redemption to the giver and receiver.

  • Gabe W.

    As an older punk I regret not recognizing and acknowledging all the kindness shown to me by other punks and the world at large. Mutual aid can be sneaky when your in the care of kindhearted, smart punks. Thank you to all the people I never thanked, I am the person I am today thanks to your extreme gentleness. I will emulate all of you forever.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Speaking of workplaces, kindness means doing what you say or not offering false sentiments masquerading as kindness. For example, I have run into managers at work who offer a hand and will say for example, “send me your resume so I can help with your career”. I do so and then hear nary a word, not even a “thanks, I’ll keep you in mind”. So if you offer kindness, back it up with action. Honesty also implies backing up your words. It is not kind to mislead. That’s called lip service.

  • C.A.

    I love hearing about all the positive kindness stories about kids and parenting. Some days are harder than others. This morning was one of them for me (we are a household of 2 parents working full time in the bay area, and always trying to get work on time, and getting the kid to daycare…). Three year-olds can be very challenging and it can be difficult to always be kind, especially with some daily struggles that feel like they should be simpler (i.e. brushing teeth, etc.). Your program was perfectly timed to remind me to do my best to be kind, even while facing struggles of a 3 year-old, who is just being a normal 3-year old. It doesn’t help that my dad was from the old school generation of angry parenting. I need to break that cycle with more kindness.

  • Art Hernandez

    I wish kindness and wisdom for those who make decisions about federal funding for early childhood education.

  • Glenn Merker

    Kindness is a cop out

    kindness encourages cowardly behavior by NEVER calling out bad

    people equate “avoiding conflict” with
    “kindness” and this is a disaster because it leads to people never
    calling out bad behavior

    for example, I am confronted by dog owners not following leash
    laws and when I inform them of their law breaking they accuse me of not being

    cowards hide behind the shield of “kindness”

    un-earned kindness leads to “the emperor having no

    truth must take precedence over kindness for society to be honest

    Glenn from Oakland

    • Kenji Yamada

      There’s never a choice between either being totally kind and untruthful or being totally unkind and truthful. In any context involving a real person, there are kinder and less kind ways to express a truth. I don’t know the specifics of your situations with dog owners, but from the fact that they accused you of not being kind, I’m guessing it was possible for you to make the same substantive point to them more kindly than you did.

      • Glenn Merker

        Kenji – your points are well taken. Question: is the law breaking dog owner being kind by selfishly ignoring laws made to serve the entire community ? Shouldn’t the dog ower “take their just desserts” and NOT accuse me of “not being kind” because they themselves are clearly in the wrong ?

        • Kenji Yamada

          Yes, I agree with you that it’s unkind to break rules in a way that you know makes trouble for others, and that dog owners (or anyone) shouldn’t use the kindness of others as a way to avoid consequences of their own unkind behavior. I don’t think that lets you off the hook to reproach them in as kind a way as possible, though.

          Another point I wanted to make about calling out bad behavior is that doing so is only compatible with kindness if you have a reasonable expectation that it’ll be effectual in reducing the bad behavior. I actually wrote a longer thing about this a while ago, so instead of repeating myself I’ll take the liberty of linking to it: https://www.facebook.com/notes/kenji-yamada/compassionate-disagreement/10151591981672244

  • Wade Spital

    Since we live in relationship with other beings, genuine kindness is one of the very few things that really matters. It’s the spiritual nutrient which allows genuine happiness to flourish and dance throughout our communities. Kindness breeds more kindness, so any kind act has a multiplied, oversized effect.

    Out of kindness, I no longer consume animal-based food products. One American choosing to thrive on plant foods is a quintessentially kind choice, one that saves about 35 animals per year from suffering and slaughter. It is a choice that also has oversize, positive effects on our health and environment. I believe being kind to all animals also makes us less predisposed to solve our problems through violence and war. It is perplexing to me how we can expect peace on earth when we routinely order up abuse and violence on our dinner plate.

  • Debora Wohlford Steininger

    I think one of the greatest kindnesses an individual can offer another person is respect, which is the acknowledgment of the person’s value.

  • James R

    Last Saturday sitting on a Muni bus I saw a women walking to an open seat but a man walked in from the back doors and took it without knowing the women wanted it. I stood up, gave her my seat, walked towards the front, didn’t look back, and a seat opened up instantly for me.

    Often adults with verbal abusive tempers never say they are sorry for their unwarranted behavior. Kindness means being civilized.

  • bochinchero

    Like George Saunders and several listeners I also had one of those schoolyard incidents many years ago when I was a young boy, so it was interesting to me that this type of regret is evidently held by others. Kids and young people have to be warned that they might do something which appears trivial at the time but will come to haunt them later! In my case the one 5 minute schoolyard unkindness incident bothers me more when it comes to mind than the loss of my dear parents, crappy investments, or you name it. For whatever reason this regret bothers me far more than all those other things put together, and unlike one listener’s experience there’s really no way I can ever apologize. I don’t think the world’s finest therapist could ever fix this. We accumulate these scars unwittingly. I was very young, but unfortunately I have an imagination that serves me well except for this haunting full video recollection.

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