ANNA McHUGH: Far from being a skill that we must struggle to learn, kindness is natural to humans. In fact, it’s natural to lots of species, and often expressed across species too.

At the end of December many people will make New Year’s Resolutions. In a group-oriented culture like Australia, many people will use peer and family competition to keep themselves motivated. When we attempt to recover some of our natural altruism, we can, paradoxically, often become a bit competitive about it. ‘Competitive Kindness’ sounds like a movie with Will Ferrell. But we’re often more concerned to practice our rediscovered kindness on others, than allowing them to do it to us.

Yet giving others the opportunity to be kind to you is a particular type of kindness in itself. Allowing someone to be kind to you isn’t a sign of vulnerability; it actually shows that the other person feels comfortable enough to extend themselves for you, and to you.  It fosters strong bonds of gratitude and graciousness. It means that they know you – or would like to know you. Their act of kindness is a little brick in the social fabric we’re all building together, and by receiving it graciously, you’re contributing the cement.

But allowing another person to be kind to you isn’t the only way to rediscover your kindness. Animals like wolves, elephants, orcas, dolphins, lions, and chimpanzees all display altruistic, or selfless, behaviour. It’s interesting that the animals with the greatest capacity for kindness are also those most savagely hunted by humans.

However, you don’t need to bring home an elephant and allow it to be kind to you. If you have a pet – particularly a cat or dog – you can share mutual kindness by allowing them to spend time being physically close to you. Letting them share your time and space isn’t just reassuring for them, which makes them thrive as an individual animal, it’s physically good for you too. For instance:

  • When cats purr, they create vibrations around 20-140 Hz, which are therapeutic for complaints like injured joints and muscles and orthopaedic health
  • Stroking a cat decreases stress, and in some hospitals, children having lengthy and distressing chemotherapy treatments sit with the ward ‘therapy cat’ while their drugs are administered
  • This decrease in stress works by pushing blood pressure down. Experts in animal-human interaction think that it’s the body’s reaction to the optimal vibration-rate, but we’re not really sure yet. We do know, however, that cat owners have a 40% lower risk of heart-attack and ischaemic stroke

Cats might be introverted and even a bit wilful, but they never fake a purr! They’re showing kindness to you as you show it to them – revel in it! The same applies to relations between people; a kindness accepted from someone else makes both parties relaxed and happy. Purrrr!


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