You might wonder why a blog about sustainability and lifestyle (in particular fashion) focuses so heavily on the practices of kindness, gratitude and spiritual wellness.
Well when it comes down to the crunch the humanity of a human is what makes us human and the crux of humanity is our ability to be self aware. Being aware of ones self; our character, feelings, desires and motives, has some pretty amazing outcomes (like this great big human made world we have constructed), and there aren’t too many other species that share this world with us that have the ability to be aware of themselves let alone put it to use in the way that we have.
Scientific studies into self awareness in other species, that are usually conducted by using a mirror self recognition test has concluded that the dolphins (awesome documentary here from BBC if you can get your hands on a copy), monkeys (in this case rhesus monkeys), and great apes just to name a few, are aware to differing degrees of their ‘self’. While all animals think, some, like squirrels storing nuts for winter, can plan, and all can communicate to each other in some way, many are just living from moment to moment avoiding danger, filling their bellies, and having cute little babies. None have advanced the same way (not that our way has been the most planet friendly way) that humans have as a species. Let’s have a look at the components of self awareness with help from our scientist friends.
In the book Self Awareness and Human Evolution Mark Leary looks at the differences between the human species and animal species and notes that humans are able to plan for various events and imagine possible consequences by imagining a mental representation of themselves in the future, kind of like a mental time travel device. While many animals do have this ability to plan, it is thought to be limited to biological planning rather (like storing food or building nests) rather than planning for Timmy’s birthday party or writing a manuscript for the next best selling novel.
Decision Making and self-control
Having an ability to time travel in our minds allows us to make decisions that can create the future we are aiming for. Leary notes that animals that are not aware of self cannot behave in any way other than the way they naturally do (haven’t seen too many koala bears riding the bus lately but it would be a better option than trying to cross busy roads on foot on their commute to new habitat). While we can see evidence of decision making in dolphins, most animals are not documented to undertake the complex decision process that we do. Humans, while we do have an inbuilt instinctive decision making ability (the fight or flight response), we generally undertake a controlled meaning making process (either consciously or subconsciously depending on the decision) for any issues that deemed important enough by our brains to warrant some serious reflection before action.
Self Conceptualisation and Evaluation
As we noted in planning, a species who is aware of their self can develop a mental representation of themselves and having a self allows humans to be able to evaluate themselves and the results of their actions. Leary suggests that all animals are able to assess if their behaviour is having the desired effects, but only animals with a sense of self can evaluate their behaviours with an abstract evaluation (like imagining yourself in different situations and different outcomes), and evaluate their feelings towards different outcomes. An animal without an awareness of self is unlikely to be able to act beyond it’s natural inclinations, which is why you won’t likely see a koala on a train reading a newspaper as it is just too happy in it’s tree eating leaves doing it’s natural thing to project it’s thinking to how to safely commute to a new location in human built environments.
Humans have a wonderful (and sometimes very-annoying-sleep-depriving) ability to be able to think about thinking, feeling and behaving. We are not only able to experience the world like our animal friends, we are also able to introspect and think about what it is we perceive and experience every moment. This ability, like the others above, all compound together to create our uniquely aware species.
And Finally we have Perspective taking
Perspective taking is when we take our ability as humans to project ourselves in our thoughts and use it to put ourselves in another ‘persons shoes’. While most animals studied are unable to show sign of perspective taking there are signs of rudimentary self-reflection in chimpanzees and gorillas that have been seen to use their ability to deceive others.
All good for the science… What does this mean for us and our kindness practice?
Well according to the very first line of Handbook of Temperaments chapter ‘Empathy Prosocial Behaviour, and other aspects of Kindness’ chapter, kindness is ‘broadly defined as a constellation of positive attitudes, feelings and behaviours towards others’. Looking at this definition with the characteristics of self awareness above, it is save to say that if we put all our efforts into cultivating an ethos of kindness into our world and effort that uses our higher states of thinking, rather than focusing on fear and hatred that puts us in our survivalist ‘fight or flight’ mode then we have a better chance of combating the issues we face as our populations booms. Think about it this way, would you prefer to be sharing the planet in 2050 with
- a) 9.6 Billion people living in a state of fear, who will fight you for resources and run from taking responsibility,
- b) a world full of 9.6 self aware cheeky monkeys who are out to use their intelligence to secure the best resources for themselves,
- or c) a world of 9.6 billion people that have embraced their humanity in a compassionate and kind way and have worked together to create solutions to the problems that all of us cheeky monkey’s have made in the past.
Sustainability in Style is focused on cultivating scenario C). A world that honours and respects the fact that we are just another species on this planet, but one that has evolved a slightly unique way of seeing their place in the world (and the universe). We are guilty of having acted, and in many cases still acting out scenarios A) and B) but we are very much capable of kindness towards ourselves, others, and the world that supports us, and that we should be grateful for what we have and the wellbeing it brings. The results of signing a forever lease to live in scenario A) or B) would be truly disastrous for all, in scenario A) we would likely be living in a constant state of adrenaline induced fear which would leave us grappling for basic survival (think food and water wars). Scenario B) would be somewhat similar to our current scenario with some folks having it all through deception and trickery while other are left without, this gap would become more prominent as the population grow and likely lead to scenario A) in many less wealthy communities. Of course this idea of kindness and compassion is not a new one and it is familiar to all of us. Most of us would have experienced the feelings at least once in our life and usually toward family and friends.
The Peppermint kindness challenge is just one of many tools that allows us to extend the reach of our kindness. No matter how kind you are at heart and how much you express kindness in your every day life there are no limits to the amount of kindness you should and can practice. It’s like the childhood urban legend of ‘every time a child say’s I don’t believe in fairies a fairy somewhere falls down dead’. Every time someone forgets to be kind or acts in a rude or inconsiderate way towards another, a little part of our humanity dies.
So whatcha say? Want to be a part of a peaceful, thoughtful, kind and happy future? All it takes is a little bit of higher thought! Something we are clearly all capable of and it doesn’t cost a cent. Hell… Dolphins can do it so surely we can too!
Perhaps you might want to start with this week Peppermint Magazine Kindness challenge prompt. Where this week the team are asking you to give a little recognition to the people who work quietly behind the scenes to make things happen: the school caretaker, the person who delivers your mail, your child’s teacher, that friendly librarian, or the person at the call centre who helped you with a particularly tricky problem. It’s probably not often that they get positive feedback and credit for their hard work, so perhaps try leaving them a sweet note to say that you’ve noticed and appreciate their efforts, drop them off a plant or some home baking, or even just say a simple ‘thank you’. Everyone is important and we all have something valuable to contribute to society – and giving recognition where it’s due can be a powerful form of kindness.
Who deserves your thanks this week?