Simple, Ordinary Kindness Simple, Ordinary Kindness
"Happy Family", Giovanni Battista Torriglia / WikiArt (public domain)
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Simple, Ordinary Kindness

Jowita Kiwnik Pargana
time 9 minutes

It’s in our blood: kind gestures are evolution’s gift to humankind. If it hadn’t been for kindness, the story of our species would most likely have taken a very different turn. 

It is evening. Valentine, the main protagonist of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s film, Three Colors: Red, leaves a theater in Geneva, and watches for a while as a bent, elderly woman struggles to deposit a bottle in a recycling bin. Valentine helps her. The bottle scene also appears in the two previous parts of Kieślowski’s film trilogy, but in in neither of them does the elderly person receive help. In the previous film, Blue, the protagonist fails to notice the elderly woman, and in White (where instead of the woman, an elderly gentleman appears) the main character watches the man’s struggles with a cruel smile. Only Valentine reacts. “In a sense, that single, simple act of kindness is the climax of the entire trilogy,” wrote American critic Dave Kehr in his 1994 review for the New York-based journal, Film Comment, calling what Valentine does, “the gesture that saves the world.”   

Yet according to sociologists, there is nothing extraordinary about the fact that we help each other. On the contrary—refusing assistance is rare, especially when it comes to simple gestures such as holding the door for someone, making tea, or throwing a bottle in a trash can, the type of gesture featured in Kieślowski’s movies. “Prosociality and cooperation are key to what makes us human,” says Giovanni Rossi, a sociologist from


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Photo: Carol M. Highsmith’s, „America”, Library of Congress/Rawpixel (public domain)

Program Yourself to Be Happy

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Optimists live longer, are more self-confident, and deal with stress more effectively. Pessimists can also learn to be optimistic, and here’s some advice on how to do it.  

It was in the late 1960s when American psychologist Martin Seligman started research that would soon make him famous in the scientific community. His goal was to analyze the mechanism behind learned helplessness, which is a state of passivity and resignation resulting from a belief that, no matter what actions we take, they won’t have any impact on what happens to us. In his laboratory experiments, Seligman managed to generate a sense of helplessness: first in dogs, then in mice, rats, and pigeons. It became more challenging, however, when he began to research people. As he recalled in a 2020 American NPR program dedicated to optimism, “One-third of people I could not make helpless in laboratory, so I began to wonder, what was it about some people that makes them so resilient?” 

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