We live in a highly competitive society. However, Daniel Lumera, socio-biologist, expert on the science of wellbeing and co-author with Harvard professor Immaculata De Vivo of the book Biologia della gentilezza. Le sei scelte quotidiane per salute, benessere e longevità (The Biology of Kindness. The six daily choices for health, wellbeing and a long life), explains that this competitiveness can lead to strife and oppression.
Our organisation models, Lumera tells us, have been designed on a paradigm that has been invalidated by the latest scientific data. “Those who are best suited to survival,” he explains, “are the kinder amongst us. This is because we are a species that cooperates.”
Why start with kindness?
We knew that survival is a question of adaptation, but for a long time our society has interpreted this capacity to adapt in terms of strength and oppression. However, new scientific evidence –significant data which have only begun to clearly emerge in recent years – shows that adaptation is a result of cooperation, and of a specific biology of values.
If, as those data show, the individual best suited to survival is also more open to change, then we need to understand what steers that change. Immaculata De Vivo, who teaches medicine at Harvard Medical School and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, and I have identified five values: kindness, optimism, forgiveness, gratitude and happiness. These values should be nurtured every day and you need a strategy for that.
Everything that exists outside is the product of what we have inside ourselves, our intimacy, our beliefs and our convictions.
Should these values be nurtured simply in terms of subjective wellbeing?
No, there’s more to it than that. This is exactly the new scientific discovery: these values should be nurtured to ensure the survival of the species. Let’s consider telomeres, those small parts of DNA found at both ends of each chromosome. Telomeres are a biological clock which show our susceptibility to illnesses and the potential length of our lives.
So, telomeres stand guard over our longevity?
Exactly, and they are located at the ends of each chromosome to protect them from possible damage, by protecting the cell. There are ways of lengthening and protecting telomeres, which are exposed to environmental factors and bio-social stress.
A constructive, inclusive response to environmental attacks is possible if we start with our sense of identity.
One of the strategies that you believe is vital to increase the chances of the survival of the species is the important role played by relationships.
Relationships can be toxic, but also generative. Mortality rates are lower among those who have healthy, balanced relationships compared to those who have stressful acrimonious relationships. We are talking about 50% lower. This figure already shows us how important a biology of values is, and the role that kindness and gratitude can play both on an individual level and in social terms. But this is also true within companies, where the design of relationships is becoming increasingly important.
We can choose to be a source of purpose, of change for the common good which we at last recognise as being of paramount importance.
From this perspective, we see the importance of the connection between the internal and external environment, between the subjectivity and objectivity of an organisation …
Our routine behaviours can change many things about ourselves, but they can also bring about change in the things around us. Kindness and gratitude are infectious. It’s not a cliché to say that. We have learnt by now that kindness and gratitude – or on another level, forgiveness – can trigger extremely positive mechanisms for the individual, the environment surrounding that individual, and others within that environment. Organisations are beginning to recognise this bio-social value and they are introducing elements of cooperation rather than purely competition into their design.
Cooperation and competition are of course not poles apart, quite the opposite …
Real competition is based on cooperation. We compete to improve and to improve together. This is the important learning, especially for companies.