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The other day, I read on my friend’s Facebook page that she walked all the way back to Old Navy with her infant son when she realized he had pilfered a pair of socks from the store (apparently they make a good teething toy). I, on the other hand, would have muttered, “Score!” and walked home with the unintended freebie.
This friend also volunteers in the children’s ward of a hospital, fosters homeless animals and is boundlessly enthusiastic about the world and mankind. And I don’t even hate her for it. In fact, I’m a bit in awe of her. She’s not high on Christ -- or any mind-altering substances for that matter -- and I don’t think she was raised by a bunch of good-will-spewing hippies. So how’d she get this way, and is there any hope that her kindness might rub off on me just a smidge?
Too bad for me, it looks like she was simply born this way. Research in the journal Psychological Science says some of us are born nicer, thanks to the hormones oxytocin (the cuddle drug) and vasopressin. People who have more receptors for these chemicals display more charitable behavior, like giving blood, helping an old lady across the street, reporting a crime and, apparently, returning stolen merchandise to Old Navy.
Of course, these so-called nice genes don’t work in a bubble. What also matters is your perception of the world. If you’ve got these genes and you see the world as a safe place, you’re probably the nicest person on earth. But if you view the world as threatening, your cuddly DNA can only go so far. As for people who think mankind is an undeserving bunch of backstabbers and don’t have these kindness gened, let’s hope you don’t have to rely on them in a life-or-death situation, because heroism is probably not their strong suit.
I guess that explains my propensities as well. While I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, I’ve always been shy and extremely wary of people. So I fight with myself constantly over whether someone is being a douche or if it’s just my warped perception of them. If I could just overcome this idea that everyone’s out to get me, maybe that would give my cuddle genes more room to spread good will in the world -- and I would not make off like a bandit when my kid pockets some sweet merchandise.