January 13, 2009

Born to be Good

A new book that I haven't seen yet and my library doesn't have yet has gotten my attention due to two reviews I read.

The book, Born to be Kind, has Confusian, rather than Buddhist, roots, but I like the idea behind it: That the best way to describe human origins is not survival of the fittest, but survival of the kindest. [I can't say that "kindness" sounds more likely to be true, but I'm hopeful.]

The author, Dacher Keltner, is on tour, promoting his book now. Below, a YouTubed statement by the writer about why he wrote his book.

Here's the review in the Jan-Feb, 2009, issue of Psychology Today:
Through his studies on facial movements, tones of voice, goosebumps, dinosaurs, and beauty, Berkeley psychologyist Keltner has forged what he calls a "new science of positive emotion." His conclusion: Human beings have evolved a set of positive emotions -- gratitude, mirth, awe and compassion -- and it is these that enable us to lead meaningful lives. The key to happiness, he says, is to let these emotions arise in ourselves and to evoke them in others. Human beings are wired to be good -- so much so, Keltner says, that the best way to describve our origins is not "survival of the fittest" but "survival of the kindest."
The second review I read was in Library Journal. Couldn't find it at their website, but did find it at Barnes & Noble.

UPDATE 1/27/09: Bill Harryman has a post on "Born to Be Good" over at Integral Options Cafe. Word of this book is spreading, and its POV is causing discussion.

UPDATE 3/3/09: There is a GREAT comprehensive review of Keltner's book in Slate, reviewed by the great Howard Gardner: "How Good Are We, Really?" At its end, the review is not altogether an endorsement of Keltner's book, since Keltner doesn't prove what he sets out to. But the book does entrigue Gardner, and me, because of what it does and can say about goodness in human beings.

Update 3/21/09: I've added two quotes from Keltner's book, related to compassion: Compassion in Born to Be Good, #1; and Compassion in Born to Be Good, #2.

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