There is inborn into humans the desire to be kind to other humans. This quality was created by our ancestral mothers choosing men for their mates who were observed to be kind and some of that quality is heritable. This type of Eveish selection pressure (choosing mates for human qualities) goes far beyond Darwinian natural selection (those who survive reproduce) and what is known as sexual selection (choosing mates for health). The women would want men who were aggressive enough to be protective of them and their children, but not so aggressive as to be cruel. That is a subtle balance of many factors, but with a hundred thousand years of reproductive observation and five thousand generations of selection based on these types of choices we have what we have, and it seems to work most of the time. We as a species are tolerant and willing to be kind to one another when there isn’t a reason to be aggressive. This quality isn’t universal with other species, which becomes obvious if you watch a flock of chickens for a while.
A problem arises with our mindfulness, what we are paying attention to at any given moment, because there are so very many things onto which we might focus our minds’ light. In the turbulence of our daily lives we have little attention left over for consciously thinking, “How can I be kind to these people around me?” Our behavior is controlled by our habitual responses which spring to the fore several times per second, unbidden by our consciousness, and our mental intentionally analyzed choices probably only manifest once per minute or less.
Our conscious self does have some directive control over our habitual self, but it is not so much in what habit we manifest in the moment (that is automatic), but in what we choose to focus our attention upon that forms our new habits. We have little ability to extinguish an existing habit, but we do have some ability to overlay old habits with new ones. These new habits can be made to manifest themselves in action if we control, with our attention, the situations within which we are living at the moment. If we have an alcoholic habit that we can’t control, we can choose to spend a few days in a wilderness location where there won’t be any alcohol. While we are there we can resist our uncontrollable habit but when we return to our favorite bar, and our drinking buddies, it will be impossible to avoid drinking. There are simply too many stimuli to old habits for our conscious attention to overcome even if we want to. It takes sustained effort to remain conscious and suppress existing habits, and we soon tire and weaken and fall into our old unwanted habits.
Being kind to others requires something more than just being nice to them because it requires paying attention to their needs of the moment. If we must do this with our conscious attention there will be little left over for responsible response to the flow of the moment. What we need to do is to respond with our automatic habits. So what needs to be done is to intentionally cultivate the habits of being kind to other people. The habit needs to be, “Be kind to others” rather than to “Be nice to others.” The new habit needs to be, to automatically do spontaneous little things which will help the other person with whatever it is that they are doing. Being nice is much easier, and only requires smiling often and not saying or doing offensive things. To learn to be kind requires two habits to be formed. The first habit, pay attention to what your companion is saying and doing. The second habit, help your companion do what they are trying to do. To make these two things into habits requires doing them consciously but routinely for several times until they become automatic.
The Boy Scout helping the old lady across the street is a good example of kindness, because it requires two conscious things: first observing the old lady and her need to cross the street and second then choosing to do what is necessary to accomplish her task. The problem with that as a training exercise for learning a new habit of kindness is that one rarely sees old ladies attempting to cross the street and needing help.
So, to learn the habit of kindness we need to find something within our daily routine when interacting with other people where we can do little things to help them. For example, helping someone set the dinner table. Not setting the whole service as one voluntary act, but helping the other person set the table, each item one at a time. That requires not just one helping act with many parts but many acts of observing the other person, anticipating their actions and needs and then helping them with each act. The goal here is not to get the table set, but to do the kindly deeds which generate new habits.
To be kind we need to observe the other person, anticipate their needs and help them accomplish their goal.