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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Kindness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kindness. Show all posts

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Kindness Can Have Unexpectedly Positive Consequences

Amit Kumar
Scientific American
December 12, 2022

Scientists who study happiness know that being kind to others can improve well-being. Acts as simple as buying a cup of coffee for someone can boost a person’s mood, for example. Everyday life affords many opportunities for such actions, yet people do not always take advantage of them.

In a set of studies published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Nick Epley, a behavioral scientist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and I examined a possible explanation. We found that people who perform random acts of kindness do not always realize how much of an impact they are having on another individual. People consistently and systematically underestimate how others value these acts.

Across multiple experiments involving approximately 1,000 participants, people performed a random act of kindness—that is, an action done with the primary intention of making someone else (who isn’t expecting the gesture) feel good. Those who perform such actions expect nothing in return.

From one procedure to the next, the specific acts of kindness varied. For instance, in one experiment, people wrote notes to friends and family “just because.” In another, they gave cupcakes away. Across these experiments, we asked both the person performing a kind act and the one receiving it to fill out questionnaires. We asked the person who had acted with kindness to report their own experience and predict their recipient’s response. We wanted to understand how valuable people perceived these acts to be, so both the performer and recipient had to rate how “big” the act seemed. In some cases, we also inquired about the actual or perceived cost in time, money or effort. In all cases, we compared the performer’s expectations of the recipient’s mood with the recipient’s actual experience.

Across our investigations, several robust patterns emerged. For one, both performers and recipients of the acts of kindness were in more positive moods than normal after these exchanges. For another, it was clear that performers undervalued their impact: recipients felt significantly better than the kind actors expected. The recipients also reliably rated these acts as “bigger” than the people performing them did.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Surprisingly Happy to Have Helped: Underestimating Prosociality Creates a Misplaced Barrier to Asking for Help

Zhao, X., & Epley, N. (2022).
Psychological Science.


Performing acts of kindness increases well-being, yet people can be reluctant to ask for help that would enable others’ kindness. We suggest that people may be overly reluctant because of miscalibrated expectations about others’ prosocial motivation, underestimating how positively others will feel when asked for help. A pretest identified that interest in asking for help was correlated with expectations of how helpers would think and feel, but a series of scenarios, recalled experiences, and live interactions among adult participants in the United States (total N = 2,118) indicated that those needing help consistently underestimated others’ willingness to help, underestimated how positively helpers would feel, and overestimated how inconvenienced helpers would feel. These miscalibrated expectations stemmed from underestimating helpers’ prosocial motivation while overestimating compliance motivation. This research highlights a limitation of construing help-seeking through a lens of compliance by scholars and laypeople alike. Undervaluing prosociality could create a misplaced barrier to asking for help when needed.

From the Discussion section

Prosocial actions, such as performing random acts of kindness, tend to improve well-being for both those who perform prosocial acts as well as for those who receive them. Indeed, those who performed a random act of kindness in our experiments reported feeling significantly more positive than they normally do, and two of the experiments confirmed that performers felt better than participants who were not given the opportunity to perform a random act of kindness. Another found that people performing acts of kindness felt more positive after being kind than they reported feeling at the beginning of the experiment. Being more prosocial did not come at a cost to people’s own well-being; it enhanced it.

Daily life, however, affords many opportunities for engaging in prosocial activities that people may not take. We believe our research suggests one possible reason why: that those performing random acts of kindness undervalue the positive impact they are having on recipients. People’s choices are often guided by either an implicit or explicit calculation of expected value (Becker, 1993). Underestimating how positive a recipient would feel after even a small act of kindness could lead people to engage in prosocial actions less often than might be optimal for both their own and others’ well-being.

Across a variety of different actions, in many different contexts, performers systematically perceived their random act of kindness to be a more minor action than recipients perceived it to be and systematically underestimated how positive recipients would feel afterward. Performers were not confused, of course, that recipients would feel good about their experience. In all cases performers expected recipients to feel more positive than they normally do. Nevertheless, performers were still systematically miscalibrated as recipients felt even better than expected.

Friday, January 14, 2022

A Little Good Goes an Unexpectedly Long Way: Underestimating the Positive Impact of Kindness on Recipients

Kumar, A., & Epley, N. 
(2021, November 15). 


Performing random acts of kindness increases happiness in both givers and receivers, but we find that givers systematically undervalue their positive impact on recipients. In both field and laboratory settings (Experiments 1a-2b), those performing a random act of kindness predicted how positive recipients would feel and recipients reported how they actually felt. From giving away a cup of hot chocolate in a park to giving away a gift in the lab, those performing a random act of kindness consistently underestimated how positive their recipients would feel, thinking their act was of less value than recipients perceived it to be. Givers’ miscalibrated expectations are driven partly by an egocentric bias in evaluations of the act itself (Experiment 3). Whereas recipients’ positive reactions are enhanced by the warmth conveyed in a kind act, givers’ expectations are relatively insensitive to the warmth conveyed in their action. Underestimating the positive impact of a random act of kindness also leads givers to underestimate the behavioral consequences their prosociality will produce in recipients through indirect reciprocity (Experiment 4). We suggest that givers’ miscalibrated expectations matter because they can create a barrier to engaging in prosocial actions more often in everyday life (Experiments 5a-5b), to the detriment of people’s own wellbeing, to others’ wellbeing, and to civil society.

General Discussion

Prosocial actions, such as performing random acts of kindness, tend to improve wellbeing for both those who perform prosocial acts as well as for those who receive them.  Indeed, those who performed a random act of kindness in our experiments reported feeling significantly more positive than they normally do, and two of the experiments confirmed that performers felt better than participants who were not given the opportunity to perform a random act of kindness. Another found that performers of acts of kindness felt more positive after being kind than they reported feeling at the beginning of the experiment.Being more prosocial did not come at a cost to people’s own wellbeing; it enhanced it.  Daily life, however, affords many opportunities for engaging in these sorts of prosocial activities that people do not seem to take.  We believe our research suggests one possible reason why: that those performing random acts of kindness undervalue the positive impact they are having on recipients.  People’s choices are often guided by either an implicit or explicit calculation of expected value (Becker, 1993).  Underestimating how positive a recipient would feel after even a small act of kindness could lead people to engage in prosocial actions less often than might be optimal for both their own and others’ wellbeing.

Across many different actions, with many different participants, and in many different contexts, performers systematically perceived their random act of kindness to be a more minor action than recipients perceived it to be, and also systematically underestimated how positive recipients would feel afterwards.Performers were not confused, of course, that recipients would feel good about their experience.  In all cases performers expected recipients to feel more positive than they normally do.  Nevertheless, performers were still systematically miscalibrated as recipients felt even better than expected.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Oncologist Pays for Patient's Meds: A 'Boundary' Crossed?

Nic Mulcahy
Originally posted 4 Nov 20

It was an act of kindness: while overseeing a patient through a round of chemotherapy, an oncology fellow at Johns Hopkins University's Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore, Maryland, paid a modest amount of money (about $10) for that patient's antiemetic medication and retrieved it from the center's pharmacy.

Co-fellow Arjun Gupta, MD, witnessed the act and shared it with the world September 23 on Twitter.

"Just observed a co-fellow pay the co-pay for a patient's post-chemo nausea meds at the pharmacy, arrange them in a pill box, and deliver them to the patient in the infusion center. So that the patient could just leave after chemo."

Healthcare professionals applauded the generosity. "Phenomenal care," tweeted Carolyn Alexander, MD, a fertility physician in Los Angeles.

It's a common occurrence, said others. "Go ask a nurse how many times they've done it. I see it happen weekly," tweeted Chelsea Mitchell, PharmD, an intensive care unit pharmacist in Memphis, Tennessee.

Lack of universal healthcare brings about these moments, claimed multiple professionals who read Gupta's anecdote. "#ThisIsDoctoring. This is also a shameful indictment of our medical system," said Mary Landrigan-Ossar, MD, an anesthesiologist at Children's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts.

However, one observer called out something no one else had ― that paying for a patient's medication is not allowed in some facilities.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Why Being Kind Helps You, Too—Especially Now

Elizabeth Bernstein
The Wall Street Journal
Originally posted 11 August 20

Here is an excerpt:

Kindness can even change your brain, says Stephanie Preston, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan who studies the neural basis for empathy and altruism. When we’re kind, a part of the reward system called the nucleus accumbens activates—our brain responds the same way it would if we ate a piece of chocolate cake. In addition, when we see the response of the recipient of our kindness—when the person thanks us or smiles back—our brain releases oxytocin, the feel-good bonding hormone. This oxytocin boost makes the pleasure of the experience more lasting.

It feels so good that the brain craves more. “It’s an upward spiral—your brain learns it’s rewarding, so it motivates you to do it again,” Dr. Preston says.

Are certain acts of kindness better than others? Yes. If you want to reap the personal benefits, “you need to be sincere,” says Sara Konrath, a psychologist and associate professor at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, where she runs a research lab that studies empathy and altruism.

It also helps to expect good results. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2019 showed people who believed that kindness is good for them showed a greater increase in positive emotions, satisfaction with life and feelings of connection with others—as well as a greater decrease in negative emotions—than those who did not.

How can you be kind even when you may not feel like it? Make it a habit. Take stock of how you behave day to day. Are you trusting and generous? Or defensive and hostile? “Kindness is a lifestyle,” says Dr. Konrath.

Start by being kind to yourself—you’re going to burn out if you help everyone else and neglect your own needs. Remember that little acts add up: a smile, a phone call to a lonely friend, letting someone have the parking space. Understand the difference between being kind and being nice—kindness is genuinely helping or caring about someone; niceness is being polite. Don’t forget your loved ones. Kindness is not just for strangers.

The info is here.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Difficult Conversations: Navigating the Tension between Honesty and Benevolence

E. Levine, A. Roberts, & T. Cohen
Originally published 18 Jul 19


Difficult conversations are a necessary part of everyday life. To help children, employees, and partners learn and improve, parents, managers, and significant others are frequently tasked with the unpleasant job of delivering negative news and critical feedback. Despite the long-term benefits of these conversations, communicators approach them with trepidation, in part, because they perceive them as involving intractable moral conflict between being honest and being kind. In this article, we review recent research on egocentrism, ethics, and communication to explain why communicators overestimate the degree to which honesty and benevolence conflict during difficult conversations, document the conversational missteps people make as a result of this erred perception, and propose more effective conversational strategies that honor the long-term compatibility of honesty and benevolence. This review sheds light on the psychology of moral tradeoffs in conversation, and provides practical advice on how to deliver unpleasant information in ways that improve recipients’ welfare.

From the Summary:

Difficult conversations that require the delivery of negative information from communicators to targets involve perceived moral conflict between honesty and benevolence. We suggest that communicators exaggerate this conflict. By focusing on the short-term harm and unpleasantness associated with difficult conversations, communicators fail to realize that honesty and benevolence are actually compatible in many cases. Providing honest feedback can help a target to learn and grow, thereby improving the target’s overall welfare. Rather than attempting to resolve the honesty-benevolence dilemma via communication strategies that focus narrowly on the short-term conflict between honesty and emotional harm, we recommend that communicators instead invoke communication strategies that integrate and maximize both honesty and benevolence to ensure that difficult conversations lead to long-term welfare improvements for targets. Future research should explore the traits, mindsets, and contexts that might facilitate this approach. For example, creative people may be more adept at integrative solutions to the perceived honesty-dilemma conflict, and people who are less myopic and more cognizant of the future consequences of their choices may be better at recognizing the long-term benefits of honesty.

The info is here.

This research has relevance to psychotherapy.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

You’re Not Going to Kill Them With Kindness. You’ll Do Just the Opposite.

Judith Newman
The New York Times
Originally posted 8 Jan 20

It was New Year’s Eve, and my friends had just adopted a little girl, 4 years old, from China. The family was going around the table, suggesting what each thought the New Year’s resolution should be for the other. Fei Fei’s English was still shaky. When her turn came, though, she didn’t hesitate. She pointed at her new father, mother and sister in turn. “Be nice, be nice, be nice,” she said.

Fifteen years later, in this dark age for civility, a toddler’s cri de coeur resonates more than ever. In his recent remarks at the memorial service for Congressman Elijah Cummings, President Obama said, “Being a strong man includes being kind, and there’s nothing weak about kindness and compassion; nothing weak about looking out for others.” On a more pedestrian level, yesterday I walked into the Phluid Project, the NoHo gender-neutral shop where T-shirts have slogans like “Hatephobic” and “Be Your Self.” I asked the salesperson, “What is your current best seller?” She pointed to a shirt in the window imprinted with the slogan: “Be kind.”

So I’m not surprised that there’s been a little flurry of self-help books on basic human decency and what it will do for you.

Kindness is doing small acts for others without expecting anything in return. It’s the opposite of transactional, and therefore the opposite of what we’re seeing in our body politic today.

The info is here.

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Technology of Kindness—How social media can rebuild our empathy—and why it must.

Jamil Zaki
Scientific American
Originally posted August 6, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Technology also builds new communities around kindness. Consider the paradox of rare illnesses such as cystic fibrosis or myasthenia gravis. Each affects fewer than one in 1,000 people but there are many such conditions, meaning there are many people who suffer in ways their friends and neighbors don’t understand. Millions have turned to online forums, such as Facebook groups or the site RareConnect. In 2011 Priya Nambisan, a health policy expert, surveyed about 800 members of online health forums. Users reported that these groups offer helpful tips and information but also described them as heartfelt communities, full of compassion and commiseration.

allowing anyone to count on the kindness of strangers. These sites train users to provide empathetic social support and then unleash their goodwill on one another. Some express their struggles; others step in to provide support. Users find these platforms deeply soothing. In a 2015 survey, 7cups users described the kindness they received on the site to be as helpful as professional psychotherapy. Users on these sites also benefit from helping others. In a 2017 study, psychologist Bruce DorĂ© and his colleagues assigned people to use either Koko or another Web site and tested their subsequent well-being. Koko users’ levels of depression dropped after spending time on the site, especially when they used it to support others.

The info is here.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The world is broken—and human kindness is the only solution

Anee Kingston
Originally published June 19, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

The U.S. government has literally institutionalized cruelty, caging migrant children and arresting “Good Samaritans” helping ailing migrants at the Mexican border. Austerity programs, including those in Ontario, are targeting the vulnerable—the poor, children, those on the margins. The divisive, toxic political climate gave rise to the British group Compassion in Politics, founded last fall by activists and academics. “People look at British politics and see a lack of compassion in policy on refugees, immigration, housing, Brexit,” group co-founder Ma
tt Hawkins tells Maclean’s. Forty years of neo-liberal, free-market policies created widening inequities, falling incomes and a sense of desperation, he says. “There’s frustration with a political system that puts party above universal progress, majorities in Parliament over collaboration.” Support has been overwhelmingly positive, Hawkins says, including from the moral philosopher Peter Singer and Noam Chomsky; there’s interest in Australia and they’re liaising with Ardern’s office. In May, a cross-party group of British MPs called for legislation to contain a “compassion threshold.”

The loudest cries for compassion, tellingly, are heard within systems literally created to care for people. Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference, by American physician-scientists Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli, published in April, is the latest book to sound the alarm about systemic inhumanity within “patient-based” medicine. The authors identify a “compassion crisis” in U.S. health care; treating patients more kindly, they argue, improves health outcomes, reduces doctor burnout and lowers costs.

Canada is in similar straits, Toronto physician Brian Goldman, author of the 2018 bestseller The Power of Kindness: Why Empathy is Essential in Everyday Life, tells Maclean’s. “We’ve designed a system that edits out empathy, that makes it almost impossible.” Something has to crack, Goldman says: “We’ve reached the limit of the myth of the superman-superwoman [doctor] who can juggle 10 things at once.”

The info is here.

Friday, April 12, 2019

It’s Not Enough to Be Right—You Also Have to Be Kind

Ryan Holiday
Originally posted on March 20, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Reason is easy. Being clever is easy. Humiliating someone in the wrong is easy too. But putting yourself in their shoes, kindly nudging them to where they need to be, understanding that they have emotional and irrational beliefs just like you have emotional and irrational beliefs—that’s all much harder. So is not writing off other people. So is spending time working on the plank in your own eye than the splinter in theirs. We know we wouldn’t respond to someone talking to us that way, but we seem to think it’s okay to do it to other people.

There is a great clip of Joe Rogan talking during the immigration crisis last year. He doesn’t make some fact-based argument about whether immigration is or isn’t a problem. He doesn’t attack anyone on either side of the issue. He just talks about what it feels like—to him—to hear a mother screaming for the child she’s been separated from. The clip has been seen millions of times now and undoubtedly has changed more minds than a government shutdown, than the squabbles and fights on CNN, than the endless op-eds and think-tank reports.

Rogan doesn’t even tell anyone what to think. (Though, ironically, the clip was abused by plenty of editors who tried to make it partisan). He just says that if you can’t relate to that mom and her pain, you’re not on the right team. That’s the right way to think about it.

The info is here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Curiosity and What Equality Really Means

Atul Gawande
The New Yorker
Originally published June 2, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

We’ve divided the world into us versus them—an ever-shrinking population of good people against bad ones. But it’s not a dichotomy. People can be doers of good in many circumstances. And they can be doers of bad in others. It’s true of all of us. We are not sufficiently described by the best thing we have ever done, nor are we sufficiently described by the worst thing we have ever done. We are all of it.

Regarding people as having lives of equal worth means recognizing each as having a common core of humanity. Without being open to their humanity, it is impossible to provide good care to people—to insure, for instance, that you’ve given them enough anesthetic before doing a procedure. To see their humanity, you must put yourself in their shoes. That requires a willingness to ask people what it’s like in those shoes. It requires curiosity about others and the world beyond your boarding zone.

We are in a dangerous moment because every kind of curiosity is under attack—scientific curiosity, journalistic curiosity, artistic curiosity, cultural curiosity. This is what happens when the abiding emotions have become anger and fear. Underneath that anger and fear are often legitimate feelings of being ignored and unheard—a sense, for many, that others don’t care what it’s like in their shoes. So why offer curiosity to anyone else?

Once we lose the desire to understand—to be surprised, to listen and bear witness—we lose our humanity. Among the most important capacities that you take with you today is your curiosity. You must guard it, for curiosity is the beginning of empathy. When others say that someone is evil or crazy, or even a hero or an angel, they are usually trying to shut off curiosity. Don’t let them. We are all capable of heroic and of evil things. No one and nothing that you encounter in your life and career will be simply heroic or evil. Virtue is a capacity. It can always be lost or gained. That potential is why all of our lives are of equal worth.

The article is here.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Sapolsky on the biology of human evil

Sean Illing
Originally posted May 23, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

The key question of the book — why are we the way we are? — is explored from a multitude of angles, and the narrative structure helps guide the reader. For instance, Sapolsky begins by examining a person’s behavior in the moment (why we recoil or rejoice or respond aggressively to immediate stimuli) and then zooms backward in time, following the chain of antecedent causes back to our evolutionary roots.

For every action, Sapolsky shows, there are several layers of causal significance: There’s a neurobiological cause and a hormonal cause and a chemical cause and a genetic cause, and, of course, there are always environmental and historical factors. He synthesizes the research across these disciplines into a coherent, readable whole.

In this interview, I talk with Sapolsky about the paradoxes of human nature, why we’re capable of both good and evil, whether free will exists, and why symbols have become so central to human life.

The article and interview are here.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Kindness Cure

By David Desteno
The Atlantic
Originally published July 21, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Since acting compassionately usually means putting others’ needs ahead of your own, prompting yourself to act with kindness often requires not only vigilance but a bit of willpower. That’s not to say that relying on religious or philosophical guidance to prompt kindness won’t work at times. It will. But any method that depends on constant redirection of selfish urges and top-down monitoring of one’s moral code is apt to fail. Perhaps cultivating compassion situationally—so that it automatically emerges at the sight of others in need—would be more foolproof. As a psychologist interested in moral behavior, I have long wondered if there might be a way to develop precisely this sort of reflexive compassion.

As it turns out, I didn’t have to look too far; a means was hiding in plain sight. Mindfulness meditation involves guided contemplation as a way to focus the mind. It commonly entails sitting in a quiet space for periods ranging from 20 minutes to an hour (depending on your level of advancement) and learning to guide awareness to the current moment rather than dwell upon what has been or is yet to come.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Empathy, Is It All It's Cracked Up to Be?

The Aspen Institute
Speakers: Paul Bloom and Richard J. Davidson
Published July 3, 2015

Empathy is typically seen as wonderful, central to cooperation, caring, and morality. We want to have empathic parents, children, spouses and friends; we want to train those in the helping professions to expand their empathy, and we certainly want to elect empathic politicians and policy makers. But empathy has certain troubling features, and questions have begun to arise about just how useful empathy really is and how it might be different from related capacities such as compassion.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

It Pays to Be Nice

By Olga Khazan
The Atlantic
Originally published June 23, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The conclusions of Rand’s studies support corporate do-gooders. Judging by his research, you should be nice even if you don’t trust the other person. In fact, you should keep on being nice even if the other person screws you over.

In one experiment, he found that people playing an unpredictable prisoner’s-dilemma type game benefitted from being lenient—forgiving their partner for acting against them. The same holds true in the business environment, which can be similarly “noisy,” as economists say. Sometimes, when someone is trying to undermine you, they’re actually trying to undermine you. But other times, it’s just an accident. If someone doesn’t credit you for a big idea in a meeting, you can’t know if he or she just forgot, or if it was an intentional slight. According to Rand’s research, you shouldn’t, say, turn around and tattle to the boss about that person’s chronic tardiness—at least not until he or she sabotages you at least a couple more times.

“If someone did something that hurt me, and I get pissed, and I screw them over, that destroys that relationship over a mistake,” Rand said. And losing allies, especially in a cooperative environment, can be costly. In his studies, “the strategy that earns the most money is giving someone a pass and letting the person take advantage of you two or three times.”

The entire article is here.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

In a Study, Text Messages Add Up to a Balance Sheet of Everyday Morality

By Benedict Carey
The New York Times
Originally posted September 11, 2014

Committing a small act of kindness, like holding the door for a harried stranger, often prompts the recipient to extend a hand to others, but it comes at a cost, psychologists have long argued. People who have done the good deed are primed to commit a rude one later on, as if drawing on moral credit from their previous act.

Now, in a novel survey of everyday moral behavior, researchers have tested whether that theory holds up in real life. It does, though the effects appear small.

The findings come from a survey of everyday morality in which researchers tracked people’s moral judgments and attitudes at regular intervals throughout a typical day, using text messages.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Concentrating on Kindness

Tania Singer helped found the field of social neuroscience. Now she wants to apply what has been learned—by training the world to be more compassionate through meditation.

Kai Kupferschmidt
Science 20 September 2013:
Vol. 341 no. 6152 pp. 1336-1339
DOI: 10.1126/science.341.6152.1336

Empathy made Antoinette Tuff a minor celebrity. On 20 August, a young man armed with an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition burst into the school in Decatur, Georgia, where Tuff works as a bookkeeper. It might have ended in yet another senseless mass killing if it hadn't been for Tuff's compassionate response to the gunman, recorded in its entirety because she had dialed 911.

As the man loads his weapon, Tuff seeks a human connection with him. She talks of her own struggles, her disabled son, her divorce, her thoughts of committing suicide. Finally, she persuades him to lay down his weapon, lie down on the ground, and surrender to the police. "I love you," she says near the end of the call. "You're gonna be OK, sweetheart." (Only after the man is arrested does she break down, crying "Woo, Jesus!")

Tuff's heroic conversation, posted on the Internet, was hailed by many commentators as evidence of the power of empathy and the value of compassion. If more people were like Tuff, there would be less violence and suffering, they say.

The entire article is here.