Do you believe people are unkind, or do you believe in manKIND? I believe this is the single most important question we can ask ourselves because our answer gives us the foundation for how we relate with ourselves, each other and the world.
Dr. Eva Ritvo, psychiatrist and Co-Founder of the BeKindr Global Initiative, is back on the show to give us all science-based evidence on what actually makes manKIND.
The answer … may not be what you think!
Interested in sponsoring Time to be Kind with Marly Q.? Click here for PARKnership Opportunities
Hi PARKer, I’m Marly Q. and welcome to Episode #3 with Dr. Eva Ritvo.
Do you believe the world is a friendly or hostile place?
It was Albert Einstein who said this was the most important question facing humanity and, 65 years after his death, I think you’d agree it’s still a very important question.
It inspired me to reinvite one of my favorite PARKers who you hopefully remember from Episode #1, Dr. Eva Ritvo. She’s a highly sought after psychiatrist and founder of the Bekindr global movement, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering more kindness in the world by educating and empowering people to think more about kindness. Last time she was here, she generously donated a signed copy of her Bekindr book, and I have to give a shout out to our first Kind Qrew winner all the way from Ohio, Christine Fabre-Rose. I hope you’re enjoying your Bekindr book!
If you want to be eligible to win free podcast prizes and giveaways, join my kind crew at www.marlyq.com/kindqrew
I’m so happy and grateful to have Dr. Eva back on the show today to give us awesome insight and science-based evidence on what I believe is the single most important question that you, me, and we could all ask ourselves.
Do you believe people are unkind or do you believe in mankind?
Dr. Eva Ritvo: Thank you, Marly. First, thanks for having me back. It’s a pleasure to be here again and see you and your husband. It’s a very good question and it’s complicated. Let me start backward. So what I want to talk to you about today is the reverse. The other side of that coin, which is what makes humans kind.
Scientists believe that a particular region of our brain called mirror neurons had a massive expansion around 40,000 years ago and that’s what allowed this development of humankind or mankind. Mirror neurons are a part of the brain that fire, in other words, get triggered when we see somebody doing something or we can sense a feeling from them. So if you’re tired or hungry or angry, our mirror neurons that correspond to that will fire. And if you are aware of mirror neurons, so much makes sense. It makes sense how we catch each other’s emotions. It makes sense how anger escalates so quickly. One person walks into the room angry, the next person catches it, boom, we’re off to the races. Same with the flip side of that with sexual excitement. One person’s excited, and the other one, and it spirals to really great place. So our mirror neurons are very active yet we’re not aware of them. And sometimes our own behavior can be very confusing to us because we’re not in awareness of our mirror neurons.
Classic example. If you sit down to lunch with someone, you’re having a great time, you’re about 20 minutes in, you look over and you’re sitting exactly the same. Why? Because your mirror neurons are firing. You’re watching each other’s body movement and those mirror neurons are firing and you’re synchronizing. So humans are actually designed to connect pre-verbally. We always think like, oh Marly, it’s great to talk. But no, we are transmitting so much information by looking into each other’s eyes and we know how each other is feeling. Really intuitive people can almost sort of guess what you’re thinking, finish your thoughts if you know somebody very well. So understanding that our brains are designed to synchronize helps us understand why man is so kind. Because if you’re in a difficult situation and that triggers my mirror neurons, then I feel uncomfortable too. So then when I step out of that to try to help you and you feel better, I feel better.
So we are wired to be kind. And if you think you are a new mother, you know how much of your relationship is there before your son ever said a word. You know, if he’s tired or you know if he’s hungry, you know what he wants, you know how to make him laugh. All this, it’s without words. So how do you do that?
Marly Q: That’s what I believe is the currency of kindness, right there, being tapped into those mirror neurons firing away being passed into that electricity or that current, if you will.
Dr. Eva Ritvo: Well, so you’re using slightly different words. You know, I went to medical school, so I’m rooted in that. Okay so what we have in our brains, we have neurons that fire and they release certain chemicals and they communicate with one another. So the mirror neurons in my brain are being triggered by, fired by, what I see you doing. And yes, that does change the energy. And so much of human interaction is pre-verbal because our most important members of society, our most dependent, ones we need to understand the best are our infant and they can’t talk.
So you can see that without mirror neurons, humans wouldn’t survive because we wouldn’t know what they needed. All animals, by the way, have mirror neurons in their brain. But what’s different about humans is around 40,000 years ago we got lots of mirror neurons. And then if you look, cultures took off from there because you could imitate and you could learn and you could transmit information, you could develop language and arts and sciences, etc. continued to flourish over all these thousands and thousands of years.
So humans are designed to be kind. That is in our name, mankind.
Now, I will tell you something though, it’s very interesting that I didn’t know until I was researching this book, which is there are certain receptors in our brain that are more responsive to kindness, and those are called are oxytocin receptors. Oxytocin is nicknamed the love or cuddle hormone. And when you hug somebody and you get that ooh, really good feeling, that’s because of oxytocin. If you see a little baby or you see a little puppy and you’re like, so cute, that’s oxytocin receptors. Oxytocin firing and then getting eaten up in your receptors. So what’s fascinating is about 1/3 of humans have more oxytocin receptors, which means they’re more sensitive to oxytocin. So about a third of our population is going to enjoy kindness more. They’re going to get more bang for their buck.
Marly Q: Maybe those are the people listening right now! Those that would make time to listen to a kindness podcast, maybe you’re one of the one third!
Dr. Eva Ritvo: Well, I would say almost undoubtedly. Because we’re sitting here with each other and we’re like, she’s so cute. She’s so smart. I love this girl. And that’s oxytocin. We didn’t even have to verbalize it. It’s not verbal, it’s pre-verbal. That’s what we’re both feeling. We are in sync with one another. Hopefully your listeners can intuit that and feel good. The ones who have extra oxytocin receptors are going to get it more, so they’re not only going to be the ones who listen, they’re going to be the ones who come back because they’re going to be like, wow, that podcast was cool. Whereas if somebody else’s brain is clicking away in some other part, they’re going to be like, I don’t get, it. Wasn’t that fun for me, didn’t really enjoy it.
Marly Q: Interesting there to go back to the initial question from one of our listeners, why are some humans unkind? Why does it seem to be that there’s so much unkindness in the world? So that’s the other side of that coin. Is it because people aren’t aware or tapped into their mirror neurons? Maybe that’s why you need to be the spark and make eye connection with someone and smile. Maybe if you have your arms folded, that’s body language that you don’t want to talk or your ear buds in your ear. You’re telling people you don’t want to connect.
Dr. Eva Ritvo: Well I love what you say, because you said something so important there, which is if they’re not tuned into this, it’s your opportunity to get them to tune in. And we do know our brains are what we call neuroplastic, which means they can change. And so if you’ve grown up in an unkind environment or you haven’t been exposed to that, that doesn’t mean game is over. And what I see a lot of times in young adults is getting an animal can help them rewire their brain. They learn to love and nurture animals because humans and animals were designed to live together. They’ve been living together for a long, long time and our brains wire up and synchronized very well with them and animals are great oxytocin triggers. That’s why puppies and kittens are so popular in YouTube because you can just trigger your own oxytocin and feel a lot better. So we can help people’s brains change. That’s the whole idea of the Bekindr global initiative and your spark, because we want everybody to be on board with kindness, and you certainly can train your brain to think more about kindness. Really, that’s our mission together. That’s our shared mission.
09:40 So if you are that natural 1/3, great, help others, if you’re not, please don’t despair. That’s an opportunity for growth and an opportunity for change and for you to elect, hey, how do I want to live my life? Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean you can’t do it. I always refer my patients to the movie, The King’s Speech, when he went from being stutterer to being an eloquent orator. Because so often we turn our weaknesses into strengths because we work on them. And so I think that was really very kind of you to point that out that no one should feel like, gee, I’m in the good camp or I’m in the bad camp. No, it’s not that.
But the initial question was very different, which is why does it seem like people are so unkind? And actually this is at the heart of what I like to talk about and the answer to that to me is simple, which is we look back, 40,000 years ago we lived in groups of a 100-150 people. Super easy to know how to be kind and super easy to know how to be unkind because you knew these people as basically as well as you knew yourself.
Okay. Fast forward to about 2007 when the social media explodes. All of a sudden you are aware of 7 billion people. Well, I don’t know about you Marly, but I do not have the capacity to be kind to 7 billion people.
Marly Q: Our ability to care has gone haywire as you like to say.
Dr. Eva Ritvo: I remember one time I was about to give a speech, so I was a little bit nervous and like four people came up to me and told me horrible things were happening in their life. I’m like yeah, I can’t, like I don’t even know what to say right now. So it’s impossible to know how to care about 7 billion people and our brains are very overloaded. Our brains were designed for a lot rest, a lot of downtime. We’re not getting it. So we’re short circuiting our brains. And so what we’re doing is we’re going to that arousal part of our brain, which has very primitive responses, which is fight, flight or freeze. And when we’re bathing our brains and cortisol, you are scared and you get paranoid and then you resort to simplistic thinking, which is “us versus them”.
And when you don’t see somebody’s face and you’re not really connecting with them, you’re not really understanding and It’s very easy to be out of sync. And you know what? It’s actually easy to be mean because you’re not feeling their pain when you say something mean.
So technology has so fundamentally altered who we know, how we know them, and then how we interact with them. And we removed mirror neurons from the equation, which is what made us human.
Marly Q: That’s the connection! We are so “connected,” now through technology. But we’re more disconnected than ever. And what you’re talking about with mirror neurons touches on exactly why there’s so much “unkindness,” it seems so prevalent is because people have disconnected from their innate kindness superpower. People have disconnected from actually connecting with other people in their eyes and in their body language so that those mirror neurons can actually be fired and be reciprocated. I think that this is such an important topic.
Dr. Eva Ritvo: Yeah. And also the problems are really complex. It’s one thing to solve a problem in your neighborhood because you’ve lived with it and you know it. But when we see images, you know, across the world of horrific things, it’s very overwhelming because we don’t have solutions. And then that puts us into that freeze state, and if we do that repeatedly, we just become numb and we don’t act.
I think this is a little bit what we’re seeing now with the climate crisis, which is we kind of knew it was coming, but we didn’t really know what to do and we weren’t being given the tools. So we kind of just tuned it out. And that’s human nature when you don’t know how to do solve a problem. And when there are 7 billion people and all the problems that go with it, it’s really a natural response.
I think it’s super important not to be critical of where we are as a humanity right now and not to despair, but to understand that this is a very natural growing pain of introducing a new way of living and being so rapidly. Really, it’s just not even two decades that everything has gotten altered.
So of course they’re going to be growing pains. Of course it’s going to seem that people are unkind, but that’s actually not true. And the fascinating part of technology is, technology is really just a way to connect because humans are at their core trying to connect. So it’s about using technology as a tool and as your friend and limiting your exposure to it, because our brains can’t handle all this information. And that comes back to what we talked about in our last beautiful time together, which is self-care and recognizing is technology being my friend right now or it turning me into something that I don’t want to be? An unkind person, a person whose got the earbuds in, so they didn’t hold the door open. Some of the drivers are incredibly unkind to think that that tech should prioritize over public health safety.
So I think we just need a lot of guidance, a lot of education, but to continue moving in this direction of increased connectivity because that is the essence of humankind.
Marly Q: Absolutely. And really a big purpose of why this podcast even exists is to be able to leverage and use technology for good. Let’s use technology in a way where we can actually connect with each other through this use. That’s why these podcasts episodes always have a question that someone has either asked me on social media or has submitted to me. And then we have amazing guests that can bring some insight and perspective into these questions that we all have. So thank you for reminding us again about our innate superpower of kindness and how easy it can be to tap into that and not despair by just looking at one side of the coin and believing that humans are unkind, cause the complete opposite is true when you’re tuned into that currency of kindness, right?
Dr. Eva Ritvo: Correct.
Marly Q: So thank you so much for coming back on the show. You’re always welcome. There’s so much to talk to you about, so you’ll be coming back, right?
Dr. Eva Ritvo: Absolutely. Look forward to it Marly, thank you so much.
Marly Q: So I’ll ask you again. Do you believe people are unkind or do you believe in mankind? Hopefully this interview helps shine some light on what makes mankind. Because believing in mankind gives us the foundation for how we relate with ourselves, each other and the world.
With all that’s going on in the world today, may you be reminded that your superpower of kindness is innate within you, and all we need to do is simply be aware of that power and be the spark so that we can trigger our mirror neurons in one another and synchronize not only our brains, but our hearts, our hands, and ultimately our world together. If you’d like to connect with Dr. Eva Ritvo, you can do so www.Bekindr.com.