Compassion Sets Humans Apart

Compassion Sets Humans Apart, by Penny Spikins.

When considering the question of whether humans are a naturally aggressive and violent species, it might be good to take a deep breath and have a look at the other side of the coin.

Yes, there is evidence of interpersonal violence in our ancient history. But actually there is far less of it than one might assume. There is, in fact, far more evidence of interpersonal care: of people who have tended to the injured and ensured that the sick or lame were kept alive. This tendency—for kindness, compassion, and care—is far more unique to the human species than our tendency to lash out. Many animals respond to threats by fighting back. Very few animals tend to their wounded friends, and only humans do it consistently. …

Stories about violence and aggression naturally draw our attention; we evolved to pay particular notice to potential threats for the good reason that doing so kept us alive. As a result, the news is filled not with stories of everyday kindness but with those that are visceral and scary—they seem more significant because they are frightening. It is easy to think of ourselves as “violent apes.” But on the whole, a better descriptor would be “compassionate apes.”