Only mammals can be kind

Andrew Wake Newsletter, Parenting

Hi to all

Thanks for the feedback regarding the videos and last weeks newsletter about being kind rather than nice. It seemed to have struck a chord for some. I presented a day seminar at Albury High School for 94 teachers on Tuesday, and it struck me as I was talking about being kind rather than being nice that there may be a reptile-mammal brain metaphor difference.

For those of you who have read chapter 3 in “the good enough parent”, the idea of the reptile brain and the mammal brain will be familiar. (Some time in the next few months I will be exploring this idea in more detail with a youtube video)

In the meantime, to be brief

The reptile brain is about individual survival
– It is about “me”, we are all on our own
– A reptile response only focusses on “what is good for me?”

The mammal brain is also about survival, but within a group
– It is about “us”, we are stronger in a group
– A mammal response asks the question “what is good for me?”, but then quickly asks the second question, “what is good for us…for our relationship?”, and considers both when deciding how to act.

In this context, you could see that being “nice” (wanting the other person to think you are nice) is actually quite selfish and reptilian. You are not doing what is good for the other person or good for the group, you are through your actions trying to make the other person think well of you without regard for them or the truth. Perhaps this is why nice people are not so much fun to be with. Reptiles don’t have fun, because it is about controlling and winning, not about freedom and play and tolerating being one of many rather than the only one. In this context, being nice is actually avoiding the truth / reality, and a bit cowardly.

In comparison, being kind is the action of a person who is doing something not for their own good, but for the good of the other person, and even more, for the good of the relationship.

– It may be nice to not point out an irritating fault in a partner/child because you stop the other person from being annoyed with you for bringing it up, but it is not good for the relationship because the repressed irritation can build up resentment that if not resolved may spill over in other ways later. To be kind may be to bring up the fault (hopefully gently but firmly), honouring the person with what you really think, and showing a commitment to building and repairing the relationship in good times and in tricky times.

Of course nothing is black and white, and there is a time to be nice…timing is everything. At times it is the right thing to let issues go. But if the same problem keeps repeating and it is a problem for you, perhaps it is time to be a mammal and for the relationship’s sake, be kind.