School shootings, poverty, injustice. Sometimes it seems that the world is in short supply of kindness. Now, in a bid to empower citizens and inspire leaders to build more humane societies, the prestigious University of California Los Angeles has opened its doors to the world’s first kindness institute.
The UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute will be housed in the division of social sciences and was made possible by a donation of $20 million from The Bedari Foundation, established by philanthropists Jennifer and Matthew C. Harris.
UCLA says that it will support world-class research on kindness, create opportunities to translate that research into real-world practices and serve as a global platform to educate and communicate its findings.
“Universities should always be places where we teach students to reach across lines of difference and treat one another with empathy and respect — even when we deeply disagree,” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said. “The UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute will bring the best thinking to this vital issue and, I think, will allow us to have a real social impact on future generations.”
The institute will take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding kindness — through evolutionary, biological, psychological, economic, cultural and sociological perspectives.
Scientific research has found that being kind to others through both small and large acts can do wonders for physical and mental health.
Daniel Fessler, a UCLA anthropology professor, has taken the role of inaugural director of the institute.
One of his research interests is “contagious kindness” — how witnessing acts of remarkable kindness can cause an uplifting emotional experience that, in turn, motivates the observer to be kind.
Throughout the division, kindness is in the spotlight: UCLA anthropologists are examining how kindness spreads from person to person and group to group, sociologists are analysing how people who regularly act unkind might be encouraged to engage in kind acts instead, and psychologists are researching how kindness can improve people’s moods and reduce symptoms of depression.
“In the midst of current world politics, violence and strife, the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute seeks to be an antidote,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of the UCLA division of social sciences. “Rooted in serious academic work, the institute will partner and share its research on kindness broadly in accessible formats. The Bedari Foundation’s extraordinary gift is truly visionary and we are grateful for its support and leadership.”
The Kindness Institute will provide seed funding for research projects on kindness and how it might be harnessed to make societies more humane. It will also provide mindfulness-awareness training to students and staff alike at UCLA and to underserved communities in LA.
“Our vision is that we will all live in a world where humanity discovers and practices the kindness that exists in all of us,” said Matthew Harris, the foundation’s co-founder and a 1984 UCLA graduate. “Much research is needed to understand why kindness can be so scarce in the modern world.”