Andrew Sullivan, at the Daily Dish, posts an email I sent about the criticisms some have leveled against Harvard for asking students to take a pledge of kindness. I like Andrew's blog a lot, though I disagree with him often (he's a theist, for one thing):
"This notion that intellectual rigor and kindness do not make good bedfellows is really misguided. It seems predicated on that old unexamined (and heavily gendered) bias between emotion and reason. But it's a false distinction abrogated by both modern neuroscience and some very old texts. I mean, Aristotle's eunoia - a beautiful, friendly mind - is considered in book 8 of the Nicomachean Ethics as not just the basis of a healthy polity, but as the chief means of energizing friendship and intellectual camaraderie.
So, there is a longstanding consensus that these energies of virtue and intellect are not separate. Emerson, in his great essay "Friendship," even goes so far as to say, "Our intellectual and active powers increase with our affection." I mean, he's straight-up saying that we are smarter and braver the kinder and more affiliative we become. That's extraordinary. And what's even more extraordinary is that modern neuroscience is bearing these things out.
Richie Davidson's lab at UW-Madison, the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience, has conducted some pretty fascinating studies that show an almost identical match in the blood flow patterns observed in the brains of advanced meditators who were asked to induce mindstates of both courage and compassion. What does that mean for doubters? That having a mind characterized by kindness actually *increases* the likelihood that one will speak it. Speaking one's mind, especially if it contains an insight that countermands or gainsays or thwarts received wisdom, takes courage. How could that induce intellectual tepidity?
Paul Ekman, a research psychologist specializing in facial expressions, goes even further in a study of some advanced meditators trained in cultivating mindstates of compassion and kindness. His studies suggest that meditators who have trained in inducing mindstates of kindness actually are preternaturally adept at recognizing deception and microexpressions in others - and he even goes so far as to say they are better at this than judges and police (who had previously scored the highest in his studies about detecting deception). See, for this last, Destructive Emotions, a book "narrated" by Daniel Goleman.
So it appears that, for some reason, inducing compassion in oneself causes one to see the social world more clearly, not back away from it out of shyness. Kindness is not, then, a tactic of avoidance, but a dialogic virtue: it is a skill that enhances relation and discourse."