Every man for himself. Nice guys finish last. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Phrases like these and the selfish sentiments motivating them have shaped the world’s order as we know it—or at least how we think we know it. You likely learned about survival of the fittest in biology, but if you are anything like me, the concept of “survival of the kindest” is brand new.

I recently stumbled upon this phrase while doing some college essay research. More and more institutions are weighing applicants’ EQ (emotional intelligence) in addition to their traditional measures of success (mainly academic, mainly numbers). Strategically, I sought out to write the most empathetic essay I could without becoming cheesy or unauthentic.

That’s when I found an article on Psychology Today titled “Darwin’s Touch: Survival of the Kindest.” Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote this enlightening piece on Darwin’s heartwarming theory and how his conclusions have been historically misconstrued.

I fell down the rabbit hole and obsessively researched this idea more. The world I knew according to science was based on greed, not kindness. I realized that I—like most people I know—mistook Richard Dawkins’ world of competition for Darwin’s view. The phrase “survival of the fittest” was not even coined by Darwin but by Herbert Spencer.

Social Darwinists, greatly responsible for intensifying racial, ethnic, and class divides in the nineteenth century by proclaiming their own to be superior, followed Spencer’s conclusion, not Darwin’s. Unfortunately, Darwin’s scientific support of altruism was lost in translation. However, psychologists have recently begun to clear his name.

Frans De Waal, the author of The Age of Empathy and a psychology professor at Emory University is one of the intellects reexamining unadulterated Darwinism. His conclusion of Darwin’s studies is that collaboration, kindness, and empathy determine nature’s “fitness,” so to speak. It is not ruthlessness or competition. He even wrote that “Darwin himself had tried to incorporate altruism into his theory of natural selection.” De Waal, who typically studies primates, has found his conclusion to be true of both chimps and humans.

Keltner, referenced earlier in regards to his article, concurs. In fact, a social science study directed by two graduate students, from Berkeley and Oregon State University respectively,  found mankind to be “genetically predisposed” to empathy. Our capability to collaborate and demonstrate kindness is what strengthens us. Together, we are stronger.


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