Born to be good

KELTNER: “Born to be good” for me means that our mammalian and hominid evolution have crafted a species—us—with remarkable tendencies toward kindness, play, generosity, reverence and self-sacrifice, which are vital to the classic tasks of evolution—survival, gene replication and smooth functioning groups. These tendencies are felt in the wonderful realm of emotion—emotions such as compassion, gratitude, awe, embarrassment and mirth. These emotions were of interest to Darwin, and Darwin-inspired studies have revealed that our capacity for caring, for play, for reverence and modesty are built into our brains, bodies, genes and social practices. My hopes for potential readers are numerous. I hope they learn about the remarkable wisdom of Darwin and the wonders of the study of emotion. I hope they come to look at human nature in a new light, one that is more hopeful and sanguine. I hope they may see the profoundly cooperative nature of much of our daily social living.

DISALVO: You’ve said that one of the inspirations for your work was Charles Darwin’s insights into human goodness. Because most people equate his name with “survival of the fittest,” it’ll probably be surprising to many that Darwin focused on goodness at all. What were a few of your take aways from Darwin’s work that really inspired you?