Kindness is something that is preached to us a lot in childhood, but slowly falls off as we become older. However, I’d argue that kindness is truly an essential skill — and for some very practical reasons.
In my theory of social games (which should have a book coming out about it fairly soon, as of this article’s publication date), people wish for two things: to be respected and have positive feelings. This makes the function for making someone like you very easy: if you’re nice to them, they like you. If you’re mean to them, they don’t like you.
Of course, there’s other environmental factors at play. For example, that person might start off being mean to you — in which case the short term reward of returning the favor if niceties is pretty low. Despite this, however, the function stays the same. If you continue being nice to that person, nine times out of ten they’ll slowly amorph back into being nice to you — because you helped them feel respected.
There are also sometimes where being kind isn’t the easy answer. For example, if everyone in a room is making fun of someone who’s not there, you’re going to look pretty bad if you stop everyone and tell them they’re being mean. You’re reducing the moods of many in an attempt to increase the mood of someone who isn’t there. Not a smart move.
But kindness is more subtle than that. In this case, you can simply choose to not play the game — not reducing the mood of those around you — then later be kind to the person at the hands of the criticism, allowing that person to be uplifted themselves. In this case, the net is positive.
So while kindness doesn’t work in quite the same ways we imagined it to in childhood, there’s still a whole lot of validity in the concept — and a whole lot of reasons why you should be nicer to the people you meet.