Be Benevolent

Be Benevolent

What are your intentions toward others?

The Practice:
Be benevolent.

Why?

Benevolence is a fancy word that means something simple: good intentions toward living beings, including oneself.

This goodwill is present in warmth, friendliness, compassion, ordinary decency, fair play, kindness, altruism, generosity, and love. The benevolent heart leans toward others; it is not neutral or indifferent. Benevolence is the opposite of ill will, coldness, prejudice, cruelty, and aggression. We’ve all been benevolent, we all know what it’s like to wish someone well.

Benevolence is widely praised – from parents telling children to share their toys to saints preaching the Golden Rule – because it has so many benefits:

  • Benevolence toward oneself is needed to fulfill our three fundamental needs: to avoid harms, approach rewards, and attach to others. When these needs are met, your brain shifts into its Responsive mode, in which the body repairs and refuels itself, you feel peaceful, happy, and loving.
  • Benevolence toward others reduces quarrels, builds trust, and is the best-odds strategy to get good treatment in return.
  • Benevolence within and between nations promotes the rule of law, educates children, feeds the hungry, supports human rights, offers humanitarian aid, and works for peace. Benevolence toward our planet tries to protect endangered species and reduce global warming.

Of course, this is just a partial list of benefits. Bottom-line, benevolence is good for individuals, relationships, nations, and the world as a whole.

The fact that benevolence is often enlightened self-interest makes it no less warm-hearted and virtuous. And at this time in history when individuals feel increasingly stressed and isolated, when relationships often stand on shaky ground, when international conflicts are fueled by dwindling resources and increasingly lethal weapons, and when humanity is dumping over nine billions tons of carbon each year into the atmosphere (like throwing 5 billion cars a year up into the sky, most of which stay there) – benevolence is not just moral, it’s essential.

But easier said than done.

How can we sustain benevolence in ourselves and in our relationships, nations, and world?

How?

  • Know what benevolence feels like in your body, heart, and mind – Bring to mind a sense of warmth and good wishes toward someone. How does this feel? Try on other kinds of benevolence, and toward other beings, to sense what these are like as well.
  • Realize that benevolence is natural and normal – In the media, we are so bombarded with words and images of anti-benevolence that you can start to think that ordinary decency and kindness are somehow exotic. But in fact, as we evolved, our ancestors stayed alive and passed on their genes by caring about themselves and others. And given the gratitude and reverence for nature commonly found in hunter-gatherer bands today, they likely also cared about the world upon which they depended.
  • Take care of yourself – When your core needs are met – when you’re not stressed by threat, loss, or rejection – the brain defaults to its resting state, its home base. From this home base, most people are fair-minded, empathic, cooperative, compassionate, and kind: in a word, benevolent. While it’s possible to sustain goodwill in a state of fear, frustration, or loneliness, it is sure a lot harder. An undisturbed, healthy brain is a benevolent one.
  • Take a stand for benevolence – Establish your intentions formally – perhaps at the start of the day, or during a contemplative practice, or at a meal – to wish yourself and all other beings well. In challenging situations, take care of your needs while also asking yourself, “How could I be benevolent here? How could I restrain any destructive thoughts, words, or deeds? Can I wish for the welfare of others? Can I express compassion and kindness?”
  • Step out of your comfort zone – Not doing anything foolish, consider how you could stretch a bit (or more) in your good intentions toward others. For example, seeing people you don’t know, try wishing them well. Or with someone who’s irritating, try looking past the surface to sense this person’s own stress and worries; without waiving your rights, can you find more patience, can you let go of recrimination or payback? Or could you extend yourself with friends or family, maybe doing more dishes or giving someone a ride? In the larger world, consider volunteering some time or giving more to a charity.
  • Last, appreciate some of the benevolence that buoys you along – We’ve all been nurtured and protected by friends and family, humanity altogether, and the biosphere. In some sense, there’s an exuberant benevolence in the physical universe itself; consider that most of the atoms in your body – any that are heavier than helium – were born inside an exploding star. Afloat in these gifts, who could not be benevolent?!

Be Benevolent | Appreciate some of the benevolence that buoys you along. Most people are fair-minded, empathic, cooperative, compassionate, and kind: in a word, benevolent.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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