Have you ever considered just how smart you are? Do you know that just by virtue of being human, you have an amazing cognitive superpower?

We all have it – humans, I mean. We have the innate ability to be friendly.

It has been passed down by generations of our ancestors, going back to the beginning of homo sapiens, some say. What allowed us to survive back then was our ability to effectively communicate and cooperate with others – being friendly – in order for us to domesticate ourselves. 

Cooperation is action based on recognizing the benefit of working together with others to achieve a common goal – whether gathering food, or building a shelter, or making sure the fire keeps going. 

Someone just told me about a book that was first published in 2020, with the fascinating title “Survival of the Friendliest,” by husband and wife Brian Hare, an anthropologist, and writer Vanessa Woods. The subtitle is “Understanding Our Origins and Rediscovering Our Common Humanity.”

The writers start the book with a chapter on “Thinking about Thinking,” and tell us how we all started communicating by pointing as babies, and how sophisticated that simple action is. 

They say, “pointing is the gateway to reading other people’s minds, to what psychologists call ‘theory of mind,’” a useful and important social-cognitive skill. In just a few years a child can understand what others are thinking based on the others’ actions. 

And we will forever after base our own words, actions and decisions on our perception and understanding of what others think.

(Side note: It’s called “theory” of mind because we can never know exactly what another person is thinking, even if they tell us.)

But let’s get back to the friendliness thing, and the survival of those who are friendliest. Let’s note that “survival” means more than living longer – it means living well, living purposefully, living fully.

And it’s not just friendliness toward those you know. We can be kind to strangers. It’s a simple matter of communication and collaboration.

Recently my younger son and I attended a fundraising event in Florida for an organization that supports research on the neuro-muscular disease, Friedrich’s Ataxia (FA), that my son has. It was our first time attending one of these national RideAtaxia events. There were about 300 people attending, and we knew only two of them when we arrived. 

From the beginning moments of a meet and greet reception to the final remarks the next day, we experienced a flood of welcoming kindness. Others who have FA, their families, the national spokesperson, top neurologists who are researching the disease – so many people who share the experiences of living with the disease welcomed us to this community new to us.

It was an amazing experience.

Here in the South, and especially in our Lowcountry, we are already known for our hospitality. We are nice to our visitors and customers so they will come back again, of course (and we base our actions on what we believe they think of us). 

But I believe if we are genuinely friendly and kind to everyone we meet, then we can all enjoy a better way of being. We can begin to thrive emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually. Other benefits might include lower stress, more joy, and a potentially increased lifespan. 

If we can achieve those benefits by showing friendliness, imagine what those on the receiving end might feel.