Music & the Spoken Word: Of kindness and rabbits

Editor’s note: “The Spoken Word” is shared by Lloyd Newell each Sunday during the weekly Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square broadcast. This is an encore performance of “Music & the Spoken Word” with a new “Spoken Word” selected and recorded while the choir is practicing social distancing. This will be given Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021.

Decades ago, researchers measured the effects of diet on the heart health of rabbits. Not surprisingly, rabbits that were fed fatty foods developed cholesterol problems. But something else was surprising — one group of rabbits had significantly better health outcomes. They had eaten the same foods as the other rabbits, but they had also been cared for by a particular researcher — one who happened to be “an unusually kind and caring individual” (see Robert Nerem in “The Rabbit Effect: Live Longer, Happier and Healthier with the Groundbreaking Science of Kindness” by Kelli Harding).

She didn’t just feed the rabbits. “She talked to them, cuddled and petted them.” She didn’t know she was altering the results — she was just being herself.

A study on the effect of diet on the heart health of rabbits found that kindness and relationships matter.
A study on the effect of diet on the heart health of rabbits found that kindness and relationships matter. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Suddenly this wasn’t just an experiment about genetics and diet. These researchers were learning that relationships matter, too. A recent book titled “The Rabbit Effect” cites these findings and concludes, “Ultimately, what affects our health in the most meaningful ways has … much to do with how we treat one another, how we live, and how we think about what it means to be human.” (See also “Hearts Knit Together,” by Elder Gary E. Stevenson, Liahona, May 2021.)

In other words, “the rabbit effect” could just as easily be called “the human effect.”

So many seem so angry as they interact with others — online and in person. Some are raging inside at the outside world, annoyed and impatient with people around them as well as themselves. Even many who aren’t openly hostile have simply become cold, distant and impersonal. And we wonder why general health and happiness suffer, why peace and calm are so elusive.

Humans, perhaps even more than rabbits, need kindness and caring, affection and love in order to thrive. No one can flourish in an atmosphere of contention and animosity. When we are kind — even if others don’t return the favor — we carry a healthy inner peace, knowing we have generated light instead of heat. When we sincerely care for and about others, we spread compassion and helpfulness more freely throughout the world. And in the process, we create a healthier, happier environment for everyone.

If cuddling a rabbit can lower its cholesterol, imagine what can happen if we look around and reach out in simple, loving ways to people around us. That’s the power of human kindness.

Tuning in …

The “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast is available on KSL-TV, KSL Radio 1160AM/102.7FM, ksl.com, BYUtv, BYUradio, Dish and DirectTV, SiriusXM Radio (Ch. 143), the tabernaclechoir.org, youtube.com/TheTabernacleChoiratTempleSquare and Amazon Alexa (must enable skill). The program is aired live on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on many of these outlets. Look up broadcast information by state and city at musicandthespokenword.com/viewers-listeners/airing-schedules.

See the Church News’ archive of ‘Spoken Word’ messages