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Q&A | Dr. Robert Kim-Farley: Kindness During COVID

In anticipation of World Kindness Day on November 13, the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health connected with Dr. Robert Kim-Farley — professor of epidemiology and community health sciences, and member of the Faculty Advisory Committee of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute — about kindness, COVID-19, and public health.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, professor of epidemiology and community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, has spent his career working domestically and internationally in public health with the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and UCLA. Dr. Kim-Farley says that his global experiences have provided him with, “a global perspective on the role of kindness and a viewpoint of recognizing the pursuit of happiness as the ‘universal human currency’ that binds us all together.” Kim-Farley also serves on the Faculty Advisory Committee of the UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, the university’s premier academic institute devoted to the multidisciplinary study of kindness.

World Kindness Day, celebrated on November 13 each year, promotes being kind to one other, to yourself, and to the world.

Can you explain the significance of World Kindness Day 2021?

World Kindness Day was first instituted 24 years ago by the World Kindness Movement, formed during a conference in Tokyo in the prior year. Today, 28 countries are part of the World Kindness Movement group. The purpose of World Kindness Day is to “highlight and encourage good deeds in your community” and serve “as a reminder to all that simple acts of kindness have power and that together, we can all work to create a kinder world.”

What do you see as the relationship between kindness and public health?

I am reminded of the remark once made by Dr. William Foege, a renowned epidemiologist and global health leader, who said, “Public health might be the greatest measure of kindness – the greatest measure of how to treat each other. Public health is “science with a moral compass.”

Although kindness is formally defined as “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate,” it is manifested in many different ways such as showing empathy, being thoughtful towards others, and doing nice things without expecting anything in return. Public health, as it seeks social justice and protects and serves the most vulnerable in our communities, is putting kindness into concrete societal action.

What role should kindness have during the COVID-19 pandemic?

We need to fundamentally change the divisive and polarizing atmosphere in which we all are currently suffering. The COVID-19 pandemic should have been a great unifier — a new and deadly disease that threatened everyone should have brought us together in common action against a common enemy, the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Kindness, when manifested at the societal level, will lead everyone to a recognition that simply being vaccinated and wearing a mask reduce rates of viral transmission in the community, help prevent us from becoming infected and, often even more importantly, help prevent us from transmitting the infection to others who may be elderly or have pre-existing medical conditions that make them vulnerable to severe disease and death.

At the individual level, we need to practice the acts of kindness of getting vaccinated and being respectful of others, especially those at higher risk of severe disease, by the wearing of masks indoors even if we are vaccinated – especially when community rates of transmission are still high or substantial – given the rates of breakthrough infections with the Delta variant.

Dr. Kim-Farley’s UCLA Fiat Lux Seminars on “Happiness: What Is It and How Should We Pursue It?” — the first public health classes at UCLA entirely devoted to the topic of happiness — were developed in recognition that the discipline of public health is focused on human wellbeing.


The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, founded in 1961, is dedicated to enhancing the public's health by conducting innovative research, training future leaders and health professionals from diverse backgrounds, translating research into policy and practice, and serving our local communities and the communities of the nation and the world. The school has 635 students from 26 nations engaged in carrying out the vision of building healthy futures in greater Los Angeles, California, the nation and the world.