Years ago I was with friends in a car heading towards the Forth Road Bridge. One of us had read about random acts of kindness. The idea of doing something for someone else, for no particular reason, tickled us all so when we approached the bridge we paid the toll charge for the car of strangers behind. Minutes later they overtook us, laughing, beeping their horns and waving. We were delighted. They were delighted. All it cost us was £1.
Today is World Kindness Day. This time last year I read about a man called Armstrong Baillie who celebrated the day in Edinburgh by dressing up as a giraffe and carrying out acts of kindness ranging from gifting cups of coffee to passers-by to walking dogs for strangers. I loved that story. It resonated that someone would simply be kind – not to win back a favour, not to ease a conscience nor to further a career – but as an end in itself. That’s what kindness is.
It’s not doing something for someone else because they can’t, but because you can.
Sometimes in the UK today it doesn’t seem that there is much kindness around. In the midst of a recession there is competition everywhere – to find a job, to buy or rent a house, to secure a school place. Resources are limited and why wouldn’t we push others out of the way to win the best for ourselves and our families?
Yet the harsh economic climate, plus a government chasing austerity measures, hasn’t managed to beat the kindness out of us completely. As the mother of young children, I have much experience of people being kind for no personal gain – there was the doctor who negotiated my empty buggy down an awkward surgery corridor while I comforted my crying baby; the nursery nurse who spoke gently as my eyes filled with tears; and the shoppers (too numerous to identify) who have chosen to indulge my spirited kids instead of tut-tutting at behaviour that doesn’t always reach the standards popular TV programmes suggest it should…. None of these actions are heroic but to the potentially vulnerable parent they can take a bad situation and gently turn it around.
The beauty of World Kindness Day is that it gives us the opportunity to consider kindness. What is it? Do we practice it? Are we appreciative of it?
Kindness begets kindness. I say this from experience. I will never forget starting work in an office where the atmosphere was hostile. In retrospect the work was hard, the environment was shabby and the managers unsupportive, but at the time it simply felt that no one was interested me or the job I needed to do. It was a lonely place to be. There was however one exception amongst the staff – I’ll call him Chris. When we first met a fortnight after I arrived, he looked me warmly in the eye and shook my hand firmly. Everything about him was kind and welcoming. His attitude picked me up enough to stick it out in that office. He moved to another job shortly afterwards but I remembered how he changed this dingy little corner of the world for me and in his honour did I not bloody well bounce over to each new recruit that joined our team and welcome the life out of them. I made some good friends in that place in the end.
Today, give a stranger one of your smiles. It might be the only sunshine he sees all day.
H Jackson Brown Jr
Kindness can be easy. The opportunity to be kind is everywhere. It doesn’t have to cost a penny or take any extra time. It isn’t even necessary to go searching for someone who really needs it. Just do something for someone that they will appreciate. Why not let someone out of the traffic before you…talk to the shy parent at the school gate…take a slice of that cake you just made into your neighbour? Kindness can be planned, such as the offer to babysit or it can be spontaneous, for example throwing open the door for a colleague struggling under a pile of files.
Bask in the benefits of kindness. Why wouldn’t seeing someone smile as a direct result of your kindness lift your spirits a little?
If you participate in a community of any kind, be it work, home or church for example, you are most likely giving and receiving kindnesses all the time. I thought about my own life while mulling over this topic. I am a stay at home parent who lives in a neighbourhood, dense with families. Since having children and leaving the workplace, I have made friends locally and we constantly exchange gestures of goodwill. These can be as small as a text reminder that it’s fancy dress day at nursery or as time consuming (and patience demanding!) as minding someone else’s child for a few hours. During pick-ups and drop-offs at school several acts of kindness can be exchanged, be it coaxing someone else’s toddler out of a huff or having someone lean over you with their umbrella to save your freshly straightened hair from the rain.
How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it!
Lastly, we should turn our attention to those little eyes and ears that miss nothing. Teach your children kindness. If we can manage to lead by example then maybe in time we can enjoy the experience as they befriend a shy classmate or pick up something from the floor for Granny.
Being considerate of others will take your children further in life than any college degree.
Marian Wright Ederman
Small kindnesses can lead to great things. Put yourself out there! Make someone smile! Participate in making the world a better place, damn it!
Be mindful of World Kindness Day.