Some time ago, I was in the queue t a petrol station where a young man had his card declined whilst trying to pay for his fuel and other items. The cashier wasn’t particularly kind to him and shouted to her manager to help dealing with the backlog of customers waiting and to bring the ‘card declined book’.
I was several people back in the queue and couldn’t easily see the young man well, but I could sense his utter shame and embarrassment made worse by, the impatient shuffling of feet and uncomfortable coughing from those directly behind. My heart went out to him immediately, and suddenly remembering that I had enough cash in my wallet to pay his bill, I quietly walked to the front of the queue and insisted on paying for him. The look of bewilderment and relief on his face was palpable and while he tried to take my details so that he could repay me, I refused. It was completely my decision and I was only too happy to help a young person out of a predicament.
For me, kindness is what makes us human. It’s the ability to step outside of our own interests and do something for others voluntarily without any expectation of having the favour returned. Its something that in our society has been in short supply but in these troubled times, appears to be making a welcome return. The news may be bleak, but up and down the country my spirits are regularly lifted with stories of genuine human kindness. Think Captain Tom, the people sending food to our brave nurses and doctors on the frontline and the hundreds and thousands of wonderful souls who volunteered through the NHS website at the start of the crisis. All these people give me hope that it is our kindness and humanity that will get us through these terrible times and maybe even change us for the better.
It’s no wonder though that kindness is coming back into fashion after years of social media savagery and brutal tabloid journalism. This pandemic has shocked us all to the core. We’ve never experienced anything like it. Virtually overnight we went from our routine, normal lives into something that was the very opposite. Uncertainty was our new normal, and the virus was indiscriminate. Although we know that certain groups are more at risk than others, we are all vulnerable and that is a great leveller. In addition, lockdown has meant loss for many of us. Loss of our income, our security and the relationships that helped us thrive. If anything, COVID19 has shown us that none of us is invincible. Many of the things we took for granted are gone and for some of us, we find ourselves relying on the kindness and compassion of strangers to get us through.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that the theme of this year’s mental health awareness week is kindness. Performing acts of kindness has proven to be good for our mental health in many ways. It connects us to others, it’s wonderful for our own personal growth and development, it strengthens our communities and it simply feels wonderful. I have bought many nice things during my lifetime, but nothing I can buy can top the feeling I get when I remember that young mans face in the petrol station. The trouble with kindness though is that it’s addictive. Once you start, you can’t stop.
It’s starts with a smile, or a gratuitous compliment to tell someone how nice they look, or what a lovely smile they have, and it can escalate…quickly. Dropping meals to the homeless or giving up you Christmas Day to volunteer for a charity are bigger endeavours that involve personal sacrifice and I have challenged myself and my need for personal comfort by undertaking these regularly.
However, even the smaller acts of kindness can be catalysts for great change. Calling on a friend or neighbour who lives alone is one way we can be kind. Turning a blind eye to an outburst by someone in your home can also be an act of compassion too. Instead of biting back, you could ask if they want to talk or if they would like some space. Kindness and understanding to support a stressed out loved one may be hard, but sometimes the damage done by words spoken in haste can be irreparable.
Finally, extend some kindness and compassion towards yourselves during this time. Its ok not to be ok. It’s fine to reach out and ask for help. It’s perfectly understandable that your home doesn’t look Instagram worthy and that baking the perfect banana bread has passed you by. Forgive yourself for not being perfect and remember bouts of low mood or anxiety are to be expected and sometimes, a day in bed with a boxed set and a pot of tea is the best we can do.
Treat yourself as a treasured best friend. Be as understanding, caring and compassionate as you would if you were supporting someone you love. You’ll be amazed at the effect it could have on your mental health and then…once you’ve got the idea, pass it on. It’s infectious!