“We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.” Tennessee Williams
THE CALL FOR KIND
Why the rallying call for kindness? Modern living and modern connection isn’t always easy. Especially through the lens of social media connection. We’re more ‘connected’ than we’ve ever been, but we’re not always doing good with that connection:
“I think anonymity has a role to play when it comes to internet bullying and harassment. Real people and personalities are quite vulnerable in a sea of invisible faces, the words can come from anywhere and it can feel like they’re coming from everywhere. Kindness is the antidote to this toxicity.” Sean, 16
“The increased awareness about mental health amongst digital natives/youth demands kindness online. There's an increased pressure to present the most perfect version of oneself online, being kind online works in tandem to the perception of perfection.” Dan, 25
Nobody can know exactly what someone else is going through. 18 year old musician Billie Eilish also spoke out this week about how ‘cancel culture’ and trolls have gone insane, and as a consequence she’s felt hated. She’s now decided to stop reading any comments on her social media. Eilish is not alone in these feelings. Young people recognise that there is a powerful common understanding around the unsustainable nature of toxic cultures. As a consequence, there is a growing number of people resolving collectively, to not let someone experience un-kindness, and to urge others to take responsibility for the words they use. Saying that, there’s also valid cynicism among many young social media users around how long this renewed focus on kindness will last:
“I think that there's a growing emphasis on kindness online as people are becoming more and more aware that their actions online have real life consequences, I also think that kindness online is having a sort of bandwagoning effect recently like many online trends. So many people are talking about it right now but I think all this 'kindness' could easily be forgotten in a week or two when there's something/somebody new online to be unkind towards.” Rachel, 23
NURTURING KINDNESS: A RE-EDUCATION
Kindness doesn’t just need nurturing online - there are offline practises emerging around the theme too. Back in December 2019, an Irish primary school went viral for assigning students ‘acts of kindness’ instead of homework for an entire month. Each day of the week brought a specific kindness-related task. For example, Tuesdays they helped out a family member without being asked and Thursdays were for doing something kind for themselves - to take care of their own mental and emotional well-being. The school noted on Facebook:
“In this world, consumed by social media, where our young people are constantly experiencing pressure, there is no better way to show them the way forward in the world than by practicing kindness... Our message to the children is very simple: they can be the reason somebody smiles today and they can definitely help make this world a better place for others and for themselves.”
It’s a touching story and a stellar example of leadership in education. As one reporter observed: “The most pressing issues our world faces are not so much due to a lack of intelligence or knowledge, but rather a lack of shared values that compel us to care about one another. Without a foundation of basic human decency and kindness, knowledge and skill-building will only lead to more problems, while focusing more energy on kindness can only help build a better world for all of us.”
Outside the classroom, there are adult tools like ‘Kindness Prompt Cards’ designed to help people bring out their better natures by finding compassion and empathy - and become the people that they want to be deep down:
“In theory, we are all interested in being kind. In practice, a lot gets in the way: tiredness, anger, bitterness. But a lack of kindness lies at the heart of so much of what goes wrong at work, in friendships, and in love.”
Elsewhere, a ‘currently trending’ cultural phenomenon around the theme of kindness and vulnerability comes in the form of a ‘surprise’ bestselling book (no.1 on Amazon) called ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’ by Charlie Mackesy. The author has been described as a ‘spokesman for uplift in down times.’ It’s a Winnie-The-Pooh/Beatrix Potter-esque creation (that started on Instagram), full of universal wisdoms about life, love and kindness. On one page, the boy sits on a branch and asks the mole: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” the answer: “Kind.”
REACHING OUT & SHOWING KINDNESS
Despite the recognition of our collective need to nurture kindness in modern times, according to Darwin, sympathy and caring for one another is actually instinctive. It’s now been scientifically proven that devoting resources to others, rather than having more and more for yourself, brings about lasting well-being:
“Kindness has been found by researchers to be the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Many colleges, including Harvard, are now emphasizing kindness on applications for admission.” Karyn Hall
So we asked young people the question, ‘what does kindness mean to you?’.
“Being kind to me is mainly taking other people into consideration, whether that be acting out to help them or saying nothing at all. Sometimes the kindest thing to do is just to respect others and realise that maybe it's not your place to say your ‘hot take’ on every situation.” Rachel, 23
“Kindness can manifest itself in the smallest actions. Someone might post or do something out of left field or embarrassing, but it shouldn’t be ridiculed. When a person shows something online they’re proud of, a simple like, or even a comment or share, can go a long way. It goes to show that anything you put out there will be important to someone else, it’s like a cycle of joy. If your friend is in trouble, send them a message or even say in person that you’re there for them.” Sean, 16
“Being kind is being present, honest and actually hearing what someone has to say. We are bombarded with information on a day-to-day basis and life seems to just get busier and busier - it can be difficult to take the time to provide all three to those we interact with, whether that be in person or online. Sometimes the kindest thing we can do for each other is to not say anything and just listen.” Dan, 25
People’s interpretations of kindness are varied, but the importance of the conversation around it is indisputable. Kindness is relevant, important, personal, life-saving. It is big and small. It can be saying something, or not saying something. It is about courage, caring, togetherness, separateness, and most of all love. It is something we need to actively nurture - as individuals and as communities. It is worth the reminder.
Our online behaviour matters. The importance of teaching good online behaviours and exemplifying good online behaviours is not to be overstated.
Practise Being Kind. What would being kind to yourself today mean? How could you do a small or random act of kindness for someone else?