As today marks the annual Random Acts of Kindness Day, Dreena Collins, Service Manager at Jersey Recovery College, reflects on the power of kindness.
A couple of months ago, a young family member witnessed a minor incident in town. He was waiting for a lift home, when there was an issue between a workman and slightly unkempt, older man.
It seemed that the older man had learning difficulties or mental health difficulties (my young relative wasn’t sure).
The man was confused, stopping people as they went by. The workman was loudly passing comment on him and his appearance, in clear disgust, and tried to draw my relative into agreeing that this "shouldn’t be allowed."
The teenager was perplexed, thinking the older man needed help, not judgement.
“In situations like that,” he said to me, “I always wonder, do they really not get it? Do they genuinely not see? Or are they being deliberately unkind?”
I have thought about those words often since he told me this story; how amazed he was that people could choose to be unkind. It seemed simple to him. Polarised. And I wondered if he would stay that way, or if his world view would alter with age, and experience.
Is it his youth that makes him open minded? Is he naïve because he hasn’t yet been shown otherwise? Or perhaps the next generation are, simply, kinder. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Kindness. There has been a lot of talk of kindness in the last couple of years, with the hashtag #bekind trending on social media after the presenter Caroline Flack died by suicide at the age of just 40, in February 2020.
She was experiencing significant mental health difficulties, and apparent press intrusion, as well as awaiting an assault trial. There are many nuances and complexities to her story - but one thing we can be certain of is that she was clearly in pain.
Pictured: "There has been a lot of talk of kindness in the last couple of years."
Caroline Flack had been known to quote the phrase: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind,” (attributed to Jennifer Dukes Lee). From this, many on social media coined the phrase #bekind, and used it as soundbites, logos, and badges.
I believe in the power of words, and I am not wholly against the use of mottos and phrases in this way. I hope it gave people cause to stop and think, as there are also several secondary benefits to kindness.
For example, the University of Pennsylvania has found that recipients of kindness can experience a boost in esteem, which means that if they are experiencing anxiety or depression, they are more likely to reach out for help.
Pictured: "Kindness is much more than a soundbite," Dreena said.
But kindness is much more than a soundbite; research shows that being kind towards others not only impacts on their life and feelings, but yours. Being kind to others actually boosts your own mental health. There are a number of factors that make this the case: your problems can appear diminished, or conversely you can feel more resourceful, when you help others.
You can feel appreciated or witness others’ happiness when you are kind towards them. Being kind can help us to maintain good mental health, or help us along our path to mental health recovery.
I work at Jersey Recovery College, a mental health charity, and we advocate kindness within one of our most popular courses: ‘What Makes a Good Life?’
While self-love and care are always important, ‘happiness’ research shows us that "doing an act of kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise that has been tested,” (Martin Seligman).
Part of this is to do with increased feelings of connectedness and community, which also feature within this course, and which we all need, to some degree.
This Thursday is the annual Random Acts of Kindness Day (RAK for short) – a day launched by the RAK Foundation, promoting acts of kindness. They suggest that RAK can be simple and tiny: anything from texting a relative ‘good morning,’ to complimenting someone’s parking, or giving a generous tip in a coffee shop.
Beyond this, they also encourage us to ‘Make Kindness the Norm.’ Kindness must not be confined to one day a year.
So, have we moved on since we were urged to #bekind in 2020?
A lot of the news today might lead us to think the world is still ‘deliberately unkind’ at times. But this Thursday, on Random Acts of Kindness Day, I will nonetheless be sprinkling some RAKs of my own – and I don’t mind admitting this is for my sake, as well as yours.
And as the year goes on, I hope I will be less like those who stand by passing judgement, and more like the woman who, I am told, came along just a few moments later – and walked that elderly gentleman home.