Keep it Happy - All kinds of kind!
With World Kindess Day, Ollie Coach trainee, Deborah Stephenson, asks what exactly is "kind"? The behaviour of kindness is unique to our species, and humans, despite what you might see on the news, are instinctively caring.
“It’s World Kindness Day,” my daughter announced last week, “… and I thought it might be a good thing for you to write about in your blog!”
I was interested. “Ok,” I replied, “what do you think I should say?”
She thought for a moment, “Well, you could explain why kindness is important, especially at the moment, and that doing something kind makes you feel good”
A great idea which seemed simple enough in principle, but turned out to be rather more challenging than I expected.
The behaviour of kindness is unique to our species, and humans, despite what you might see on the news, are instinctively caring, so what exactly is “kind”? I could think of many examples of kindness, and we feel it when it happens, but as I tried to pin down the ‘essence’ of kind, the more I realised what a slippery concept it is.
There are all kinds of kind… kind to our friends and family, kind to strangers, kind to the planet, kind to ourselves. There are random acts of kindness, and specific acts of kindness. There are spontaneous acts - like someone giving you their chocolate bar because you dropped yours on the floor, or planned and thoughtful - like a surprise party (which is actually only kind if the person wants to celebrate and likes surprises!). Kindness can be big, or the smallest of things. There is no formula or special recipe, and not doing something doesn’t make us unkind… although sometimes it might. Kind, is kind of complicated.
Dictionaries define it as being friendly, benevolent and helpful, thinking about another person’s feelings, and being considerate, but for me there is something missing in these definitions - they don’t always have to have kindness at the heart. If we help someone because we are made to, or because we feel we ought, that doesn’t feel like kindness, we may only be doing it through a sense of duty or service. Thinking about another person’s feelings is only part of the equation… Something else has to happen to make these behaviours kind and I think it’s to do with intention.
Some years ago, travelling round New Zealand, we found a wallet in the street. It was filled with the usual array of plastic cards, some cash and a family photo. We drove to the nearest police station and handed it in, slightly surprised by the nice compliments from the officers about how kind we had been. Yes, it was out of our way to go there, but it was probably nothing in comparison with the inconvenience for the wallet owner, and if we had lost something so personal and valuable, we would be worried and want it back. There is also something here about being bothered, and not just leaving it for someone else to deal with - a feeling of shared responsibility.
I looked on the internet to find more answers about the importance of being kind, but what I found were dozens of websites full of kindness ideas, kindness challenges, kindness kits, kindness lists, prints and posters, and one site with “200 suggestions of acts of kindness”. I was disheartened … do we really need to download prompts to be kind? To be told what a kind act is? Doesn’t it just happen?
I was reminded of a comment my daughter made when we were talking about world kindness day; “What I don’t understand,” she said, “is why we need a special day - surely we should be trying to be kind all the time.” We probably should, and if we need prompting to do something good, is it still kindness? I was back to the question of intention.
I changed my search and up popped an article about a florist, who since lockdown, has been leaving free bunches of flowers for people around her town - a lovely gesture of kindness to make people feel good in difficult times. There were articles about other people carrying out similar acts, including a man who has been putting little flags with compliments on around his neighbourhood - my favourite of which is “You have cute elbows”! This made me laugh, which made me feel good, and isn’t that the point… these people didn’t have to do any of this, but their intention is to make other people feel good.
Reading about these acts made me wonder what kind things I could do, and my mind was drawn back to the websites I had so readily dismissed earlier. Maybe we do need a nudge and a prompt like world kindness day, to notice what might be needed. The “cute elbows” man was apparently inspired by seeing graffiti which said, “You look great.” It made him feel good and he wanted to pass that feeling on to others prompting his actions.
For me then, I think kindness comes from the intention behind an action, and the impact it has on others. It is to give something of yourself to make someone else’s life better… to step in with selflessness and compassion… to do something “just because’. Kindness is universal, but the smallest of actions can achieve it.
Kindness involves a strong connection and we know it when we feel it. Experiencing kindness reminds us that people care, which draws people together, fosters a sense of community and is particularly helpful in difficult times. Being kind is important, especially at the moment.
So act with compassion, be bothered and hold kindness at the heart of your intent.
And there’s something else too…
Notice how good it feels when someone has been kind to you, but also notice how you feel when you have been kind, because kindness doesn’t only make other people feel good, it makes us feel good too.
Experts say the physical impact of being kind can make us healthier and live longer. Studies show that kindness reduces stress, improves self esteem and lifts our mood. This is because being kind decreases production of the stress hormone cortisol, and increases production of the ‘happy’ hormone oxytocin which helps to lower blood pressure. Incidentally, oxytocin is also interesting because when we have a hit of it, we want more, so one kind deed can certainly lead to another. Give it a go!
Oh, and a few weeks after handing the wallet in, we had a letter from the New Zealand police which was slightly alarming, before we realised it enclosed a lovely note from the grateful owner of the wallet, who expressed their surprise that we hadn’t taken the cash, and their thanks for our kind act in handing it in. Oxytocin all round!
Deborah Stephenson, Ollie Coach trainee
I am an Ollie School trainee and a Director at an Independent Prep School for boys. I am a trained journalist and worked in BBC Local Radio for more than twenty years as a reporter, bulletin reader, news editor and programme maker. It was a great job, but I wanted to do something to support my own children’s wellbeing with a view to taking that on to support others and, in pursuit of a better work life balance, I resigned as the Assistant Editor of BBC Essex last year. Inspired by the Ollie School concept I was excited to be accepted for the training course and it has been a fascinating and enlightening and journey so far.
To get in contact with Deborah, email firstname.lastname@example.org
To find out more about Ollie and his Super Powers and how to become an Ollie Coach go to https://www.ollieandhissuperpowers.com/pages/about-us