The week of May 18th has been designated as National Mental Health Awareness week; the theme of this year’s event is kindness. It could hardly have come at a better time.
If one word identifies a noticeable lack in our world it is “kindness”. This is an era in which governments tell us to close ourselves off; simple acts of kindness like delivering groceries to a shut-in neighbour need to be performed with the same rigorous hygiene of an operating theatre. Switch on the television, and there are many angry faces protesting against the lockdown; they want their “freedom” no matter how selfish and unkind it may be to others.
Kindness is a supple quality, it fits around the individual, it acknowledges their humanity and recognises their vulnerabilities. In our heart of hearts, we all yearn for it: to be understood, to have the rough edges of life smoothed away with a simple act of understanding. It need not be much: it may be as uncomplicated as making an extra cup of tea for someone who needs it. It can be telling a child an extra bedtime story. It can be a simple knock on a window, asking an elderly person if they are OK and if they need anything. Such acts can lift one’s eyes from the tumult of the present day and look towards something more noble.
Kindness should extend outwards. Can we say that the current era has been kind to the refugee? The homeless? The unemployed? The immigrant? I dare say not, we are told by cacophonous voices that these are the reasons why we cannot be kind, it is always the “other” that blocks the way. If only we could take out the foreigner, or stop them from coming, then we would have the space to be kind. You would think that given how many people of broad backgrounds are working in front line services and essential occupations that this sense of “otherness” would dissipate. This does not appear to be entirely the case. The cheap politics of nastiness towards the marginal still prevails.
Life is hard; this particular period is very difficult. Nevertheless, we do see random acts of kindness popping up on both a small and a large scale. Charitable giving, as Captain Tom Moore’s efforts show, is still in fine fettle. We are cheered by Matt Lucas’ series of duets thanking a baked potato for sensible advice. When I suffered from the coronavirus, I would haven’t had a hot meal if my neighbour hadn’t delivered a batch of Spaghetti Bolognese to my doorstep.
We should be kind this week; we need to sustain kindness in the time to come. There is no doubt that even when lockdown is over and we can all emerge, blinking, into the summer sunlight, that we will be facing into challenging economic times. We will need the kindness of others until we get to happier days, whether it is via donations, or volunteering down at a food bank, or even just showing greater consideration to others. Perhaps, just perhaps, the seeds of kindness we plant today will blossom into a better future.