“It comes to something, when you’ve got to be told by the bloody media and Twitter or whatever – to remember to be kind to someone,” a grumbly old sod just said to me.
This person has a point. But on the other hand, for so many of us life today is super-duper fast. We ricochet along at breakneck speed, obsessing about our work/health/families/delayed train/crap bin collections and we rarely stop and think about what we can do for someone else.
So, I whole-heartedly welcome the movement called ‘Random Acts of Kindness’ (it’s Random Acts of Kindness Week actually, folks) because all of us need a nudge from time to time. And some of us were less fortunate than others, when it comes to whether this habit of stopping, looking and doing a little deed for another person, was instilled in us from an early age.
I don’t normally blog about my parents, but for once I will break the rule and tell you about my mum. She always did – and still does – bend over backwards in order to help anyone. She has spent her life looking out for how she can support other people. Even when she was working full-time, her life was chocca with long lists that involved visiting sick people, cooking for others, advocating and campaigning for others and taking on church-related jobs. Since her retirement she has spent weeks of her time doing all of the above, plus packing shoeboxes for the likes of Samaritan’s Purse, raising money for various causes, writing to inmates and the inevitable babysitting of annoying grandchildren (although the latter she genuinely doesn’t see as a ‘favour’ – for her an act of kindness is more about reaching out to the stranger in society.)
She isn’t some sort of busybody. She doesn’t go round telling everybody about what she does in terms of this endless list. If anything, she sweeps stuff under the carpet (in fact, I’ll probably be out of the Will now, for blogging about this.) But if you ask her why she feels so compelled to help others, she will just shrug and say, “Well, it’s what my mum always did. She’d do anything for anyone. She’d give anyone anything. That’s why we were always so poor. “ In the past, people have told my mother that she’s a ‘mug’ for helping others. That other folk take advantage of her good nature. And yeah, she has gone through phases where this has happened to her – and she has been heard to say; “Right, that’s enough. I’m sick of helping others out now.” But guess what? Two days later and the most thoughtful woman that has ever been born up-north is back into the swing of things.
Perhaps a psychologist would have a field-day with her. Accuse her of finding her self-worth through the need to assist others. And sure, there is some truth in the psychological findings of the ‘glow’ effect that giving to others has on us. It isn’t *all* about simply *giving* when we are kind to others. Quite selfishly, we get a bit back ourselves and get to feel good about being a human being. And nowt wrong with that, I say!
But for my mother, there is also a religious obligation too. She is a Christian and follows what the bible tells her; the story of the Good Samaritan, the Widow’s Mite and all of that. And in particular, the stuff about ‘not letting the left hand see what the right is giving’ – about keeping quiet in terms of your good works (which again, will be why I’ll be out of the ruddy Will now…)
All religions tend to have exactly the same principles – on giving to others who are NOT part of your nuclear family; about spending time and effort with the outcasts in society; about not judging the so-called ‘feckless’ ones – the ‘undeserving’ ones. But whilst we’re on the subject of religion, some of the most astoundingly generous and kindly hearts that I know are proudly atheist, but pro-human.
Now, the other thing that is really great about my mum, is that if you get her onto this subject, she’ll always start on a diatribe about Thatcherism and what the ‘Me and Mine Only’ philosophy has done to our society; i.e. produced the very real need for an artificial construction called ‘Random Acts of Kindness.’ As though we have suddenly lost the ability to spontaneously GIVE. And even with my own upbringing, I often find myself facing the other school governors/volunteer librarians/charity shop workers/befrienders and thinking to myself ‘what is wrong with you lot? You’re all completely MAD – you’re crackers! Doing all of this for free!’
This is how far selfishness and the nuclear family culture has permeated into our society.
So, I was smiling today as I watched a journalist
from BBC 1 trying to show a random act of kindness as she handed out free train tickets to commuters. Nearly all of them were avoiding her. Suspicious of the grinning ‘I’m being nice to you me-I-am’ look on her face. Far better I thought, to do the anonymous approach as at The Christie hospital in Manchester, where some sweet soul stuffed a load of money into a vending machine and let the family of cancer patients help themselves to free snacks. And – if I’m going to get all hardcore about this – I honestly don’t think that Random Acts of Kindness are enough.
I try not to blog about it (because I realise that I’ll look like a smug do-gooder) but for me, *true giving* comes from regular voluntary and charitable work. For me, it isn’t just about chucking a couple of quid into a charity collector’s bucket. And I know of far too many people suffering from depression and illness who all of a sudden have stumbled across the miracle that a bit of regular giving of time to others – to those who really need it and who exist outside of your own usual cosy set – can give to you. A proper shot in the arm; exposure to other human beings who you are doing something else for.
And it’s funny isn’t it, how some acts of random kindness come from the very people who you don’t expect it to come from? At Sainsbury’s in a certain west Yorkshire town recently, I *didn’t* want my mucky old car be washed by this older lady with broken English, who was doing the rounds, up and down the car park with her squidgee thingies. However, I took one look at her and thought; ‘you’re not that much younger than my own mum, you’re a refugee and I am not at all happy at seeing you standing in the cold and wet and doing this sort of thing.’ So, me feeling all compassionate and benevolent – I granted her permission to clean the dratted thing.
On leaving the store, my trolley was stacked high with hand and bath towels. (Look, they were on offer, okay? And as my own mum will tell you, I lack both pride and care in my approach to household linens.) Sure enough, the lady had washed my car beautifully and then, as I was shoving the mountain of new towels into my boot, commented; “very lovely towels, nice price there!” At this point, I began to feel really embarrassed. There was me – on a towel binge – and there was she, poor, cold, soggy and now covered in muck from my filthy vehicle. I wanted to make a fast escape. I handed over the money to her for the car wash and she gave me £2 back. “You give me too much,” she said. “It not so that much.” “Oh…” I replied. “Are you sure? You’ve done a really nice job on my car …” She shook her head firmly. “No – you need the money. You have children.” She gestured to the crap-heap that consisted of the interior of my car (superhero costumes, crisp packets, squashed flapjack etc).
And with that, I pootled away in my externally clean, but internally filthy car. To be honest, the condition of the car reflected my emotions after this rather unequal exchange with the woman. But then I remembered that she too, is permitted to practise Random Acts of Kindness. Generosity of human spirit never should have become the currency of the affluent or those who have the time on their hands.