17 Feb 2023

Random acts of kindness day

Kindness is the foundation stone on which good manners rest, so we are delighted to celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Day.

Kindness is quite simply the ability to notice other people, recognise their needs or discomfort, and act upon that recognition. Kindness requires an ability to empathise with others and parents should encourage their children to empathise (“how would that make you feel?”) – ­ kindness and good manners will naturally follow.

Nature, we are told, is red in tooth and claw but, despite the rigours of the evolutionary process identified by Charles Darwin, he also asserted that we are a fundamentally social and caring species, with an instinct to look after others; fulfilling this instinct brings us strong feelings of satisfaction, encouraging general happiness and wellbeing.

By being observant and aware we can easily identify people who need help, support or sympathy. This can range from impulsive good deeds for strangers (holding doors open, helping with heavy shopping, giving a frail person an arm, helping a mother with a pushchair) to more deliberate and planned acts of kindness. These might, for example, range from visiting a friend in hospital or giving a friend a helping hand with an elderly parent to sending an email or card to someone who is having a hard time or turning up at a lonely neighbour’s door with their favourite food or a bunch of daffodils.

Times are hard and opportunities for kindness are legion: you can contribute to food donations at your supermarket checkout or dig out unwanted clothes and bedding and take them to your local charity shop. You might even consider volunteering at a food bank or offering your services as a hospital visitor.

It goes without saying that kindness should permeate our lives, and not just be reserved for a special day, but it is always helpful to be reminded of the ways in which we can be kind. It’s not just about big gestures, but about maintaining a thoughtful and empathetic attitude – kind words (a compliment, congratulations on a job well done, praise and encouragement) will all have a major impact other people. Taking genuine pleasure in other people’s achievements, without envy or sniping, is an act of kindness.

At the most basic level, being polite, courteous and friendly is an act of kindness. Saying ‘good morning’ to strangers, smiling at the barista who makes your morning coffee, greeting the doorman, exchanging a few friendly words with the server at the sandwich shop… every one of these transactions is an act of kindness because it demonstrates that you are paying attention to the people around you, not merely taking them for granted, and doing your best to make them feel better.

If you’re thinking about ways in which you can be kind, it sometimes helps to think about ways in which you can be unkind: the overlooked elderly person, the overburdened stranger you were wilfully blind to as you barged on to the train, the shop assistant you ignored because you were on your phone, the depressed friends you avoided because you couldn’t face their sadness, the neglected parent who you can’t be bothered to visit and so on. Identify these failings and redress them.

Above all, understand that kindness comes from genuine feelings of sympathy and connection, it should never be a merely performative gesture. There is a trend on certain social media sites for attention-seekers to perform ‘random acts of kindness’ (for example presenting a stranger with flowers). These stage-managed gestures are filmed, uploaded, and in some cases go viral and garner much praise. But kindness should never be self-serving or used as an act of self-promotion, and frequently the ‘beneficiaries’ feel targeted and misused.

Don’t expect, or invite, accolades for acts of kindness, concentrate instead on seeking genuine ways in which you can offer a helping hand, a cordial word or a sympathetic ear. Remember that – however small your acts of kindness are – they all add up to a more civilised and courteous world.


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