Random Acts of Kindness – a template for our future

person with a face mask and latex gloves holding a globe
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

When I reflect on what has happened to the world in the last three months, I feel a sense of shock and amazement at where we have arrived.  For decades our World Leaders have refused to take, or simply delayed, decisions that would slow down global warming and help prevent more environmental disasters. Leaders would make a few concessions, pontificate about the impossibility of changing things “before 2030 or 2040”, and fly home from yet another World Summit.

Then, in early 2020, it was as if the Universe ran out of patience and said, “Watch me”.  We woke to the reality of the world being stopped. It was a body blow. Nowhere escaped the virus. Lock-down and isolation were frightening. Images of deserted cities and famous landmarks emphasised the severity of the situation. Silence and emptiness became companions.  Life had changed. I would laugh at the irony, if it wasn’t serious.

Now, three months on, I observe the ‘green shoots’ in what is becoming the ‘new normality’ and I ask myself ‘What have I learned during this extraordinary time?’ and, ‘What have we discovered about ourselves as families, friends and communities?’  The answers offer glimmers of hope.  But, the need to change our behaviour as individuals, communities and nations is crucial.  We need a template for the future that recognises and applauds individual effort, builds on the strengths evidenced in our communities and ensures good governance from future leaders. It’s not going to be easy and will require co-operation, communication and care. I’m starting as an individual and following the question ‘What have I learned in this pandemic?’  I’m now asking, ‘Is there anything I can do as an individual?’ I believe there is something very simple that many of us have already begun. It’s based on random acts of kindness, care and love. We do it well.

The pandemic has revealed ‘human behaviour’ in all its forms; a mixture of good decisions, bad decisions, leadership, lack of leadership, political manoeuvring, good behaviour and bad behaviour.  As individuals we’ve experienced a range of emotions from fear and loneliness to resentment and anger. On a couple of occasions, I found myself weeping unconsolably. It was about loss.  Like many other people I was living by myself and five hundred miles away from my family. But, there have been good times too. For example, a novel birthday with my family sending a cake, candles and bottle of bubbly courtesy of Tesco whilst they all sang Happy Birthday to me on a Zoom call. I won’t forget that birthday.

Of course, the Nation did what it does well – it began to pull itself together. People linked up with on-line choirs, quizzes and Zoom calls, other couples gathered together and videoed their re-creations of famous paintings in their living rooms. For my part, I joined a choir, but gave up when I heard my off-key solo voice bouncing off the four walls. The incessant news updates were so depressing I switched over to an eclectic range of music performed from unlikely venues such as garden sheds, bedrooms, attics and empty concert halls. It’s all been very bizarre. Finally, I began to polish up my piano skills.

At times the solitude has been a real blessing. I listen to the birdsong and the sound of silence and am aware of being part of something bigger, the Universe. I’ve worked with this thought, sometimes meditating quietly for three or four minutes and occasionally losing complete track of time. Those moments are so refreshing and provide a deeper understanding that, despite everything that advertisers and celebrities would have us believe, we are not in control of life. We are simply extraordinary, ordinary people with different gifts and a life span that allows us to use and share our gifts to the best of our ability. This virus has been confronting us with death, and the manner of our possible death – a topic which so many people avoid thinking about. A little time spent in meditation has provided me with reassurance.

This world was strange. It felt new-born, fresh and very vulnerable. The skies were clear, roads were empty, and the air was clean. There was time. Time to think about bigger questions. Who am I? What am I doing here? There was time to reflect on social interaction, distancing and lifestyles. Time to look at the future, the well-being of family and friends and –  the planet.   I felt very tired, not wanting to do anything and yet unable to settle. At other times I would feel the urge to sleep and would wake hoping it had been a nightmare. Only, it wasn’t.

I spent a lot of time ‘sorting’; sorting through cupboards and wardrobes, sorting through old photographs, sorting old love letters and sorting books for the charity shop which of course may be closed for some time. Slowly I began to live more in the present and began contacting long lost friends, making sour dough unsuccessfully, watching with fascination the hosts of yellow daffodils, then parrot tulips and more recently bunches of purple wisteria ‘grapes’ bursting into life.

As Spring arrived everyone watched in awe and admiration as selfless and generous people continued to risk their health and lives every day on the front line; heroic medical staff in hospitals, carers in residential homes, brave pharmacists and shop assistants, delivery drivers ensuring supplies kept flowing and refuse collectors cheerfully collecting the nation’s rubbish. We went out to clap and bang pans to recognise, acknowledge and celebrate the values and actions of these workers. What they did, and still continue to do, is uplifting and inspirational. In particular the values of  kindness, care, and unconditional love, speak volumes to a world in shock.

Random acts of kindness are the bedrock of their daily lives and this blog is a mark of my respect and thanks to our front line staff.  As the world opens up there is an overwhelming and desperate need for more, and this where you can play your part.

A one-off random act of kindness is exactly that, a ‘one off’. You don’t ‘join’ anything, you’re not tied into a regular activity, it costs you nothing financially. Only you need to know your action was in some way helpful or uplifting to the person on the receiving end.  As this pandemic continues, we are going to need more kindness, care and love.

The huge changes to normal life are already having a severe effect on people’s health.  People are grieving, numb, distraught, lonely, sad, depressed or worried at what has happened.  This is the time when you can make a small difference with a simple reassuring act – a quick phone call to someone who may be alone, offering to pick up something for a neighbour,  listening to someone’s story (even if they’re long winded or boring), generously sharing your home made cake.  Recently, when I was ‘locked down’ my neighbour hosed down my front pavement and washed my dirty, seagull-spattered car – what a lovely ‘random’ surprise.  I posted a big notice ‘Alex is a Star ‘ in my front window which made him smile as he walked his dog later.

The daily headlines are grim and behind each one there are so many poignant, personal stories.  -‘Thousands of redundancies’, ‘Pubs and small businesses closed’, ‘Travel industry and hospitality trade without a future’. I’m hearing about friends and colleagues who are in shock, terrified of not being able to support themselves or their families and realising there is probably no easy way out.  Meanwhile, the bills arrive and, in some cases, there is no money to buy food, pay the rent, the mortgage or the electricity bills. I know at first hand this is happening right now, where I live here in a former Scottish fishing town.  As individuals we can’t solve the problems but, at an individual level, we can make small differences. That’s why I am advocating we build on the example of our front-line workers and do our bit with random acts of kindness.

If you can’t think what you might do you might like to try this.  I look up at the sky and simply ask the Universe for a suggestion. Within a few hours a thought will land, maybe about a grandchild, a neighbour or a friend in another country.  I then just act on it – maybe I phone or send a card or WhatsApp them. Otherwise, with people you don’t know, a genuine smile and ‘thank you’ to a hard-working cashier could be perfect.  It can make all the difference to someone on a bad day and, like throwing a pebble into a pool it often has a ripple effect. Dealing with the after-effects of Covid19 will need many ripples of care and kindness. I suggest we follow the front-line workers’ example and start going the extra miles with as many random acts of kindness as possible.

Now you’ve read Part 1 of A Template for Our Future I’m keen to see readers’ reactions. Please feel free to share your thoughts. Part 2 and Part 3 will be posted soon.

Part 2 Community Acts of Care, Communication and Co-operation

Part 3 Our National Values

 

11 Replies to “Random Acts of Kindness – a template for our future”

  1. A very good, thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. My experience has been very different, making me feel as though somehow I may have missed something… Because I decided quite a while back, having experienced for 6 months a level of depression that nearly destroyed me, that I will not any longer allow myself to be brought down and/or depressed by things I cannot do anything about, and in the knowledge that what it does is destroy my immune system, I have concentrated on practicing compassion, appreciation and yes, random or planned acts of kindness in what way I could. Occasional meditation and prayer for others, whether close, distant, known or unknown too. Concentrating on finding the good and positive, of which there has been and is plenty, enjoying nature, being physical distant but socially proximate thanks to modern technology, listening to lots of music, singing, gardening. Telling friends I love them, voicing appreciation to acquaintances. Laughing whenever possible. Doing quite a lot of what you mention too. Shopping local. And tonight, after a very long walk this morning and an afternoon and evening of TV movies, I am basking in the glorious singing of Benjamin Appl on BBC R3 to lull me to sleep…

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  2. I worry that it will be the already thoughtful people who become nicer. I have the feeling that people are just waiting to come out of lockdown to go back to “normal”. I really hope things will change but I am not convinced they will.

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    1. Yes I have that concern too. That’s why, whilst we are still in lock down, it’s good to use the time to reflect on what values have helped us through a difficult few months and make sure we don’t let them disappear. I think people do learn from example. Lots for us to do !

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      1. I think that more than anything I have been overwhelmed by the selflessness of so many in the NHS and associated jobs who have put their lives on the line for the greater population during the crisis. In other words I value these people so much more and really hope that we all will in the future. Interestingly the British Red Cross whose volunteers have done so much during the crisis recently chose, after huge consultation “The Power of Kindness” as their new motto. You are right Claire, kindness makes such a difference and I think that spirit will persist. I’m not so hopeful of other areas but really hope leaders will take seriously at last the gravity of matters relating to the future of our planet and ACT!

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      2. Thanks Georgie. I hadn’t seen ‘The Power of Kindness’ motto adopted by the Red Cross which I fully endorse.
        This is such a pivotal moment for the world. The problems we face are daunting. As individuals we can only start by reinforcing those values of kindness and care. My next blog looks at how communities can engage with and communicate better with authorities and then its how we influence leaders and decision makers. A hard task but essential, as you say, for the future of the planet. Let’s start with individual, random acts of kindness.

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  3. Just reading in my Elizabeth Barrett Browning book this morning. In solitude, I am finding that meditation is the greatest mood stabiliser, but the arts are the greatest solace.

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  4. Beautifully written, thoughtful and meaninful words Claire. My value base, derived from my gran whom I loved dearly, are still with me today. I see these reflected in this piece! Sometimes I think Reach Across was ahead of its time! Just observing volunteers today shopping, arranging food boxes then coordinating the deliveries was overwhelming. I saw new friendships forming, fun and laughter whilst undertaking an important task of feeding vulnerable people during an unprecedented time. Kindness is quite a buzzword at the moment! Nothing new! Nevertheless life would be very difficult just now for many families without kindness being showered upon them. I do hope that the community continues to be kind when the lockdown is over.

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    1. Kindness is the keyword and we’ll make sure it continues to grow in our community after this pandemic. We also have to demand positive social changes . Going to be an interesting time!

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