I get great joy from showing kindness to others. It’s a habit which I indulge in whenever I can. But the truth is, I’m not Mother Theresa or Pollyanna and my positive intentions are not entirely altruistic. You see, kindness is often welcomed with appreciation and we all have a fundamental need for approval.
Lockdown and social distancing measures have made us all that much more aware (and wary) of the people around us. So, instead of bulldozing through a busy life without paying much attention to those we pass on the street, we can no longer ignore their presence as they walk by.
When I’m cycling around the mostly carless lanes each morning, passing dog walkers, families out for a leg stretch, cyclists and runners, I’ve noticed that we’re exercising our kindness muscles as well as our legs. Smiling. With eye contact. From the statutory two metres. Saying ‘hi’. To strangers.
Good old fashioned manners are a form of kindness. It’s a paradox that social distancing has reminded us to be considerate and respectful of others. It’s also reminded us to be aware of the vulnerability of those whose lives depend on us prioritising their safety.
Not everyone trusts kindness. Those who have had little of it in their lives don’t believe they deserve it so they push it away, perpetuating loneliness and anxiety. This affects physical and mental health to a degree which compromises the immune system and reduces life expectancy.
There are multiple symptoms of this absence of kindness which are chronic, life limiting and painful. Digestive disorders, inflammatory diseases, addictions and depression are amongst the symptoms of being starved of emotional support.
Whilst we’re surrounded by material abundance and have food on our plates, it’s easy to sideline emotional needs without realising how important they are to our wellbeing and survival.
The Mental Health Foundation is making kindness the subject of its Mental Health Awareness Week in a timely campaign which I hope will help remind us, when lockdown is history, to make kindness its legacy.