18th-24th May is Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s theme is KINDNESS
But what does kindness really mean?
Collins English Dictionary: Kindness is the quality of being gentle, caring, helpful.
Mark Rowland, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation which hosts the annual event, was initially going to adopt the theme of sleep but was inspired to make the change after a surprise act of kindness at a national supermarket. (Yes, unsurprisingly it was a staff member – a partner- at a Waitrose & Partners branch who found some umbrellas, disinfected them, and handed them out to people queuing in the rain.)
Random Acts of Kindness
But while random acts of kindness (RAK) are hugely important, and it’s even a ‘thing’ with a Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, a World Kindness Day on 13th November and a RAK week mid-February (11th to 17th Feb in 2021), the cynic in me is aware that random acts of kindness – what used to be called a ‘good deed for the day’ many moons ago – is, for a minority of people, little more than a way of assuaging their own guilty conscious for the not such a kind way they normally live their lives!
Kindness needs to be an embedded ethos, our internal values-system that dictates a way of living that inspires all our actions. Of course, that is aspirational. Very few of us can live a life that is continually gentle, caring, and helpful. But if kindness is our intention, then kindness will increasingly become our reality.
And that, indeed, is the main purpose of the Random Act of Kindness Foundation. As the organisation explains:
We are rooted in the belief that all people can connect through kindness and that kindness can be taught.
So, let’s define what kindness really means, for us as individuals and also in a broader perspective.
Be kind to yourself
This is such an important aspect, particularly in relation to your mental health wellbeing, and we all should take some time out for ourselves – time being the operative word as opposed to buying something for yourself – although, again, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself now and again. But it is important to recognise that ‘stuff’ is not the solution to our mental wellbeing, or even our physical wellbeing for that matter.
In the main, being king to ourselves involves taking a little bit of time out that just for us and not directly for anyone else’s benefit.
The Oxygen Mask Rule
Consider this in the same manner of the ‘Oxygen Mask Rule.’ At the beginning of the flight, when airline attendants are highlighting safety aspects, they will always explain that if the oxygen masks drop you should always put yours on first before helping anyone else, even your own children. That is counterintuitive but makes total sense. Oxygen masks are deployed in situations where the oxygen level has dropped dangerously low. Without our oxygen mask, we will quickly lose consciousness. If we do not make putting on our mask our first priority, we will very likely not be able to help anyone else.
And so, clearly, if you do not look after your own mental wellbeing, you are less likely to be able to help others.
Make a rule for yourself and, if necessary, that other family members must adhere to. Set yourself some time to soak in the bath, go for a walk alone, listen to your music, read a book, or meditate.
Whatever and whenever your me-time is, ensure everybody knows and understands the golden rule that you are not to be disturbed unless there is an absolute emergency!
You may also need to consider your relationship with social media. While undoubtedly it has been a godsend to many during this crisis to be able to connect with family and friends virtually, too much social media ‘noise’ is unhealthy. Ensure you can put your devices aside for periods, especially in the evening, without responding to every ping of incoming messages!
There is lots of information and ideas available in our mental health blogs
Be kind to others
As we mentioned at the beginning, being kind to others should be a way of living as opposed to just ensuring you do your ‘good deed for the day!’
But importantly, you will find being kind to others, whether that’s friend, family, or total strangers, also makes you feel good about yourself.
But conversely, avoid comparing yourself to others. We all know wonderful people who seem to spend their whole lives giving unselfishly to others. We are all different in nature and in our circumstances, so don’t beat yourself up because you can’t compete with the ‘neighbourhood angel.’ Just do what’s right for you, when it’s right for you.
One of the notable outcomes of this crisis is that most of us probably appreciate more than ever before that it is people that are far more important to us than material possessions.
Be kind to the environment
Being kind to the environment means considering the natural world of land, sea, air, plants, and animals.
As more people now appreciate, this is not about being a ‘sandal-wearing hippy tree hugger.’ In fact, it is far more aligned with being kind to others because being kind to the environment is essentially ensuring humanity continues to have a world fit to live in: a thriving eco-system that ensures our children, grand-children and great-grand-children can still enjoy green spaces, clean seas and rivers, unpolluted fresh air, clean drinking water, and wholesome food.
Many people are becoming vegetarians or vegans because of the awareness of environmental impacts of eating meat, fish, and poultry and/or because of cruelty to animals. If that seems a step too far for you please, if you possibly can, purchase meat, fish and poultry that has been caught or farmed with high welfare standards.
If you can do that, not only are you considering the environment but you are being kinder to yourself and your family because a Mediterranean Diet is best for good health and longevity and that diet is based on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, herbs, spices, nuts and healthy fats such as olive oil, with fish and seafood recommended twice a week, poultry is eaten only occasionally and red meat even less often!
Kindness in the workplace
Did you know that the Organisation for Responsible Businesses (ORB) was founded by Jill Poet and Mike Wilson, founders of Healthy Life Essex?
Originally, ORB was going to be the corporate arm of HLE but we realised that then, ten years ago, there was a huge gap between business and a more natural way of living. If complementary therapists, for example, was mentioned at a meeting most people would run a mile!
And so, we launched a separate company. (You may like to read Our Story as it explains that journey….)
ORB is a membership organisation for SMEs (small and medium-sized businesses) that operate ethically and responsibly and always consider the impacts of their operations on people and the environment.
A dramatic change in the last ten years
What is refreshing, though, is the fairly dramatic change we have seen in the last ten years, and the starting point of that change relates to an awareness of the importance of wellbeing in the workplace, with an emphasis on mental health.
We spend such a huge percentage of our lives at work and it is essential that employers are able to recognise symptoms of stress, whether that is workplace induced or external stresses, and deal with it accordingly.
Historically, most employees would feel uncomfortable admitting they had mental health issues even if just stress-related. Nowadays, good companies are far more willing and able to help employees. Indeed, many larger companies have trained mental health first-aiders.
Of course, kindness in the workplace does not just relate to the employer/employee relationship. The relationship between staff at all levels is important and being kind to your colleagues is just as essential as being kind to anyone else.
Naturally, if you are working in an environment where there is an embedded culture of kindness at all levels, it will be a much happier and more productive environment for everyone.
Kindness in public policy
Neither HLE or ORB are politically orientated and so any comments here are not in support of any particular party. But one could certainly argue that, during the coronavirus pandemic, local and central government have prioritised kindness over financial stability.
But what about the longer term?
Julia Unwin CBE, who in 2018 published the report Kindness, emotions and human relationships: The blind spot in public policy, argues that historically there have been very good reasons for keeping kindness separate from public policy; but that the great public policy challenges of our time demand an approach that is more centred on relationships. COVID-19 has certainly brought about that change in the short-term!
Our current form of capitalism is no longer fit for our times. We all – that is individuals, communities, businesses, and the public sector – need to start considering all stakeholders in the decisions we make, and that includes natural capital such as the community and the planet.
The [current] economic system is incompatible with the survival of life on Earth. It is time to design a new one…
… our choice comes down to this. Do we stop life to allow capitalism to continue, or stop capitalism to allow life to continue?
George does not profess to have the answer, but he does suggest that a coalition of some of the greatest thinkers of our time should be deployed to shape coherent alternatives, because:
No economic system is only an economic system but intrudes into every aspect of our lives. We need many minds from various disciplines – economic, environmental, political, cultural, social, and logistical – working collaboratively to create a better way of organising ourselves that meets our needs without destroying our home. [Our planet]
The decision for the theme of this week’s Mental Health Awareness Week is certainly timely. However you are, whatever you do, most people acknowledge that significant changes are needed at all levels if we are to secure a better and more equitable future for humanity.
It seems that embracing kindness might just be the starting point.