Caroline Flack: Why We’re Getting Kindness Wrong
“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see” Mark Twain
Caroline Flack ended her life with a cry for more kindness in the world; two days before World Kindness day. While I doubt the timing was deliberate as suicide rarely is, it raised a serious point: Kindness. A day is normally created for two reasons. One is for celebration such as Christmas, Valentines or St. Patricks day. And the other is to raise awareness such as World Mental Health Day, Autism Awareness Day and unfortunately, World Kindness Day. This creates the idea that kindness is something that is absent, unfavourable and needs to be promoted rather than celebrated. Russell Brand referred to loving and hating as two of the few things that humans have the capability of doing. So in a world where we have the ability to be kind, why aren’t we? Is it nihilism? Social media? The media? All of the above? In our workshops, we often discuss compassion, kindness and why we give. The conversation always shocks me. The reason being is that children never know why it is important to be kind and regrettably, I don’t think society does either.
Children are told to eat their vegetables and they generally don’t want to because if they’re being forced to eat them, they must taste like shit. And let’s be honest, sometimes they do. Unfortunately, kindness has come under the same bracket as vegetables as something we ‘have’ to do. What if children tasted vegetables and realised that they actually liked them? Then we don't need to raise awareness for vegetables. We just celebrate them. We have a skewed perception of why we should be kind and that is one where we see kindness as something that we ‘should’ do. The reason this world is lacking kindness on world kindness day is because people are being told that it’s something they should do rather than something they should want to do.
A young boy once asked me why do we need to be nice to other people. I vividly remember that is flustered me. Throughout my life, I was told by parents, teachers, the bible etc that you have to be nice to people. But why? Because of course, it’s the right thing to do. But then media had its say. Survival of the fittest always wins and the world in incredibly competitive so you have to be ruthless (Suits, House of Cards, Breaking Bad, every gangster film ever) and if you succeed and put yourself in the public eye, then you make yourself the subject to ridicule (Amy Winehouse, Lil Chris, August Ames and now sadly, Caroline Flack). Even our friendliest shows were giving mixed messages.
Everyone remembers the Friends episode where Phoebe comes to terms that you cannot complete a selfless act. If we are ever kind to other people, it is only for our own benefit. But why has nobody asked the question, why is that not ok? Even if the act of helping others and being kind is for your own benefit, it’s still better than not being kind at all. But unfortunately, our society fails to see it this way. They only see the dichotomy of being kind or being selfish. You can’t have both. We are interpreting it as something that should be done as a common courtesy, but is no benefit other than that.
We are not a horrible species. From an evolutionary perspective, our likelihood of surviving increased when we helped others. This is why we get an explosion of positive neurotransmitters as a result of seeing kind acts online. A meta-analysis (the best kind of study that combines loads of studies together) was carried out in 2018 by Oliver Curry and his colleagues and they found that people who committed more acts of kindness had a higher subjective well being. So it makes us feel good! In the wake of Caroline Flack’s unfair death, the greatest response has been a petition to change laws against the influence of the media. But people are forgetting that the media is not a group of henchman that represent the dark side of the world. They are people like you and I. They don’t enjoy hatred. They are just giving the people what they unconsciously want: Something to grab their attention. We don’t change the world by attacking other people. We change the world by changing how they think. Kindness is not a common courtesy. It’s something that people benefit from. We all seek connection and yet we are becoming the loneliest generation in the world. It is easier than ever to connect but we are using these platforms to spread hate instead. As people continue to blame the platforms themselves, maybe it’s time as a society to begin educating people about why kindness is beneficial. Make it desirable. People attack others online because it makes themselves feel better. But what if we told them that kindness and compassion would make them feel even better? Then, it’s not something they should do. It’s something they would want to do.
We make up reasons why we can’t give money to the homeless. ‘They’ll only spend it on drugs’ or ‘I’m too busy’. But yet we have time to indulge in a chocolate bar and have no time for rationalising why we shouldn’t. Why? Because eating that chocolate bar makes us feel good. But doesn’t giving to the homeless man make us feel good too? Well no, because we’re not allowed feel good unless it’s selfless? It is an entrapped advantage that is chained up by our collective guilt of trying to avoid selfishness. Hate having a negative effect on you is not the same thing as kindness having a positive effect on you. We know that hatred is not healthy but we don’t know that kindness is healthy.
On a final note, one positive aspect of kindness that society does emphasise is that it's free. Therefore, we have no excuse. Kindness is not a common courtesy. Nor is it something that involves effort. Instead, it is just something that is very misunderstood. We need to raise awareness about kindness but we’re doing it in the wrong manner. The reason why we should be kind is because it makes us feel good. When we are kind, we live better. Once that is known, World Kindness Day becomes a day we celebrate. So don’t tell people to be kinder. Tell them why kindness is important. This has a huge impact. Help the world by helping yourself.