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No Time to be Kind?

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Tony Burkinshaw

Winter 2015

No Time to be Kind?

The 13th November is World Kindness Day,  if you’ve just missed it , I’d recommend taking a look at KindnessUK.com to see what wonderful things were done. They might even inspire you to take part next year.

On the other hand, why wait until next year?

There are always opportunities around you to practice so that by the time the 13th November comes around next year you could be a kindness expert. Take a look a some of the other articles about Random Acts of Kindness in the Hub. If you start now, it will all be just business as usual by the time the next Kindness Day comes around, so you might even find you need to make an extra special effort on the day.

A year can make all the difference. Trust me, I know.

Occasionally life throws more at you than you know how to handle but seeing as it’s your life, sometimes you don’t have a choice. You just handle it anyway and pick up the tab later. And you know that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ meme?  Surprisingly, the difficult part came as stability, relatively speaking, came back for a while. It brought a realisation of what we’d all been through. Catching our breath and discovering how little is left.

When I received my customary nudge from editor Tina that this deadline was approaching fast and given also my customary technique of working best to tight timescales, I wasn’t sure that I’d be up to writing this column. The point, I guess, is that for the last few months, kindness has taken a back seat; at least Kindness of the Random Acts type has.

There’s a lot of psychology research into altruism and how this begins and primarily remains within a tight knit circle of family (the genetic imperative) and members of the tribe. This is where I’ve been from a kindness point of view for most of this year.

One theory has it that in the millennia when refrigeration wasn’t an option, (i.e. most of human existence), the safest place to store excess meat was in the belly of your friends and family. Before you go off into all that imagery of regurgitation, that isn’t the point. If you share your kill with your friends when you’ve had a successful hunt and they haven’t, then at a future time when they make a kill and you don’t, they’ll share some with you.

This propensity to return favours is deeply ingrained in us. Just think for a moment about how you feel when you give someone a gift and they don’t say thank you. Or a group takes on a task and one person won’t take part even though they’ll reap the rewards. Or you do someone a favour and they refuse to return it.

We’re hardwired to keep track of favours done and favours returned. We don’t like people who constantly take but never give back. Think of the chap who is somehow never there when it’s his/her turn to buy the drinks. We even have names for them: Sponger, Shirker, Scrounger, Parasite, Leech, Hanger-on, Cadger and of course my antipodean favourite, ‘Bludger’.

Kindness isn’t a nicety. It’s a survival trait.

Random Kindness, of course, is a little more difficult because it involves giving with no expectation or probability or repayment. It goes against our nature or so it seems at first sight. The thing is, we’re such an interconnected group of several billion souls these days that if enough of us keep up this Random Kindness stuff, then it becomes more and more likely that you or someone you care about will end up being on the receiving end of someone else’s Random Act of Kindness. What goes around comes around, as they say, although I have to say that I’ve never quite understood this one. I know what the underlying meaning is but the saying itself always gives me pause for thought and I end up ruminating on the syntax so I rarely use it. Perhaps I should lock up my inner grammar nerd.

Random Acts of Kindness take a little more effort. It’s a habit you need to acquire, rather than one you’re born into. The thing is, once you get past the expectation of reciprocity and leave that to the random chances of life, it gains it’s own momentum. In a way, as we’ve discussed before, the very act of being kind in a random style is its own reward.

To find out for yourself, try a little experiment. It’s really easy so you have no excuse to shirk this one:

  • Pluck up the tiny bit of courage that it needs and do something kind.
  • See if you can do it without feeling even a little bit good about it.
  • It’s pretty much impossible. That inner glow turns up of its own volition.

See? Altruism is its own reward.

So, now that we’ve got our traditional bit of waffle out of the way, let’s get back to the thrust of this article.

Despite appearances, (business as usual, completing the Master Practitioner course for the second time, starting a Facebook Page, upgrading the website and other mental distractions), the last few months have been pretty damn tough. As I said earlier, it’s only during the calm after the storm that you get to take stock, and ponder on whether the storm has really passed or whether you’re sitting in the eye of the hurricane and you haven’t got the energy to turn the ships around ready for the winds to hit from the other side.

That self-same lack of any remaining energy has meant that I’ve not found the capacity to get on with Random Acts of Kindness, even to the point where I was seriously considering giving up this column.

I guess one of the least expected results of this journey is that at long last, I’ve taken a leaf out of my own therapy book, (not that I’ve written one yet, although you never know what the future might bring), and have made space for me.

Growing up as many of us do with a well-balanced childhood, which in reality means carrying a chip on each shoulder, I’ve simply soldiered on using that well-worn mantra of women and children first as an excuse to do nothing about it.

Until I had no choice. Until now.

You’d think I’d have known better being in the therapy world and I suppose I did. The problem is that none of this is about sense and knowing and logic. When push comes to shove, most of our decisions are made without us knowing by our Unconscious Mind and the rational decisions we make consciously are in reality a bit like those peace treaties between Russia and America or David Cameron telling us he’s standing up to the EU. The Presidents and Prime Minsters are just the figureheads.

All the hard work and compromise and negotiation go on unseen behind the scenes, away from prying eyes. By the time the actual ratifications and political decision making happens on camera, the real decisions have already been sorted out. The treaty is just the official sanctioning of previously worked out plans.

So just as with many clients, my conscious intentions are irrelevant, it’s what my unconscious thinks that counts. It wasn’t until there was little choice left that I stepped up the plate and asked for help.

It was either that or lie down for a few months.

So the realisation that I’ve had in the time its taken to write this article, (not really knowing where it would lead), is that in this intervening period, in the same way that I tell my clients to put themselves first so that they have the capacity to do the things they want or need to do, I have indeed put myself first. It’s something I would urge you to do for yourselves too. It isn’t selfishness. It’s almost the exact opposite. If you want to help others, you have to be well enough, strong enough, capable enough to do so. If you’re not, you’re going to run out of steam, crash and burn, fall over and not get up. And then you can’t help anyone. Not even yourself.

I started this article believing that I would end up writing something quite trite about what others had done in the Random Kindness arena and would in some way be apologising for not taking part myself. I find instead that my conclusion is quite different.

I have actually been extremely kind.

Uncharacteristically kind.

I’ve been kind to myself in a really meaningful way.

And for me, that’s perhaps the most Random Act of Kindness of them all.