Kindness DOES matter - every day of the year
Earlier this month, it was mental health awareness week and this year the focus was kindness. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know I’m pretty big on kindness, both kindness to others and kindness to ourselves. So I was interested to see what messages were to come throughout the week. I was hopeful to see more concrete evidence of how kindness supports our mental health and I was curious to see if anything I’ve been thinking and writing about recently was mentioned.
And, if I’m being completely honest, I was also quite ambivalent. Yes, I was hopeful and grateful that the focus of mental health awareness week was kindness, But I was also quite sad and unnerved about that. What have we become that we need to be reminded to be kind – that it is not only humane, but vital, to be kind to others no matter how much we understand, agree with or know about them? I thought it was unfortunate that it did, indeed, feel like that reminder was necessary.
Last year at this time, I wrote about continuing the conversation about mental health every week of the year. I still believe that it is nice and positive to devote a week to raising awareness about the fact that maintaining our mental health takes work. I mean, we receive messages on a daily basis – probably more often than that – that tell us we must maintain our physical health and that takes work. (Case in point: look at what the world is doing now to lessen the risk of poor physical health.) But a year on, I also still believe that this week of raising awareness that mental health matters is not enough. Even though, as I pointed out last year, one in four people in the world experience problems with their mental health, the stigma associated with such difficulties may stop many from seeking the help they need. It seems far easier to say we’re suffering from a physical health difficulty, say chicken pox, than it is to say we’re suffering from a dip in our mental health. When we get chicken pox – or even, perhaps, coronavirus – this does not necessarily reflect on who we are as a person. However, if we have debilitating anxiety or depression, apparently this does reflect who we are. Just look at the language we use. We say we are anxious or we are depressed, but we would never say we are chicken pox. This is what makes me believe that we still have some way to go in our thinking about mental health difficulties and in the language we use around mental health difficulties. And, yes, one of the ways we can make some progress may be through kindness.
So, I’ll keep writing about kindness as I’ve been doing quite a bit lately. At the end of last year, I wrote about why kindness isn’t a cop out. At that time, I looked at the research evidence around why kindness to others – and to ourselves – is important. I was pleased to see even more evidence supporting this conclusion published by the Mental Health Foundation during mental health awareness week. Earlier this year, I wrote about ways in which you can flex your self-compassion muscles to increase the kindness you show to yourself. And last month, I wrote about my wish for the future, that we will be able to remember how we have been forced to sit, sheltered-in-place with our own fears and uncertainties about the future and be ok with this not knowing; my wish that we will be able to use this experience to be better able sit with others experiencing fears and uncertainties that maybe we don’t see or understand or are not the same as ours. That, because we all now know what it’s like to be scared and uncertain, we won’t judge others for such feelings or offer them trite solutions that may not work for them. Instead, I wished that we can sit with others – and ourselves – in kindness, offering an understanding that everybody struggles and faith and hope that this too – whatever ‘this’ is – shall pass. That’s it’s ok to talk about not being ok, because at some point, we all feel not ok.
This article in the Guardian written by Peter Fonagy on the eve of mental health awareness week, gives some ideas about why kindness – and empathy (those things I was wishing we can remember for the future) will help us collectively. He wrote, “The pandemic has reminded us that only by thinking together can we hope to survive and flourish, and that excessive vigilance breeds lack of concern, unkindness and social irresponsibility. We need to apply these lessons more widely, both for our collective mental health and to help the most vulnerable and isolated.” Basically, we need more kindness for the well-being of us all.
When we approach others with kindness, with the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate and when we approach others with empathy, with an understanding of how they are feeling, then and only then will we be able to stop spreading the message that kindness matters. Then, and only then, will we all be ok about not feeling ok. Then, and only then, will we be able to get the help and support that we could all use from time to time without feeling that in some way we have failed. And only then will I consider no longer reminding others any day of the year that kindness - to other and with ourselves - always matters.