These last couple of weeks, we’ve all been told to #be much #kinder. I won’t go into why this is trending because we all know that already but on the surface, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea at all. What’s wrong with #bekind?
Well, the problem is- it’s just surface. #Bekind is about posting memes and reprimanding people on social media when you don’t think they’re being #kind enough. I’ve already seen it used to shut down arguments and, in a bizarre twist, promote Slimming World magazines. Be what does any of it mean? “Kind” is such a bland word and the more it’s parroted around social media, the less it means.
It’s the same problem with every other well-meaning meme. “Repost in honour of someone who fought cancer”. Why? Cancer doesn’t really have a view on what you post on social media and it’s certainly not going to change its plans for domination based on likes and shares. Not only are these kind of memes pointless, they’re also potentially like-farmers. But you must share to show you care.
I don’t really buy into that. I’ve never personally had cancer but it’s brushed close enough to us through our friends and family that anyone who knows me should assume I’m not in favour of it. What I’d like to see if more memes telling the world at general what they should do to actually support people who have cancer, whether that’s sending packages of gingerbread men or writing the darkest of sitcom episodes to entertain them during those long post-operative weeks. What we need is not more kind thoughts, it’s more actions and understanding.
Sometimes that understanding takes the form of staying away – when someone is in crisis and you aren’t close to them, they might not want to answer your questions about their situation. Sometimes it’s about sticking close and giving specific offers of help – days you can be there to help them, school pick ups you can cover. Sometimes it’s about empathy and sharing your own experience to help others through tough times and other times it’s just about listening. When a friend lost her father-in-law last year, I gave her the only advice I ever give during bereavement, which is to expect your mood to be a bit “off” for weeks and months following the death. When we went through it a few years ago, no one warned me that grief would lose you friends but it sure did. My snappiness of mood and low emotional energy saw off more than one person who chose to take offence instead of thinking about *why* I might be snappy. Another top tip – try not to lose a close relative when you have a 2yo, a 5yo and a recent house move to deal with. None of those things help.
So I suppose the point I’m coming round to is that there’s no point being kind without trying to be understanding as well. Random acts of kindness are great but they are just that – random. Flung out there into the universe with no real judgement as to whether they will actually help anyone. Whereas extending a bit of understanding towards someone – whether they’re #beingkind or not – is the kindest thing you can do. Don’t use #bekind as a stick to beat others with and instead practise kindness by choosing not to take offence. Can we do that?