Today (Friday 13th November) is world kindness day. Our individual and collective wellbeing are fundamental to living a good life, yet it is also perhaps the most under-recognised, under-invested, and under-theorised aspect of our lives, wider society and, yes, our economy too.
Depending how you respond to such things, there’s a pretty good chance that kindness is a fairly major contributory factor to your day to day wellbeing – it certainly is for us – and so we think we should all take it more seriously. Not just recognising its importance, but taking active steps to be kinder ourselves and encouraging others to do the same.
There’s plenty of research and evidence that happier workers, and happier citizens, make for better societies. Very late to the party, business is now recognising what should have been obvious – happy workers help to make better businesses. Some of the worlds’ most successful brands spend significant time and resources on employee wellbeing. And they see the benefits. Not that it’s okay for the workers to be unhappy if it weren’t good for business, rather that there’s a nice added benefit of being a decent employer – it helps your bottom line.
But it’s not enough just to internalise that now with our own work forces. There is an increasingly embedded (and quite frightening) trend towards an overwhelming societal self-focus – increasingly putting ‘I’ in place of ‘we’. In the video below, Professor Robert Putnum draws on Google’s digitisation of all written material in the English language, which is now searchable for key words. In short (see the video for the detail), he found that if you search for the terms ‘I’ and ‘we’ in literature, the former shows a huge surge in the latter half of the 20th Century, whereas the latter (‘we’) correspondingly dips significantly.
Nowhere is this focus on ‘I’ more evident than on social media, which at once has created a liberating space for self expression whilst at the same time showing the dangers of a largely unregulated space. It’s worst impacts are felt at individual human levels. We can do better – in principle its a wonderful innovation, but it’s clear it needs significant, collective action to make it better for everyone.
But there’s plenty of cause for hope and to celebrate too. Whilst COVID19 has brought out the worst in a small number of people (informing on their neighbours and being encouraged to do so by Government was one of the darker moments), far more so it has shown us that the we still have and value a sense of collective support; a sense of community. But it also shows that we have to be vigilant about protecting and valuing that sense of connection – it needn’t be a one-off, and it certainly shouldn’t take a global pandemic to take this seriously as part of our lives. But it needs to be nurtured and supported, invested in, and recognised for what it is – it is kindness toward others.
So, we think we need to take kindness and wellbeing far more seriously – the explosion in mental health issues is far more complex than people not being kind to one another, but being kinder to each other will certainly help.
And when we say we should all be kinder, we mean more than just saying nice things/not being unpleasant (that should be the minimum!). It’s things like acknowledging the pressures in people’s lives and doing what we can to help reduce those – family friendly working is a simple example. COVID19 has shown that we can work remotely and flexibly. That enforced flexibility can and should be continued voluntarily. There are lots more things like that we can all do in our own organisations.
More broadly, it’s about collective action for the betterment of our wider communities, and we’re fortunate to work every day with all sorts of people and organisations who are working to help improve people’s lives. We need more of that too, which means more people stepping forward to make a difference, more collaboration, more collective efforts, and more recognition and investment in the value of that approach.
Last year, as part of our 51.6 series, we had Matt Callannan come and talk about how he established his kindness project. The project involves random acts of kindness and seeks to instil more kindness in others. Part of Matt’s approach was his ‘tenner for good’ idea, which involved hiding £10 notes around Cardiff with a note that asked people to spend it on doing something nice for someone else (and that they can’t just give it away).
When Matt came to do the talk for us we did the same and hid £10 notes under people’s chairs and asked them to do something good with them and to pay it forward. But it doesn’t have to involve money, it can be a kind gesture, it can be holding the door for someone, it can be a smile, it can be taking a deep breath and being patient when someone does something that irritates us.
You can find out more about Matt’s projects here: www.mattcallanan.co.uk
For those of us running organisations – whether public bodies, private business, third sector organisations, political organisations, or informal community groups (including those that are online on social media) – we all need to place a priority on kindness. That does not mean stifling debate. It does not mean loss of freedom of speech. It doesn’t mean holding back from criticising or challenging the things that aren’t right in the world.
It does mean being mindful of what we say, how and where/when we say it. It does mean being constructive when we criticise. It does mean pausing before jumping to conclusions – giving benefit of doubt if we aren’t certain. It does mean listening to the view of others and being prepared to change our minds. It means simple things that too many of us seem to have forgotten, like saying please, and thank you, and sorry. It means understanding that nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. And it does mean thinking about the way we go about our day to day business and whether it’s making us and the people we work with happy or miserable; are our working practices, structures and approaches kind?
It’s rather easy to preach, so we try to finish each of these manifesto pieces to show that we’re actively doing things to contribute to these goals ourselves:
- one of our three pillars for our purpose is doing things that ‘improve people’s lives’ – being kind and delivering wellbeing are a key component and outcome of that;
- we have kindness written into our policies – staff wellbeing and the wellbeing of those that we work with and for is important to us and it is number one on the list when we run a staff induction and run through our core values as a company;
- we have family friendly and flexible working policies both in terms of the location of work, and also in terms of times of work;
- we will treat sick time for mental health no differently from taking sick days for physical health;
- through COVID19 we’ve checked on one another’s wellbeing and recognised that we are not ‘working from home’ but rather that we are ‘at home during a crisis and trying to work’;
- we are also realistic – part of being kind is acknowledging that we are all flawed, feeling human beings, all of whom will sometimes make mistakes, have a bad day, say something without properly thinking it through, or not fully consider the ramifications of taking (or not taking) a certain course of action.
- professional critique is part of our work, but in doing so we always aim to be constructive and consciously kind;
- we treat people equally, regardless of their perceived status;
- we invested in the event with Matt above; and
- we undertake pro bono work and try to help other organisations and community groups wherever we can, regardless of its impact on our financial bottom line – if we are able to help someone individually or through their organisation then we will.
There’s lots more we can do and we’re learning all the time. But, as a general rule, in the words of the late George Carlin we generally think we should all do our best to: ‘be excellent to one other’.