Saturday, 14 September 2013

A Kinder Life

Hello webby mates!

This post is more earnest that the others. Normal service shall resume shortly.

I wish kindness was more highly thought of. It's one of those qualities that slides by without much attention. We admire people who are witty, bright, articulate, independent, adventurous, creative, sociable, determined, honest, talented, courageous and so on. But being kind... It's a powerful thing when you stop and notice it.

A couple of examples:

One really tough day this year I dashed into Pret A Manger to buy a coffee to take away. I was rained on, late, stressed and limping but I really needed a cuppa. The woman serving me wouldn't accept payment. She said, "You look like you are having a hard morning. Your coffee is on me today." I nearly cried. Everything had been stressful and awful, then a total stranger was unexpectedly kind and the world seemed much less horrid. That was worth far more that the £2 coffee she gave me.

Some years ago Mark dropped me in town with our then-toddler to go to story time at the library. When it finished and we were leaving I passed women collecting for a charity. As I went to get some change from my wallet I realised it was on the kitchen counter at home. No cash for bus fare home, Mark stuck in meetings 5 miles away until 6 pm and a toddler crying for a snack. Oh god.
One of the charity women took a five pound note from her wallet and told me to get myself a cuppa and have bus fare as well. I asked for her address to repay her and she refused, saying she knew I would help someone else out in the same boat one day. Wasn't that fabulous of her?

The wonderful thing about being kind is the positive cycle it creates. When I got my free coffee I not only felt good about having coffee but also about the woman at Pret, Pret as a company,  more positive about the world at large and I felt inspired to do a nice thing for someone else that day. My negative spiral of emotions was stopped in its tracks and my day got better (It truly was an AWFUL morning for me until that point). The woman at Pret got to feel good about herself when she saw how much I appreciated her kindness, and her colleagues saw how powerful a small thoughtful gesture can be. 

As for the total stranger who spontaneously gave me £5... I still think about her 8 years on. And of course she was right: I have done the same for someone else.

Goodness only knows I'm no saint. I am stroppy, short tempered, argumentative and bloody-minded. However, I am also rather idealistic. I think you can change your world if you try it. A bit, anyway.

I want to live in a world where kind gestures happen more often. Getting all "be the change you want in the world" I challenged myself to do a kind thing for someone - over and above what I would usually do - every day during Lent this year. (I am an atheist but it seemed a convenient period of time to latch onto.) I only aspired to do little things: stuff  like sending actual proper birthday cards to friends rather than texting them; taking some of my hens' eggs to share; making extra scones in a batch for the widowed neighbour whose wife always used to bake them for him. Nothing expensive, nothing difficult, just a little consideration of how to brighten someone's day.

It was amazing. Tiny acts had a response so disproportionate to the effort involved. Just as the coffee in Pret made my day, simple little gestures had a big impact in some situations. 

It wasn't a selfless thing. Life is just more rewarding when there is a little more goodwill about. And over time I was more than repaid for any nice thing I did. Someone I dropped off a slice of cake for brought me some books she thought my daughter would like. The giving away the hens' eggs led to being given fruit from someone's allotment. I am already lucky enough to have very kind and fabulous mates and yet I found new relationships, neighbours I'd not got to know in my previous 11 years here, strangers I've encountered since and who hail me as a friend.

I didn't keep it up, that One Act Each Day thing. It felt rather artificial at times trying to come up with something. I should also point out that I am still as much a pain in the butt as I was before; I still talk too much, get irritable easily and am hard bloody work to know some days.  Standing in front of the mirror colouring my hair, I haven't spotted a halo floating above me, nor have I done anything more than millions of people do every day. The change has been smaller than that. I try to be a little kinder and more tolerant than I was and to act on thoughtful impulses to be when they occur to me. And I  appreciate the many lovely things my friends, neighbours and community do for me and my family.

It's amazing how lovely people are if you just stop to notice.


  1. Yes you are lovely Jay,your phone call last night was so appreciated, no one else rang me, not even my mother, but just a few minutes of your precious time made all the difference! Thank you Mate :-)

  2. My pleasure, Liz. It was nice to have a quick chat and I hope Katie had a super birthday on Saturday.
    Now the elderberry cordial is ready we should definitely get together for autumnal cocktails!