A couple of weeks ago I spent time in the company of someone who I only knew fleetingly but who was so passionate about the care and support of older people and who had spent so much of his free time across his life advancing the cause of people who needed care. Within 24 hours that person had died suddenly. I was really shocked that someone who I had shared time with had died within a day of our meeting.
I know I am not the only person who such an event has happened to, and I won’t be the last, but it is something which draws you back on yourself. It makes you begin to realise the fragility of life; it instils in you a sense of just how out of control our living is. It also made me feel how every day, every moment and hour is precious – and it made me reach out to hug and hold my young daughter ever so much tighter that night.
As I have reflected on this sad event and also on the passion the individual had for care, I have come across the notion of ‘intentional kindness.’
In research which was published last year two American scholars evidenced the tremendous benefit which was brought to both giver and recipient by random acts of kindness. They said:
‘Performing random acts of kindness increases happiness in both givers and receivers, but we find that givers systematically undervalue their positive impact on recipients. In both field and laboratory settings (Experiments 1a through 2b), those performing an act of kindness reported how positive they expected recipients would feel and recipients reported how they actually felt. From giving away a cup of hot chocolate in a park to giving away a gift in the lab, those performing a random act of kindness consistently underestimated how positive their recipients would feel, thinking their act was of less value than recipients perceived it to be.’
There are a number of writers who have studied and published on what has become known as ‘intentional kindness’ but none more so than the psychologist Dr Tara Cousineau who wrote ‘The Kindness Cure’. Cousineau has remarked that as humans we are ‘wired for compassion and kindness as Charles Darwin observed many years ago. He suggested that the instinct for compassion is more salient than that of physical strength and fitness.’
I think both she and Darwin are right – kindness and compassion are natural and normative, but she is also right in saying that kindness is not easy and that we have to create the conditions to enable it to flourish and thrive. That we have to be intentionally kind. Kindness is a deliberate not accidental act. It has to be intentional.
I like the concept of intentional kindness and indeed find it chimes with some contemporary psychologies and philosophies. Being intentional means that I have to make conscious and deliberate choices about life and relationships; it instils a degree of positivity and purpose and should force me to edit it out the unnecessary and the distracting. Being intentionally kind allows me to be more present in the moment and its energy should give me more purpose to achieve what is meaningful and important.
In my desire to ‘carpe diem’, to make the most of every day and moment in the light of the sadness of a sudden death, I am today aware that being actively and deliberately, intentionally kind should be my priority. It will not be easy, and I will fail and falter but I suspect it will bring more benefit than loss.
Social care is a discipline and calling which enables the practitioner of the arts of compassion to continually, professionally, and consciously be intentionally kind. Kindness not born out of sympathy or pity, but rather rooted in the appreciation of the dignity and uniqueness of individual humanity; kindness through tough times and hard behaviours, kindness that bridges hurt and sorrow, that shows the best of our being human.
The poet Wes Fessler put it brilliantly:
To Lift Each Other
Is it possible to build a dream by tearing others down?
Is there any way to fly if we refuse to leave the ground?
Not a gain was ever made while shoving someone else aside.
In the course of stopping others, our momentum is denied.
When we find the good in others, praising them for who they are,
we build speed for one another. We’re both able to go far.
It is possible to reach our dreams together if we try.
We must learn to lift each other if we ever hope to fly.