This festive season the gift of kindness will be more important than ever. Millions of people are at risk of being left behind as the world attempts to live with Covid and tries to move on.
The current news agenda makes grim reading, and at times the scale of the unfolding tragedy feels overwhelming. So, what do we do? Hide behind our everyday lives, or find a practical and tangible way of changing the world around us? The former is a road to pain and suffering, but the latter is something in which we all can and should participate.
Monumental changes often come from a series of small, almost inconsequential acts; a single voice rarely leads to change, but the accumulated voices of thousands can be a persuasive argument. In 1972, mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz leaned on the theory of ‘chaos’ to publish his paper on the ‘butterfly effect’, entitled: “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?”
Lorenz’s paper theorised that a single random act may lead to much wider, unpredictable outcomes. Lorenz’s research centred around weather systems, however replacing meteorology for an act of kindness in his theory demonstrates just how profound the effect can be.
An example to which any SVP member can relate, is visiting someone who is lonely. This simple act of kindness is at the core of the SVP mission and is often the starting point of a journey, and rarely an end. A simple ‘hello’ means someone is thinking about them. It means they are no longer alone. It means they are in a community of people who care. It might lead to that person saying ‘hello’ to another member of the community, to volunteer at their local SVP shop or community project where they will influence the lives of hundreds of other people. Perhaps one of those people might feel so strongly about the message of hope they received that they raise funds for an SVP project to help others who have fallen on hard times, who are then empowered to raise their voices to highlight their situation to policy makers, who can affect real change. It really is possible to go from a simple ‘hello’ to policy change. Listening to SVP members will reveal that strange quirks of fate not only exist but seem drawn to members’ efforts to make a difference in their communities.
It’s easy to think that a gesture of kindness makes no difference, but that’s wrong. Even the smallest act of kindness makes a huge difference. Just an encouraging word or a warm smile can make the world of difference to someone having a bad day, week, month or year. It’s a connection, a basic, brief sharing of experience which demonstrates humanity in its purest form – giving without expectation of reward, however there is a recompense and it’s often a feeling of positivity, contentment and well-being for both parties.
Kindness is also transmissible and spreads with very little effort; an apt case in point is the increase in volunteering witnessed during the pandemic which revealed a desire to contribute to communities. It’s also like a boomerang and returns when you least expect it. It’s joyous to give and receive, and it makes you smile, which is an extremely undervalued commodity in these times of doom and gloom. It’s a powerful gesture which becomes a movement with real momentum as more acts of kindness are shown.
A random and spontaneous act of kindness is essentially a thing of pure beauty, which can provoke laughter, gratitude and even tears of joy. There is very little in life which can do that, but you have to be open to it, and be willing to take the opportunity to show kindness when it presents itself.
That brings us back to where we started 695 words ago – being willing to do something practical to change the world around us. That doesn’t have to be a grand gesture and none of us needs to wear our underwear outside our clothes. No, we don’t have to be Superman, Wonder Woman or even Bill Gates and his billions, we just need to show a little kindness, particularly at Christmas when plenty is on the agenda but for many nothing is on the table.
Christmas should be a time of joy, especially for children and young people, so it’s all the more heart-breaking when those who have so little are faced with images of so much. This year, the SVP is launching the Christmas Kindness Appeal which urges anyone who can to ‘give the gift of kindness’ to fund life-changing work at grassroots levels in communities right across England and Wales.
Giving the gift of kindness is the embodiment of the ‘butterfly effect’; a gesture of kindness doesn’t just change one life, it changes at least two – the giver and the recipient. That gift will also keep on giving, spreading from person to person, heart to heart, driven by a desire to change things for the better. That boomerang effect will also come into play because giving to the Christmas Kindness Appeal is about funding support at a community level, changing the world from the ground up.
A world without kindness is a hollow void without hope. A world filled with kindness is a living, breathing place filled with love, respect and dignity. Now, do you still want to buy those novelty socks for Uncle Charlie…?