Wellbeing Matters: In the footsteps of others

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In our weekly Wellbeing Matters column, a few thoughts about a bit of kindness.

There’s a lot to be said for the current call for kindness. To be the person who holds up others, give a kind word on a grey day. To smile, when someone is looking lost and ask if you can help. And step back from initial impressions, consider actual fact.

When someone loses control of their own narrative, the consequences can be catastrophic. When a person is in the public eye, it can step beyond that into witch hunt territory. When a story, their narrative, is relayed in a few salient facts, it’s easy to see that person as being as one dimensional as the paper that cheap news is printed on.

When you think of Caroline Flack’s plea for kindness, following the harrowing circumstances leading to her death, consider her as a whole person, with her talent, her warmth and vulnerabilities. Consider everyone that way, regardless of their job, their circumstances, their upbringing. Try walking in their footsteps. Make it more than just a hashtag in the moment.

Couple kindness with empathy. You may think you have nothing in common with your neighbour, your work colleagues – but you will be surprised by what you may find. Under the skin, we are all human; bundles of contradictions, of fears. Of loneliness and distrust, stoked and fired by what we see and hear all around us.

Do have some caution when opening yourself up to listening to the individuals who touch your life. Perhaps filter out the harsh voices that we know are doing us harm. The ones who breed bile and spite, bully and castigate. Not all of these come from ivory media towers. Many come from a lonely place, a place of resentment. Of fear. It’s worth understanding that, even while switching such words to mute (or hitting the report button, where appropriate).

Bullying and abuse goes way beyond the skin deep. You can walk away from that life, leave it behind you, and yet find yourself many years later recast in the victim role, through careless words thrown your way. It’s easy to hit the keyboard in haste, respond in a similar manner. It’s harder to step back, think ‘ok’, then challenge in a measured and calm way, with a view to understanding where someone is coming from.

This scenario is illustrated beautifully in the 2016 film Sing Street. Protagonist Conor is badly bullied by school bad boy Barry. It’s easy to double down on Barry as your archetypal skin head bad guy. It’s not quite as simple as that. Conor steps into Barry’s shoes, almost by accident, witnesses him suffering bullying at the hands of his drug addicted father. Instead of walking away, Conor reaches out. And gives Barry what is probably his first opportunity in life to shine.

One act of kindness can change a life. A moment to consider the other person – no matter how badly they’ve behaved – can avert a chain of events that devastates individuals, and their wider network of friends and family. As Neil Gaiman says, “There are so many fragile things, after all. People break so easily, and so do dreams and hearts.”

Be the one who offers a kind hand, a spot of gentleness in an often fractious world. Dial down the dissenting voices in your own personal timeline. Have that empathy to walk in the footsteps of others. Have the strength to walk away when you know you are being goaded for kicks. Retaliation is some peoples’ nectar. Deprive them their sweet spot.

Remember to be kind to yourself, as well. And thanks so much for reading.

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