Word of Advice: Let’s Try Being Kind to Each Other!

Writer, performer and comedian Bernadette Russell.  Photograph by Gerald Kydd.

Photograph of Bernadette Russell by Gerald Kydd

Comedian, writer, performer and kindness crusader BERNADETTE RUSSELL is devoted to spreading happiness.  She recently wrote an activity book for kids based on ideas of kindness called Do Nice, Be Kind, Spread Happy.  This book resonates with Daytrippers ethos of spreading happiness to disabled and terminally-ill children.  Brook from The Daytrippers Team found out about the book while browsing Waterstones and immediately got in touch with Russell to see if she might contribute to We Are Daytrippers.  Guess what?  She said yes (yahoo!) and made us very happy because we think of her as a true expert in how to be a most excellent person.

Here is Bernadette Russell’s word of advice:

The news is really depressing and horrible. Sometimes for ghoulish fun I string together all the headlines into one long sentence like this: “scientistwarnglobalwarmingresultsinkillerbeesandimmigrantsandbenefitscheatsstealingpensionsandcausingcancer. “

It’s unbearable sometimes, to face it all, and to be left wondering “What Can I do about all that?” and those stories, on a loop, delivered 24/7 with loads of splashy headlines full of terrifying exclamation marks and dramatic bold fonts, make us think how bad the world is, how awful we are, us human beings.

I like to remind myself, of course, there is loads of bad stuff in the world, but it is always outweighed by the good. Maybe you don’t believe me. Maybe you sigh and say something like, “that’s a nice thought, but she’s living in cloud cuckoo land” (I love this expression actually, I do wonder what it would look like, and if cuckoos rule it or not? Is it actually IN THE CLOUDS? That would be great. Unlikely, but great).

I actually live in Deptford, South East London, my formerly scruffy, recently gentrified little patch of home. It’s still pretty poor, although now you can buy a soya flat white and buy organic quinoa, plus there’s a picture of Jamie Oliver visiting Deptford, on one of those luxury flat hoardings, and I like him, so I don’t mind seeing him.

Bernadette Russell, the kindness crusader

Bernadette Russell, the kindness crusader. Photograph by Graeme Braidwood.

So, a while ago, August 18th 2011, post-riots and with a head spinning with images of buildings on fire and the bigoted foamy rantings of various people in the media, I paid for a boy’s stamp in the local post office. Since then, I have promised to be kind to a stranger every day for a year. I initially committed to a year, but the experience was so life changing that I kept it up, and you can read the whole story here should you wish www.366daysofkindness.com

Pretty much for the last three hundred years we have accepted as fact the belief of various respected and powerful thinkers (Sigmund Freud etc.) that humankind is innately selfish. Often when we hear stories about someone mugging some one else in the park, we also hear “oh, that’s human nature” as if this is the natural order of things and to be expected, suggesting perhaps that kindness is the unusual thing.

I’d like to suggest that it’s not. We’ve somehow been persuaded to believe that other people are bad, to be feared, avoided, be suspicious of. But I offer you this challenge: just notice tomorrow how often people are kind to you (opening doors, helping with a heavy case, saying thanks, smiling, letting you go first, all those every day courtesies that keep society functioning and ensure that we muddle along together). Ok, so once or twice during your day someone might be rude or grumpy but I bet that’s outweighed by the good things. Every day. You might get home and say: “this man swore at me to get out of the way of the bus” On a day filled with many many small acts of kindness we report on and remember the bad ones. I try to do the reverse. I try to remember all the good things that happened in the day. I try to be kind at every opportunity. I try to forgive people for their grumpiness or rudeness (I don’t have the slightest idea what sort of day/week/life they’ve had after all). The person who is rude to me may have just found out they didn’t get a job they were after. They might have had an argument with their mum. They might be worried about money. Or just stubbed their toe.

Doing this has made me happier and less fearful. I have got to know my neighbours. I’m no saint of course. Being kind every day, remembering the good things, and being forgiving are still a challenge now, even after all this time. Sometimes I am that grumpy person on the bus. But I forgive myself that too, and shrug it off. I try to also be kind to myself in this way.

Of course I am by no means the only person who thinks this: lots of people are thinking about kindness, empathy and happiness, and how we can evolve as a species. (That whole “eye for an eye” thing not having worked out so well for us). There are loads of organisations promoting kindness and happiness, promoting ideas of hope instead of fear, having faith in human beings. There are conversations happening globally in cafes and round kitchen tables, on Facebook and twitter about these ideas: that the relentless pursuit of money and power, the acquisition of possessions, the narrow view of success that these pursuits imposes upon us has not made the world a better place and has definitely not made us happier. That there is another way.

A while ago I was at the rally to save the NHS in Trafalgar, a subject close to my heart. To me the NHS embodies compassion, empathy and a collective optimism that must be defended. Billy Bragg came on stage to sing to us all as the sun went down. He spoke about “our enemy being cynicism” and he’s right. Don’ t be cynical, and you will already be helping to make the world better. If you have to moan then ask yourself what can I do to help? There may well be something. (not moaning is a start – I often tell myself this!)

Bernadette Russell and musician Billy Bragg

Bernadette Russell and musician Billy Bragg. Photograph by Sian Williams.

But above everything else: be kind. Kindness is the same as love. In the end it is all that matters. There’s a revolution coming. It’s all going to be alright.

Bernadette Russell

Twitter @betterussell

www.366daysofkindness.com

www.thewhiterabbit.org.uk

These are some of the organisations that have helped me:

Action For Happiness

Sunday Assembly

People United

The Daytrippers Team:  Thank you so much for your contribution Bernadette Russell.  x

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