The Importance of Kindness in a Crisis

sign reading kindness with rainbow to illustrate blog on the importance of kindnessI want to talk about the importance of kindness, that quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

Psychological research has shown that empathy and altruism are innate (Warnecken & Tomasello, 2009), and emerge spontaneously in early childhood.  And yet, somehow, some of us unlearn that behaviour.  Kindness is sometimes seen as softness or weakness.  Empathy may be set aside in a target driven, fear fuelled world.

However, in the current covid-19 situation, it is evident that real acts of kindness often take courage and strength.  Just think about all the key-workers putting their own health at risk in order to provide care, education, goods and services for the rest of us.  This example alone shows us the importance of kindness in a crisis.  But we aren’t all key workers and, although staying at home is the very kindest thing we can do for ourselves and other people, in-action doesn’t always feel as good as action.

However, there are many ways to demonstrate kindness whilst maintaining a safe physical distance.

Be kind to yourself

Everything you do begins with you.  Being kind to yourself will enable you to have the inner resources you need to be kind to others.  If you have ever flown on a plane you will know that, in an emergency, you must put on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else to put on theirs.

Being kind to yourself will vary massively from person to person but should always be positive in intent (rather than the more negatively connoted selfishness).  Your actions should not cause unnecessary upset to anyone else.  Taking a long bath and enjoying some peace and quiet is being kind to yourself.  Using all the hot water and preventing the rest of your family from using the only toilet might be construed as selfishness.  It helps to evaluate behaviour in terms of context and ecology.

Be kind to the rest of your household

If you live with other people think about the ways in which you can be kinder to them.

The first thing that you can do is to focus on an absence of unkindness.  Being inside with your family all day everyday can be challenging and can magnify stress and fear.  Watching videos of other families singing songs from musicals or running a perfect home-schooling schedule, whilst entertaining, can lead to a sense of inadequacy too.  If all you are managing is binge watch box sets that’s fine, just try to do that with kindness and love.  Maintain boundaries but reduce the grumpiness.

Next you can add in positive acts of kindness.  Small things; a timely hug, a cup of tea, sharing IT equipment and skills, being fair about time-out can all make a huge difference to this strange and unusual experience.  Empathy matters.  Take the time to notice when someone else in your household needs something.

The benefits of such small acts of kindness extend beyond the immediate.   Ty Tashiro points out in his book The Science of Happily Ever After, that kindness is the single greatest predictor of stable and happy marriages.  Studies have also shown that kindness reduces anxiety and being kind sets up a chain reaction of kindness so being kind to others is also an indirect way of being kind to yourself.

Be kind to the wider world.

Being kind to the wider world might seem like too much to ask when you are struggling to get through each day.  Maybe you are already balancing the need to work from home, loss of income, child care, school work and sourcing essential supplies whilst maintaining a safe physical distance from others.  Maybe you are alone and lonely and wondering how to get help yourself.  Life itself can seem exhausting even without the fear of illness.

Kindness still matters.

As in the section above you can start with an absence of unkindness.

For many people, contact with the world outside is happening via social media.  Be mindful of what you post.  Ask yourself is it true?  Is it kind?  Check your sources.  Fear is as contagious as Covid-19, try not to spread fear with unsubstantiated information and speculation.  If you don’t know for sure, don’t comment or share.  Don’t feed the fear.

Having eliminated unkindness, think about what you can do to make someone else’s life better.    Focussing on someone other than yourself has been shown to increase hope, positivity and personal well-being.  Your actions can be as simple as picking up litter on your daily walk or as complex as setting up an on-line forum to co-ordinate help in your community.  For most people it will be somewhere in the middle.  Just do what works for you.  It has been found that happy people become happier through kindness.

Throughout this crisis I have seen many of the negative aspects of fear.  But I have also seen the importance of kindness revealed in community, support and hope.

When this is all over, and life returns to some semblance of normality, it will be good to know that you were part of the solution and that all you passed on was a little kindness.

Respect Yourself

Artists dummy sitting, back to camera, looking out to horizon at dusk. Dummy is wrapped in fairy lights. Used to illustrate Respect YourselfWhen you first read the words “Respect Yourself” in the title of this blog, it may well have triggered an internal rendition of the Staple Singers song in your head (if you are very unlucky it might have been the Bruce Willis cover version!)

I am glad the song is there – keep singing it as an all-day reminder to respect yourself.

According to the OED respect is “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.”  It means having “due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.” But it’s not just “others”, you should respect yourself too.

Women, particularly, are much ruder to themselves than they are to other people.  I grew up hearing my mother mutter “stupid woman” to herself whenever she made a mistake.  I regularly challenge clients over the awful language they use to and about themselves (“I’m such a tw*t”, “why do I always have to f**k things up?” etc.) language they would never use about other people.  And yes, I am guilty of negative internal dialogue myself at times.

I have friends who regularly say yes when they want to say no because they have more regard for other people’s wishes than they do for their own.  They cancel their own plans to babysit grandchildren, they miss out on family time to work unpaid over-time and they relinquish their rights and needs in a hundred tiny acts each day (who has the remote control in your house?)

I am not suggesting that you stop being kind to others, nor am I suggesting that you start ignoring their needs.  I am just asking you to respect yourself a little bit more to balance things up.

Make a list of your own abilities, qualities and achievements and remind yourself how wonderful you really are.  Take some time to think about what you really want or need and ask for it (or just get it yourself).  Say no occasionally – it will remind people that you are an autonomous human being and make them more appreciative when you do say yes.

These days, when I hear myself say negative things I try to challenge myself and re-frame the situation.  Last time I heard my mum call herself a “stupid woman” I responded by saying “please don’t speak to my mother like that”, she laughed but took the point.

This week I challenge you all to respect yourself.  Notice how you talk to yourself and be kinder in your internal dialogue.  Challenge your friends and family to respect themselves too.

Now, how does that song go again..?

Why Women?

Why Women
Katherine Hanlon courtesy of Unsplash

Last week I wrote a blog entitled “Why Yellow Dot?” explaining the meaning behind the name.  But the business is called Yellow Dot Women, so, in the interests of completeness, I thought I would try to explain why the focus is on Women.

Well, first of all, it is worth pointing out the obvious – I am a woman.  I have, therefore, experienced many of the joys and disappointments that being a woman can bring, I have achieved many of my life goals and encountered multiple obstacles along the way – some of those opportunities/obstacles existed purely because I am a women.

I believe I have something meaningful to say on the subject.

I have also spent over twenty years working in training and development with men and women.  Over that time I have noticed some common themes.  When men focus on their development needs (and I am generalising) they tend to want to acquire new skills in order to “do” something, whereas women are more likely to focus on development that allows them to “be” a certain way.

Women tend to want to “be” more confident, more assertive or more resilient.  We are drawn to learning which we can assimilate at an intellectual, emotional and psychological level.  We want to become more X and less Y.

This does not mean that women are less confident, assertive or resilient than men, simply that we are more likely to focus on those areas as a development need.

I find this entirely unsurprising.  Women face a barrage of conflicting, standard raising, media images and headlines every day telling us that we need to be “more X” or “less Y”.  Be slimmer, more beautiful, better dressed, less whiny, a better lover/mother/partner/boss/employee.  We are told to “eat clean” but that comfort comes in the shape of a cake or a glass of wine.  It is not possible to be all the things we are told we ought to be.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of women I have met who believe themselves to be enough.  Those that I have met are not young women.

It takes time to grow into ourselves, to accept ourselves, to become more (if never quite completely) immune to the pressure to be perfect.

Meanwhile, women are trying to learn and grow against a backdrop of increasing everyday misogyny.  Until recently I thought that we were on a slow but steady journey towards genuine equality but now I believe that journey has been de-railed and delays can be expected.  The #metoo campaign, the gender pay gap, the prevalence of upskirting, #ToxicTwitter, mansplaining and the increase in the term feminazi all point to the fact that this is an uncomfortable time to be a woman trying to find her way in the world.

Yellow Dot Women aims to

  • Provide thoughtful commentary and blogs on the issues facing women today.
  • To offer one to one coaching to help women to develop and assimilate the skills they need navigate their daily lives and
  • To deliver workshops where women can work together to develop new skills and networks in a supportive environment.

Please understand that Yellow Dot Women is not in any way anti-men and I understand that men also face unique and difficult challenges in these changing times.  I also understand that many men are as horrified by misogyny as women are.

Men are welcome in the Yellow Dot community and I value any comments that support personal growth and the development of strong self-esteem.

Let’s Talk About Mondays

Image by David Mao courtesy of Unsplash

Ok, let’s talk about Mondays.

This is the first Monday of my new Yellow Dot adventure and I am feeling annoyingly optimistic and positive about it. But it got me wondering about the weird social discourse we have about Mondays, we are told repeatedly (in the media, by colleagues, in film & music etc.) that Mondays are miserable, a day to be dreaded.

The start of a new year is a time of unbridled optimism whilst the start of a new week is just a return to misery. But why?

Ask yourself are you really miserable because it’s Monday or do you just think you should be?

If you are feeling pretty good, go for it, hit your week head on and have a productive day. I wish you well.

If you are genuinely feeling miserable then I wish you better.

I am going to guess at some of the reasons for regular Monday misery:

1. Maybe you enjoyed the weekend a little too much and you are feeling jaded (OK hungover and sleep deprived). That’s ok, your Monday will kick in around lunchtime, in the meantime be kind to yourself, have some coffee and do a little bit of quiet planning then got on it when you feel more human. If this happens every Monday you might want to have a word with yourself…

2. You hate your job. That’s not ok. Life is too short to be miserable every day – do something about it. If you don’t know what to do seek some help – helplessness is a habit.

3. You love your job but dislike your colleagues (or one colleague in particular). That’s not ok either. Basically you have three choices and being miserable isn’t one of them; rise above it – refuse to let him/her affect your mood or challenge the behaviour you dislike – do this calmly and assertively with the aim of making things better or move on, find a new job. Again, if you don’t know how to do this, seek help.

4. Weekends are just so wonderful you want them to last forever. Lucky you! It sounds like your life is going well – why save it all for the weekend? Find ways to bring some of that weekend magic into your week.

This is your life and you are in control – maybe Monday is a good day to remind

yourself of that.

So, what wonderful things are happening at the start of your week?