As we wrap up the month of World Kindness in November, World Kindness USA Advisor Michael Lloyd-White says there persists a dominant, global narrative in the media which inspires many to follow and unwittingly perpetuate it; sadly it is not a campaign of kindness, but a campaign of fear and hatred. Nonetheless, Lloyd-White has a plan, and it begins with asking our ourselves, and demanding it of our leaders, to be the best we can be.
During the 2016 US Election, it was evident that the success of the Republication Party, as well as the backlash by Democrats, who took to the streets to protest the outcome, only served to feed an insatiable appetite for anger and further division. The then President elect, Donald Trump, was right when he said, “We must have a united people”, but united in what?
Our world continues to fight fire with fire choosing to discriminate and vilify anyone whom does not fit into a certain demographic, and will often find themselves in the crosshairs of those who choose to allow fear to dictate behaviours.
In November, World Kindness Day falls just after Armistice or Remembrance (AKA Veterans) Day and I am reminded by our best and bravest to stand up among an angry crowd and through the courage to be kind, to ask ourselves, “Is this the best we can be?”.
I am not daunted by what may be, but I am encouraged by the opportunities World Kindness Week brings to our mandate to create a kinder world, to reach those residing in government who are at a loss of what to do to mend the rift. On World Kindness Day 2015, France found the courage to meet a terror campaign in its capital city with humility, grace and dignity calling for peace and forgiveness rather than persecution. These are the kinds of examples we look to in times of hardship.
Our sense of belonging can be overpowering and see our good judgement in times like these give way to labelling as we seek safety within our own tribe. The irony is, we don’t need race, politics, gender or creed to define us as we even discriminate by zip codes. This is the frailty of the human condition and something we must learn to contend with.
Protests can further divide a nation, however I understand the reasons why people do. I’m more inclined to support a Call to Action to be the best we can be and embrace our commonalities. We need to find the courage to seek the “kinder option” because it is not our leaders who will save us; our salvation ultimately rests with everyone. Whether it is a new boss, teacher, school principal or a president, their influence rarely lasts a generation past their tenure. Policies and programs are often ignored or rescinded by their replacements seeking to place their own brand on the culture of the organisation, which is often rooted in a desire for legacy.
So how do we bring about cultural change to stand the test of time especially when the champions of a cause can get caught up in the rhetoric of a rally of anger?
Few, when asked, can sit without judgement in the face of despicable behaviours, however if we exclude the bully from the playground will the bully get better or worse? It falls on us to ensure the playground embodies an inclusive and respectful culture of kindness which must be embedded within our communities at all levels.
Unfortunately, I believe the Not for Profit sector struggles to deliver this. The NFP model is designed to fail because it is a model that competes with other NFPs for donations, government grants, staff, sponsorship, time with people of influence and even Facebook likes. Many are challenged with infighting and outsource their goodwill to marketing companies choosing the bottom-line and adopting a corporate culture.
It may be fair to argue that the public views NFPs as being a part of an industry, rather than a sector. Gifted income carries different expectations to money being exchanged for goods and services. NFPs’ corporatised fundraising model is flawed, not in execution, but in revenue procurement. Current revenue-raising practices means NFPs must compete with each other. This becomes a major hurdle to collaboration and there are alternatives.
To counter this, kindness can be the path of most resistance. I am confident kindness will prevail and inspire others to embrace and influence through their examples of kindness in action.
Political support and influencers i.e. peak bodies as ambassadors, all have a role to play in leading the change. A fine example of this is Australia’s Vice Regal Her Excellency Dame Marie Bashir Governor of NSW whom publicly supported and endorsed the World Kindness Movement (WKM). Dame Marie is someone all politicians revere without question. This paved the way for Mayors of local councils and then the Federal Minister of Education soon followed by State Premiers and Prime Ministers which then paved the way for State and Federal Ministers to show their support to WKM.
The gatekeepers of kindness are those whom rarely follow the flock. These are the people who need to be elevated, so their examples of the courage to be kind is recognised and amplified. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple question that invites a person to reflect on the moment they felt conflicted at bystander behaviour. This reminder may be simply in the form of remembering our opposition as not just another person, but that they are someone’s father, husband, partner, brother or son. Quite often those in local politics resonate this advice, and we are pleased to say that Australia had two deputy Mayors appointed to the World Kindness Australia board for the first three years of its inception.
I have been fortunate to receive support from our leaders spanning both sides of the political divide. Not everyone is a fan, however, and I have my critics. Some see me as threatening the preferred charity they champion if we gain too much attention or worse, what if we hold them to account after they just signed a Declaration of Support and adopted an unanimous resolution? Then of course some bureaucrats will see a kindness campaign as more work that may not make an impact. However, we do have pleasant surprises, when some government official embraces it because they get it. These moments are rewards for patience and sometimes, it just comes down to being able to communicate and remove the Myths of Kindness.
These myths are predicated on the notion that kindness is synonymous with weakness. It simply couldn’t be further from the truth. We tend to wrap unkind actions in conventional adages, such as:
“If you have nothing nice to say then don’t say anything”
“You have to be Cruel to be Kind”
“Good Guys finish Last”
“Choose the Lesser of two evils”
“A man has to make the hard decisions”; and
“Treat them mean to keep them keen”.
These cultural norms are not truths. It is a practise passed from generation to generation and it can be unlearned if we choose to unlearn it.
The irony today is that it seems “the hard decisions” we need to make is based on choosing a kinder option.
We witness this wherever there is an organised gathering with a hierarchical structure, whether it be in a local sports club, an association, a peak body comprised of volunteers or even a parent body at a local school where often a small clique has control on the bulk if the decision making, even though the constitution is designed that the executive must “serve the members” rather than be self-serving or pushing the agenda of the Alphas. Circles within circles receive “the benefit of belonging”; the closer one is to the seat of power, the greater the personal benefits. After all, career progression sometimes comes down to “backing the right horse”, right?
Alpha male behaviours, such as “locker room banter” is excused for male bonding not realising this conduct increases the divide between gender, which aids unconscious bias. Our overwhelming sense of belonging and fear of exclusion sees many of us seek the safety of silence. When one tries to address this, it is often countered by the guardians of the status quo, as political correctness being out of control.
These guardians, who are often inheritors of privileged status, need to be gently influenced to question and speak up. Those who try to call this behaviour to account often do not belong to the same tribe which may explain the bleeding knuckles from knocking on the unopened and unanswered doors of the gatekeepers ever vigilant of and resistant to the threat of change.
Why Kindness Matters
It is easy to envisage a kinder world, however have we ever stopped to consider a world without kindness? What would it look like? Would you find Kindness on a word search and how long would a world with zero kindness last? Is this where we are headed? Despite being the path of most resistance, kindness is making a comeback, we just need to embrace its origins to clear up the messaging and we will begin to see the power of subtle influence correct itself as humanity finds its way to get back on track to address the real culprit, which is and has always been, fear.
Leading with Kindness
One struggles to identify a living inspirational leader especially with the 24/7 media cycle and sceptics will tell you the bar has been lowered because our expectations for honesty and courage for our leaders to walk the talk are just too difficult to live up to.
The preamble I wrote in 2012 for the Declaration of Support for a kinder world, calls our nations’ leaders to take the mantle to model kindness as their default position. Our aim is for this to be presented one day, to the United Nations –
Nelson Mandela held the unshakable belief that South Africa would see an end to Apartheid despite being imprisoned for 27 years. Abraham Lincoln held the unshakable belief that “All men are created equal”, despite the threat of civil war and dissension from within his own party. The Rev Martin Luther King had a dream, a dream to which he gave his life to. Ghandi believed that peaceful protest would overcome brutal injustice. They all had one thing in common, they held lofty aspirations for positive change during a time of civil conflict fuelled with fear and where kindness rarely appeared on an agenda.
These ideas of ambitious positive change were initially seen by many as just lofty aspirations, something to talk about in trusted circles but rarely in public. Despite persecution, threats to life and liberty to any who lobbied for change, the realisation of these aspirations eventually came to be and passed into the laws of the land. Who were these audacious individuals who challenged the status quo before they graced the pages of history? Who was Martin Luther King before he became Martin Luther King and indeed who was Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln and Ghandi before their names echoed in the great corridors of our governments? They were just men with an unshakeable belief that being a bystander could never be an option when witnessing social injustice.
They chose to relinquish the safety of silence in the face of great adversity and against the advice of family, friends and colleagues. They did this knowing full well they placed more than their popularity at risk, sadly, often resulting with dire consequences. They were good men who simply chose to do something rather than nothing. Their kindness could never be mistaken for weakness for it was tempered with the courage to be kind. Today I ask the good men and women of all nations to also do something but without having to place anything at risk other than the danger we might succeed.
Take a leaf from their book and embrace a lofty aspiration that a kinder world can be realised in our lifetime. A world that sees an end to children committing suicide, a world where the excluded will be invited in with a warm smile hello rather than passing them by or a world where saying something nice is easier than saying nothing at all. A world where there is always the offer of a helping hand when your hands are full, or a voice amid an angry crowd that asks, “Is this the best we can be?”
It is through these simple aspirations that I have embraced my unshakable belief that we will see a day where our world leaders and nations’ parliaments will lead the way and once again be revered and trusted by its citizens. It will no longer be a place where member’s preferred choice to win an argument is to target the opponent’s character, or rise to the top by putting others down, or preferring to do what is popular rather than what is just and right.
One day, I believe there will be a leader who will choose to play the ball rather than the person.
When this day comes, the actions and behaviour of our elected members of parliament will be honourable by deed and not just in name only. In so doing, they will influence our boardrooms, our staffrooms but most importantly they will influence the children in our classrooms who will instinctively seek the kinder option on the playground or on the sports field. These leaders will be known as Ambassadors of Goodwill. So today I ask us to take the first step of many and declare support for the global campaign for a kinder world. Ask your local council and members of state and federal parliament to ensure when provided the opportunity, they seize it and sign a “Declaration of Support” for the noble endeavours of The World Kindness Movement.
These Declarations from our nation’s leaders may see us aspire to reach the lofty ideals of a kinder world however, in so doing, may inspire a young man or women to become an agent for positive change and it may be their names such as a schoolgirl, Malala Yousafza, we will be entering into the pages of history to inspire others from our classrooms, to our staffrooms and from our boardrooms to those residing in our corridors of government, that a kinder world can be realised in our lifetime.