The dictionary definition of kindness is: ‘The quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.’ The dictionary definition of stupidity is: ‘Behaviour that shows a lack of good sense or judgement.’
The thing is, it can often feel like the two get muddled up. Yes they can get muddled up, there have certainly been times when my lack of good judgement has caused me to be generous where it was misplaced but that has often been after several pints and the less said about those days, the better… There does, though, seem to be a general narrative going around that confuses kindness with stupidity or weakness. Last week I was talking on the radio about refugee issues and someone phoned in and said that ‘bleeding heart’ people were causing all the problems in the world (or something like that). Not bombs, not traffickers, not war loving dudes but ‘bleeding hearts.’ I presume that by bleeding hearts he meant someone who goes and helps other people, especially refugees. He then went on to say that he was funding my lifestyle which is a whole other discussion and I had no idea what he was talking about to be honest and he was tipping into the definition of stupidity by then anyway. It seems to be a new sport to have a pop at anyone helping refugees in particular which really doesn’t make any sense.
Then the other day someone said to me (and I quote) – ‘Have you ever met anyone who you didn’t think was worth saving?’ 1/ I am not, and have never, saved anyone. That seems to stick me in some sort of saviour category which, I can assure, I am a million miles from. 2/ I don’t even know where to start with number 2… It has so many layers of wrong that it is the mille-feuille of wrong. I sat gaping with the amount of wrong involved and this is someone who I love dearly.
Say you spot a car accident and someone is hurt and in obvious need of help. The first reaction of most people would be to stop and help and call professional help if it seems to be needed. Most people would not stop and wonder whether the person was worth helping or not. I may be wrong. Then, say the ambulance arrives. The ambulance people will then set about doing whatever they can for that person. They don’t ask them whether they have been drinking or whether they were driving dangerously, they just help them. There is a whole other system in place to then work out whether that person was drinking, was driving dangerously or a whole other list of things and whether they have to face the consequences of that. Stupidity is getting in a car and driving after you have had ten pints. Kindness is helping someone who is wrapped round a lamp post as a consequence of their actions. It is not our place to judge at a time when someone is clearly in need of help.
It’s the same with refugees. It is not my job to judge why someone has found themselves in a position of needing help. It is my job, it is a duty as a fellow human being, to do what I can to help if I am in the fortunate position of being able to do so. A couple of weeks ago I was in the camp in Calais and a refugee dashed past and thrust a book in my hand. It was a pretty book and he was laughing when he gave it to me. When I started to read it I saw that it was a mini bible. That’s a bit weird I thought and then I was left with the logistics with what to do with it. Purely on a practical level, I didn’t have any pockets and I was carrying other stuff and I didn’t want more things to carry. I then came across a group of people who were handing out bibles. Here is a classic case of kindness overlapping with stupidity. I’m sure (I think) that their intentions were well meant but why on earth would you go to a place which is full of predominately muslim people and hand out bibles?! Why not hand out strawberries or socks or water or packs of cards or something useful? Absolutely mind boggling. I tried to give the book back and a lady insisted I keep it, I said ‘thank you very much but I don’t want it and I don’t want to throw it away either.’ ‘Give it to someone else,’ she said. ‘I am, I’m trying to give it to you.’ They were not met with animosity by anyone so I can only assume that people understood that they were trying to be kind but that the kindness was extraordinarily misplaced.
Generally, though, there seems to be an increasing feeling of kindness being linked to weakness and stupidity. Has it always been like this and I am only just becoming aware of it? I had always been led to believe that kindness was a good thing and that it was my job to help out if I can. Is it a new thing? Can I blame it on Anne Robinson? I like to blame lots of things on her. She seemed to be one of the first people on television who pitted people against one another ‘You are the weakest link’ and all that. Up until then we had been innocently trying to recall cuddly toys and tea sets on a conveyor belt but she tipped game shows into a whole new dog eat dog category. There followed Big Brother, a programme where the general public was drawn in to watch and judge people on their level of worthiness to stay in the big brother house or not. People stayed tuned for hours on end watching the goldfish bowl of contestants desperate to win the public’s approval. Was this when kindness became unfashionable?
Of course there are people that may take ‘advantage’ of acts of kindness. That, too, is human nature but, on the whole, people do not do that. Being kind, performing acts of kindness, is the right thing to do. It is not weak. In fact, I have met some of the most courageous people I have ever met in my life performing acts of kindness without expecting anything in return. Luckily, human nature is incredibly well designed as it gifts a feeling of well being after having done something kind. I’m not sure that there is any such thing as a purely selfless act as the ‘feel good’ factor is enough of an incentive to carry on doing kind things. And if you don’t get that feeling but, instead, an icky ‘I’ve been had’ feeling then just stop.
There are probably refugees who are honing in on kind looking people in the hope of being helped. I would do the same in their position. I have done the same in the past, not as a refugee but when I’ve found myself up the proverbial swanee without a paddle. That does not mean that I thought that the person helping was stupid, it just meant that I was desperate. I find it soul destroying having to justify my actions when I am doing what I think is the right thing to be doing.I like to think of myself as kind. I like to hope that I am not stupid. Instead of judging people on their actions, it would be great if more people could join the ranks of the ‘give a shits’ These are extraordinary times and people need help. At the toss of a coin, we could find ourselves in need of the very same help. Please do not confuse kindness with stupidity, they are two very different things.