Sarah Cresswell is looking back on the small acts of kindness when she tells me about the box of sweet-smelling disinfectant left on her doorstep by a friend. Sarah, a Director at Mondrem Wayfinder CIC, has found kindness in different places over the last few weeks.
“The people that I do a bit of shopping for, one of the items that this lady asked me to buy her was a particularly nice-smelling disinfectant. But I didn’t know what it was, and I couldn’t find it anywhere.”
Sarah tells me via video call that she sent the lady an apology before dropping off the rest of the shopping at her house.
“The next day I got a WhatsApp message from her and it said, ‘There’s something on your doorstep.’ So, I went and opened the door and there was a little box of this disinfectant. She must have sent somebody else out to get one for her and she got one for me too.”
It’s a heart-warming story of reciprocity and Sarah chimes happily as she recalls a small, but meaningful gesture.
I ask Sarah how she has been kind to others and what she tells me resonates with particular clarity.
“Share with people the fact that even if they’re feeling really down, it’s okay to feel like that and they’re not on their own.”
Sarah speaks with a realness in her voice. Rather than empty soundbites, she tells me stories of personal connection to her belief in kindness.
“It’s really easy to be judgemental. We’re all quite judgemental. But the truth of it is, none of us know what each other are going through individually. So, we should just be kind.”
Kindness becomes a hollow topic of conversation if we don’t confront our imperfections. In conceding our tendency to make baseless assumptions, we open ourselves up to change.
When we are faced with the aggressive driver or the grumpy shop assistant, it’s easy to cast them a disparaging look – What the hell were they playing at?!
The harder thing to do is to be kind and to consider the unknown circumstances – What could this person be going through?
Covid-19 has placed an extra heavy blanket on top of everyone. But its weight is not evenly distributed. The family of four living in a high-rise apartment will feel the weight of the blanket more than the wealthy couple living in the Cotswolds. Despite this disparity the global pandemic has forged an unlikely marriage of understanding between different people.
It has given kindness a newfound importance.
“I’ve been reaching out to people. I’ve made a point of checking in with family and neighbours.” Technology has simplified the ability to stay connected, but not all communicative technology is easily accessible. We share a laugh as Sarah tells me that she taught her Dad to use FaceTime. I respond by revealing my lack of success when it came to teaching my Grandma how to text.
“I try and be really, really generous with space.” Notions of personal space have always been valued. We feel uncomfortable when someone encroaches into that space. Covid-19 has magnified the meaning of personal space and it’s important that we constantly check our distance – “It’s a case of respecting that some people are going to be more nervous than others.”
But there’s humour in most situations. Sarah told me about the oblivious man in her local supermarket. “I stood for a few seconds, but he was in a world of his own. He was completely unaware that he had blocked the whole aisle. So, I just walked all the way round. I found it quite funny.”
Spending more time at home has encouraged Sarah to challenge herself.
“I spend one day taking some photos in the garden of things that I don’t pay attention to. I set myself the challenge of going round the garden, taking photographs of stuff and really paying attention, bending down and getting amongst the plants. And not staging anything; just taking photos of things as they are.”
Professionally, Sarah discussed the warm feeling she felt when she answered, “yes we are” to a mental health trust who asked the question, “are you really giving us this for free?” A buoyancy crept into her voice as she talked about giving something away that will help prevent isolation and improve the mental resilience of patients and carers during and after covid-19.
Whether there is an agenda or not, the Mondrem team have a weekly virtual meeting.
“I think the thing we do weekly is a lovely thing. We all spend time to get together and I think it’s really lovely how we can all be kind to each other but also have a laugh at each other’s expense. Cheesegate will go down in history – we all had something to say about cheese.
“We are all in this together, but not together. We all take that time to talk to each other and listen to each other.
“And it doesn’t have to be about work. You don’t have to be on guard and worry about what you say.” The legacy of the agendaless meeting is something we will be looking to maintain at Mondrem. Time has become an abstract concept but having regularity has helped mark time and create structure.
As our conversation draws to its natural close, I throw an unintentional curveball at Sarah. It’s a question that stops us both in our tracks – ‘How are you kind to yourself?’
After a moment of pause, Sarah begins by saying, “I think we’re all not as kind to ourselves as we are to other people.
“I’m kind to myself by giving myself permission to be a bit niggly. Accepting myself including all of my imperfections. I know I can be a bit niggly but that’s okay. I try to stop telling myself I’m crap.”
The side of our mind that tells us we are crap can be destructive, but rather than trying to eliminate that voice, Sarah manages it. She lets is speak but doesn’t let it dictate her life.
It’s a thought-provoking place to finish our chat and it’s something we can both work on. The global pandemic has produced a new catchphrase: new normal. And kindness needs to be at the fore of the new normal.