In the run-up to World Kindness Day (13th November), I fell to wondering exactly what the word “kindness” means – not in behavioural terms, but regarding its etymology.
The dictionary reveals that the noun “kindness” is related to kin, as in family (kith and kin) or race (mankind). As an adjective, it originally meant “with the feeling of relatives for each other” – all very well provided your family members had a high regard for each other. Not until the fourteenth century did “kindness” begin to be used more in the modern sense: “courtesy or noble deeds”, with “noble” indicating selflessness rather than a posh pedigree.
Fast forward to the twenty-first century, and scientists can prove that when we are kind to others, our brains release feel-good hormones such as dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin, bringing us physical and mental health benefits.
My grandma used to tell me “Virtue is its own reward”, but so, it seems, is kindness. Thus being kind to others is also an act of self-care – and a great way to make yourself feel better that is entirely free of calories and alcohol units.
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, created in 1995, promotes the idea of spontaneous generous gestures to strangers, such as leaving money behind the till of a coffee shop for the next homeless customer or letting someone go in front of you in a supermarket queue. Many such acts are done anonymously.
The phrase “anonymous benefactor” always makes me think of Magwitch in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, although most nameless donors will have only anonymity in common with Pip’s ex-convict associate.
When making online donations I always hesitate before clicking the “show my name on the website” box in case it looks like virtue-signalling. I also wonder whether offering this option is just smart psychology on the part of fundraising sites. Do donors who make their name visible feel obliged to give more money than those who hide their identity? I’d love to know.
Now here’s an easy way to commit an act of kindness that will not only lift your spirits but include a reward in, er, kind: order a copy of Everyday Kindness, a new anthology of 55 short stories on the theme of kindness, each by a different author, one of whom is me. The anthology, launched on World Kindness Day, is the brainchild of its editor, bestselling novelist and philanthropist L J Ross. All the authors have donated their stories for free, and all profits will go to Shelter, the charity for the homeless and those in poor housing. The hardback and ebook may be ordered online via this link: linktr.ee/EverydayKindness, or you can order your copy from your favourite bookshop.
There, I feel better for that!
This post was originally published in the November issue of the Tetbury Advertiser