“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” — Bishop Desmond Tutu, theologian, human rights activist, 1931–2021
It could be a random act, such as buying a stranger a coffee or sending a box of cakes to the nurses at your local hospital. It could be the political acts of nonviolence in the fight for equality of great humanitarians such as Bishop Tutu. Or maybe it’s just a smile at a stranger, letting the next car go in front of you despite the never-ending traffic jam making you late for work. Whatever the size of the act, we can see kindness permeate throughout the world if we look hard enough.
Kindness brings happiness to other people, of course, and to ourselves. However, kindness can also bring change. It can change the mood of a moment or the course of a life.
In fact, even being around kindness can make your life better — and this isn’t just some new age idea — it’s scientific fact. Studies at the University of British Columbia have shown that performing regular acts of kindness can decrease anxiety and increase positive feelings. Even simply witnessing a kind act can increase levels of oxytocin, one of the hormones connected to love and happiness. Kindness has been linked to decreases in pain and depression, an increased feeling of overall health, and even longer lifespans.
The kindness of strangers
Kindness is paramount in recovery. In the early days of sobriety, many addicts face shame, guilt, and anger. Low self-esteem is a common experience for people abusing drugs and alcohol, and many people in the grips of their addiction have long since forgotten how to be kind to themselves.
Support groups and medical institutions of all types and sizes across the world offer a sanctuary, a place naturally imbued with kindness and support, whether it be from trained professionals or those already in recovery. It is in these environments that millions of addicts see their lives change.
When the New Note Orchestra set out to create Kind Rebellion, we wanted to not only talk about how important kindness is to early recovery, but also how kindness can kick back against the stigma related to addiction.
Many addicts carry shame, as well as trauma, throughout their recovery. At the New Note Orchestra, in our performances, we make visible our recovery, but we also celebrate our achievements. As a group, we see so much kindness, in how all the musicians treat each other, in how people from outside help us in our projects, and in the audiences who come to support us.
The kindness network
There are many organisations around the UK and beyond that, like New Note, help and support others. Key Changes UK gives support to musicians with mental health conditions, Phoenix Futures helps with housing for people with a history of substance abuse, and Safe Passage gives legal and life support to child refugees who have arrived in the UK. All of these organisations are grounded in the core value of supporting human dignity, and at the centre of this is kindness.
As individuals, we can incorporate these principles into our everyday lives, not just on Random Act of Kindness day, but in all we do. Not everything has to be a big gesture, and no one will achieve this 100% of the time, but as Bishop Tutu said, all the little bits of kindness can add up to overwhelm the world.
“I joined the orchestra in February 2020, just after I moved to Brighton, but just weeks before the country locked down due to Covid,” New Note Orchestra member Alex says. “It was difficult being in a new place, not knowing anyone. But seeing all these new people welcoming me every week, even if it was over Zoom, checking that I was okay, meant so much to me. I hope I can give some of that kindness back.
The Kind Rebellion album is available to stream: https://open.spotify.com/album/2AAbEOg8ohHQwsA3UjUW2H
You can watch a live performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PaqMDIpluBE
The New Note Orchestra has put together a playlist of songs about kindness. What have we missed out?