It's cool to be kind. And before you say it, this isn't the latest fad that's washed in with Scandi-chic, hipster beanies or a side-order of quinoa.
Being kind - or an increased awareness of the need to be - is experiencing a resurgence of late. Doing something kind can take as little as seconds, and yet somehow, in environments dominated by do-it-now digital technologies and demanding workloads, our lives are so finely-tuned and full to the brim that they require our undivided attention just to remain operational. The exhaustive pace of modern life means we have to be reminded to leave our desks every hour or take a lunch break, just in case we have to be surgically removed from our monitors. Sleeping? Eating? Once-wonted parts of our daily lives get shaved away in competition to work longer, harder hours.
The need to exercise a kinder mentality has been circling the peripheries of my mind for a while now. But, like many others, the propensity to bat it away like a troublesome fly if I've got to meet a deadline, work overtime or rush to an appointment often wins out. Sometimes I'm just in a plain old grump. Every now and again though, something ups the frequency a bit; usually in the form of a phone call from my Mum. "Don't be too brusque Christobel", she'll chastise. "Be kind".
But now kindness is at the forefront of my mind, and the public consciousness too it seems, as the latest buzzword crops up everywhere from self-help articles on the web to white-chalked bistro blackboards. Enter 'how to be kind' into Google and behold the first four results: how to be kind to yourself, your parents, your family - and your liver. But what about being kind to strangers?
If anyone doubted that we actually needed to be reminded of this very human, very normal quality, then allow me to recount a recent evening when I witnessed a pregnant lady being raced to a seat at we alighted at Moorgate on my commute home from work. I looked around me to see if anyone was going to get up, whilst said pregnant lady two-handedly grasped the handrail above her head. Everyone studied their newspapers. I offered her my seat.
"Thank you so much!" she beamed, "that's very kind of you".
The compliment made my insides fizz for a few seconds. It's not much to write home about, but someone had praised me for kind behaviour, and it felt good.
Even so, that small thrill I experienced is not to be underestimated. I wasn't concertedly choosing to be kind, but the unforced spontaneity - and positive reinforcement - made all the difference. I remembered, there and then, that I did have the capacity to be kind.
You don't have to look far to find people in search of a shot of that second-hand happiness, particularly as screen-culture envelops every inch of our work and play. Sites such as the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation which create a culture of kindness in schools and communities are in demand; as are ideas such as Stylist's dedicated page to the Greatest Ever Most Inspiring Random Acts of Kindness, a regular port of call during fits of procrastination. This viralnova article of 50 awesome acts of kindness frequented my Facebook feed for weeks. The release of Kenneth Branagh's megabucks remake of Disney's Cinderella this week has created much dialogue around the moral 'have courage and be kind'; values to live by, if fairytales have little else to offer the new generations. Recently, kindness assumed a darker potency as Monica Lewinsky delivered a TED talk on 'The Price of Shame', calling for the "need to return to a long-held value of compassion - compassion and empathy". We need to temper our acts and judgements with kindness, Lewinsky argued, lest we want to dwell in a society characterised by a "compassion deficit".
The good news is that we're programmed to be kind. It's an instinctive tendency, which means when all's said and done, we're only really left with the old adage 'practice makes perfect'. So instead of circumnavigating that awkward person with the suitcase on the tube to leap the stairs two-at-a-time, offer assistance. Volunteer for a tea round, give a hand to the struggling mum with a pram, let the person with a two-pint ahead of you in the supermarket queue. It might initially feel like the task of getting of your five-a-day, but it will transition into habit quicker than you can (genuinely) compliment your colleague on their new perm. And when the kindness kicks in, that idea of the Big Society that we once disbelievingly rolled our eyes at can actually stand a chance. If acts of kindness start to divide and multiply, then our own levels of happiness will exponentially increase - and if that's the fulcrum of a harmonious community, then I'm all for giving it a go.