A quiet day with a single act of kindness in it.

A quiet day with no humans in it. I feed the horses and spend fifteen minutes in the field with my mare, just giving her love, and romp around with the dog. There is an act of kindness, and it takes place online. In a horse forum I belong too, a young girl is having a little moment of angst and self-doubt. Reading between the lines, I think it is more to do with her than her horse. She has moved to a different part of the country and it sounds like her parents are not together, and the distress signals are evident. The horse has become a symbol of all that. The group is magnificent. The people are mostly women, quite a lot of a certain age, and they gather round like a mighty band of mammas and aunts, clucking over the good girl, giving her excellent practical advice, joshing her out of her self-laceration, bolstering her faltering confidence. It’s the most lovely example of the internet using its power for good instead of evil.

I write her a long note, full of encouragement. She lives thousands of miles from my front door, but I can send these words straight to her faltering heart. I feel oddly protective of this stranger I shall never meet. I remember what it was like being that age, having divorced parents, feeling alone. I send her as much warmth and comfort as I can fit into the little box.

It was an act of kindness, but, just like yesterday, it had no discrete consciousness to it. I was not saying: ah, here is my chance to be kind. It gets recorded here because of this experiment, and I’m glad it is marked. But it was just a simple human reaction to someone crying for help. I could help, and I did, and that was lucky and lovely for me. I hope she comes back and tells us of her progress. I suspect the group may adopt her and she will become like a little mascot and she will feel part of something. Everyone needs to be part of something.


In which I let an irritating man go.

There’s quite a fine line to be struck with this kindness lark. I don’t think I want to turn into Jane Bennet, who could only see the good in people, even when their iniquities were presented to her in all their tawdry glory. I don’t want to waft around in mimsy cloud of niceness, it would be too dull. On the other hand, indiscriminate meanness is a pointless thing.

This morning, I heard a perfectly dreadful gentleman on the radio. He is quite famous, although not in a field I know anything about, so he is more a vague name to me than anything else. He was filled with false humility and false niceness, oozing bogusness with every phoney sentence. Even the interviewer, the most cheerful and polite of men, was getting fed up with him.

I started to think very, very unkind thoughts indeed.

Then, I thought: let him go. Poor fellow, he has to live with himself and his own ghastliness. I can just switch him off. So instead of falling into a spiral of irritation, I chose a version of kindness and allowed my crossness to drop.

After that, thinking in friendly, generous and considerate terms was easy, because Ireland voted Yes: for love, for fairness, for the human heart. The sun shone. Beautiful horses won races at the Curragh and Goodwood. I was kind all over the internet: leaving happy comments on Facebook and Twitter, admiring people’s photographs, rejoicing in their good news, entering into their delights. It was through no conscious effort on my part; the world seemed kind today, and I simply went with it. If he was not written down here, that annoying man would not even be remembered in a week.

I feel there’s a bit of a lesson in there. It’s a little perspective thing. The Ireland vote will stay with me forever. I expect I’ll remember Gleneagles digging deep in the Irish Guineas for a long while. But I shan’t even be able to recall the irritating famous person.

Also: it’s quite easy to feel kindly to the world in general when I have this sweet face to look upon each morning.


Kindness is everywhere.

I missed yesterday, because I’d had insomnia the night before, and it was all I could do to get my work done and function in a meaningful way, and there was no room for anything else. Someone did me an act of great kindness, so the kindness came in rather than went out. (Although I did of course thank them most sincerely and politely.)

Today has been all about kindness. Kindness has infected every single word I have written. It was in my usual blog, as I wrote about the people of Ireland voting for love. If the Yes vote carries the day, I see it as a triumph for kindness, as the bonds of affection and devotion are celebrated in all their forms. I feel so strongly about equal marriage that I sometimes castigate its opponents. They are often not kind, and some of the meaner ones perhaps do not deserve kindness in return. But I confined myself to the positive reasons for the Yes, not a bitchy jeremiad on the No.

I wrote about my horse, and that was all kindness too. I went up to work with the charity I volunteer for, and there was kindness there.

I could not count one discrete act of kindness; the entire world was coloured with it in my mind. It had nothing to do with this experiment; it just was. I am glad to be able to record it here, as it spread and settled under the gentle Scottish sky, making me feel happy and hopeful.

Today’s picture is of the wounded veterans I work with, riding out into the Scottish hills. Even those dear hills seemed kind.


Day Two: The Kindness Test

I start to think that everything should pass The Kindness Test. On the news just now is the story of a wife who tried to stop a husband from publishing a memoir of sexual abuse. Her contention is that it would damage their child. Her motives are in some way understandable, but they were not kind to the husband. He spoke, his voice wavering with emotion, telling how he would not have been allowed to speak in any way of the abuse itself, subsequent mental problems, and suicide attempts. ‘I could not even come on this programme and say I’ve been depressed,’ he said, amazement in his voice that anyone could contemplate such a gag.

I start also to think that the things I am now marking down as kindness are just what any ordinarily decent human should do without thinking. This morning, I was in the chemist. The tills were playing up and there was a delay. For a moment, I felt impatient. I had a huge amount of work to do and I needed to get on. (Notice the two uses of I in that sentence.) Then I decided this thought was ignoble and absurd. It was a matter of minutes. Instead of tutting and looking tense and distracted, I had a happy chat with the gentleman about the time I had worked in a shop, and how I remembered being a slave to the machine, and how awful it was when things went wrong, and how some people understood and some didn’t. He was smiling as I left.

For a moment, out in the warm sunshine, I congratulated myself. That must certainly count as my daily act of kindness. Then I realised that to have done anything else would have been awful. There was no cause for congratulation. I should not have had to make a choice; I should have done what I did without thinking.

I pride myself on being a kind person, on having good manners, on being a considerate and empathetic human. I see now that I had just slapped those labels on myself without much empirical evidence. I’m not saying I am a monster, but that I could do better, and that I cannot take anything for granted, and that I need a bit of daily practice, and that perhaps this experiment is going to be more interesting than I thought. It may also be more uncomfortable.

Kindness also came in another choice. Before the chemist, I had been with some people who were learning about horses. They were novices, so they were doing lots of things wrong. With one, I offered a small piece of advice. I don’t like giving unsolicited advice, but I decided this was worth it. ‘Soften your hands,’ I said. ‘Just open them up a little. That’s it.’ Her horse gratefully dropped his head and moved into a more relaxed stride. With the other person, I bit my tongue. I could see very clearly what was going wrong, but I could also see that he needed to work it out for himself. One of the rules with horses is to let them work things out for themselves. You give them the framework, and then you encourage them to use their brains. This way confidence grows. It’s the same, I suspect, with humans.

I saw that kindness can be working out when to say the thing and when to keep quiet. One can be genuinely helpful, or one can be bossy and grand-standing. Look at me, knowing best.

My lessons in kindness today are a little rueful. It turns out I am not nearly as adept as I thought. Today made me realise that kindness lives in a hundred small daily decisions. And that most of all, it means saying to oneself: it’s not all about me.

Day One: of dentists and strangers.

Kindness: the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.

Here we go, with the first day of my year of living kindly experiment. The idea came to me five days ago and I’m still not quite sure what it is all about. All I know is that I want to put kindness at the forefront of my mind, and see what happens. It may be something and it may be nothing.

Today, I was absolutely charming to an equine dentist. I concentrated hard on listening well, not interrupting, not letting my eyes move elsewhere when other people walked past. I’d love to say this was an act of kindness, but it wasn’t really. It was pure selfishness. He was so interesting that my ears almost fell off.

I smiled at four strangers in the street. Does that count? Again, I suspect it is more for me than for them. I like smiling at strangers in the street. I’m not sure they like it so much. Britons are a reticent race, and random smiling can make them frightened.

I did think about kindness, and every time I did, my shoulders came down. I could feel the muscles relaxing. Instead of being tense and hurried, I came back to myself. I think of this kindness experiment as a large thing – it’s not just kindness to other people, but to myself, to my work, to my horse, something to infect my entire outlook.

I wonder, to my chagrin: shall this make me a dead bore? The interesting people, after all, have a little bit of the bitchy in them, that rapier wit and sharp edge which is not always charitable. They do not always see the good or the silver linings or the rays of hope. Some of the most interesting people I have known were not kind and sunny at all, but sunk in pessimistic gloom at the desperate nature of the human condition, provoking shouts of laughter with their mordant pronouncements. I don’t want to go all hello clouds, hello sky.

Also, I don’t want to be a show-off. Look at me, being kind.

Well, at least I have started. We shall see.

Also, every day, you will get a photograph. I can’t really photograph kindness, but I like a blog with a visual. Too much text is lowering. The love of my life is a chestnut thoroughbred mare, so you might be seeing quite a bit of her. She is a very kind person herself, so it is mildly appropriate, at least.