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9 October 2020

The past week has been Mental Health Awareness week at Warwick School. The theme for the week was ‘kindness’.

Hopefully you recall that my message to the boys at the start of term was about kindness too. During lockdown kindness flourished, we were all in it together and everyone went out of their way to help others, wouldn’t our community be a better and exceptionally special place if this continued post Covid-19. Small acts of kindness can make an enormous difference to those on the receiving end. 

Over the past fortnight Warwick School has held its first Parents’ Forums. These were an opportunity for parents to meet their son’s new Form Tutors and hear talks about important pastoral issues from guest speakers who had already spoken to the boys earlier in the day. Year 8 heard about online Gaming and Gambling. Year 10 listened to Ian Mahoney talk openly about his drug addiction. The Year 7 forum was delivered by Rachel Roberts who spoke about digital well-being. The day after the event I discovered that Rachel had left a gift by way of thanks. She had kindly left me a couple of books. 

One of these was ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse’ by Charlie Mackesy. Many of you will own, have read or at least heard of this book. A quiet picture book with a message of empathy and self-care that became something of a publishing phenomenon during lockdown, when it seemed to capture the shared sense of longing that characterises our troubled times. The book can be read from start to finish or dipped into anywhere at any time. In his introduction the author expresses his hope that, ‘this book encourages you, perhaps, to live courageously with more kindness for yourself and others and to ask for help when you need it – which is always a brave thing to do.’

Early in the book, the mole asks the boys what he wants to be when he grows up to which the boy replies that he wants to be kind. What a fantastic and achievable ambition. Warwick boys should play a positive role in the world. Thinking of others, putting them first. Kindness is one way to play a positive role in the world. Sometimes we forget how easy it is to be kind. Being kind can involve as little as; smiling at someone, holding open a door, thanking someone who you appreciate or offering your help to someone.

Reflecting on acts of kindness and the beneficial impact they can have on others the Kevin Spacey film ‘Pay it Forward’ instantly came to mind. The film is loosely based on the novel of the same name and stars Haley Joel Osmond as 11-year-old Trevor. As part of a social studies assignment Trevor comes up with a plan to change the world for the better. Trevor’s plan is a charitable programme based on the networking of good deeds. He calls his plan “pay it forward”. Trevor decides to perform three acts of kindness to three strangers, but rather than expecting them to pay back the favour he asks each of them to pay it forward by performing three acts of kindness themselves. 

Usually when I mention a book or film I am recommending it to you. On this occasion that is not the case. It is manufactured and oversentimental. The film is far from perfect but the idea that lies at its core, now that is a different proposition.  

Being kind to others cost us little and has obvious benefits to others including motivating them to practice generosity themselves. Kindness is an altruistic version of the multiplier effect, a smaller investment leading to far greater benefit. Research has also shown that performing acts of kindness has benefits for our own well-being. Researchers at the University of California tasked a sample group of students with spending an hour and a half performing acts of kindness around the campus.  The result was increased levels of optimism and life satisfaction. A lesser commitment to kindness has also been shown to have similar benefits, those tasked with performing one small act of kindness each day for ten day enjoyed a comparable positive experience.

The book also advocates being kind to yourself and ‘The boy, the mole, the fox and the Horse’ have some wisdom about how to achieve this:

“What do you think is the biggest waste of time?” “Comparing yourself to others.” said the mole.

“Do you have any other advice?” asked the boy. “Don’t measure how valuable you are by the way you are treated.” said the horse

“The greatest illusion”, said the mole, “is that life should be perfect.”

“What’s your favourite discovery? asked the mole. “That I am enough as I am” said the boy

In the age of Instagram and Twitter it is easy for these important messages to be drowned out. We are all constantly encouraged to hold ourselves up for the judgement of others and in turn to pass judgement on them. Instagram encourages its users to present an upbeat image of a perfect life with all its challenges “airbrushed” from existence. And every time you open the app you are faced with what feels like an endless feed of your family and friends doing incredible things, having a wonderful time without you. Confronted by this it is easy to feel inadequate about our own lives but even as we’re being made miserable by the unreal lives that we follow, we share an unreal version of our own lives to secure the self-esteem boosting likes that we crave. Now more than ever it is important to try not to compare ourselves to others and try to realise that we are enough as we are, to be kind to ourselves.

In this week’s assembly I challenged the boys to perform one daily act of kindness for the next ten days and see how it makes them feel! To those struggling for inspiration I suggested the following;

  1. Smile
  2. Hold the door open
  3. Give an honest compliment
  4. Thank someone who you appreciate
  5. Be a good listener
  6. Offer your help to someone
  7. Ask the person who’s serving you how their day is going
  8. Treat someone to a coffee or tea
  9. Let someone go past you in a queue
  10. Send a gift to a friend out of the blue

These small acts have the potential to make someone else’s day and motivate them to act kindly toward others. Rachel Roberts was kind to me, she shared this wonderful book and it made my day and now I have shared it with you.

I also encouraged the boys to be kind to themselves and reminded them that life isn’t perfect and anyone who tells you theirs is, is lying to you or themselves. When things appear perfect on Instagram they are only showing you what they want you to see, their highlights reel. Remember to those you love and who love you, you are enough as you are.

So, I leave you with the words of the horse

“Nothing beats kindness” said the horse. “It sits quietly beyond all things.”