Dr Karen Philip is a counsellor and an Ambassador for World Kindness Day. She’s a woman of near-ferocious energy and enthusiasm. She feels things and does things with all that she’s got. When we sit down for coffee she speaks as if we’ve known each other for five years, not five minutes. She is adamant and passionate about her work as a lifestyle doctor and hypnotherapist.
In another life, Karen used to own an early childhood centre. She tells me “we would show pre-schoolers pictures of faces. We’d show them a happy face, a laughing face, a crying face, an angry face and the rest. The teachers then ask not only, what are they feeling but what do you think is making them feel that way. The next step is to teach the children that emotions come and go. They’re not permanent”.
Karen pauses before continuing her explanation, with a smile. “A child might say to us that their mum was shouting and that she was angry. We teach them that a person isn’t ‘angry’. Angry isn’t who they are. They feel angry at that time and that’s okay. We teach them that it’s normal to have lots of different feelings but what matters is what you do with those feelings… Then we teach them to connect those emotions with someone else”.
I remark to Karen that a lot of adults could do with some of these lessons. Perhaps because empathy isn’t innate. Empathy is not something that we’re necessarily born with. It has to be taught – and for those of us who haven’t learned in an ideal environment or from a deliberate teacher, there are blocks to our empathy and to our expressions of kindness.
The modern world seems to provide yet another block. Empathy isn’t a quality we regularly praise one another for having, or that we admire in celebrities or other people of influence. We speak of beauty and bravery, not compassion and kindness. Even writing these sentences feels a little trite; a little Pollyanna and more than a tad tragic. Yet kindness is surely one of the greatest gifts we can bestow upon another person.
“Empathy isn’t a quality we regularly praise one another for having, or that we admire in celebrities or other people of influence. We speak of beauty and bravery, not compassion and kindness.”
So, when did kindness stop being cool?
Karen says she was raised to believe “we’re all humans and we all put our pants on one leg at a time”. She seeks to equalise people, while acknowledging the diversity and inequality of their experiences. My take-away is that our current obsession with being busy and its associated status, drags our minds away from kindness. Kindness and the willingness to act on our sense of empathy, takes time. Time that most of us think we haven’t got.
“Adults are busy and it’s something we learn from our parents. We’re more busy today than we were in the past. However, we can still take a moment to check in, to consider, to ask. Busy-ness is an excuse and not a reason. We’re human beings and we’re flawed but if we remind ourselves that we’re not alone and isolated, we’re part of a larger group, that can change. We’re living so isolated these days. We weren’t designed to live that way”.
Both of us take a moment to reflect on fires currently burning around the country and the power of community we’re witnessing in the face of horror. We do kindness so well in times of tragedy. We rise in the face of absolute carnage and devastation. However, we’re far less equipped to be kind in the day-to-day. We rarely take those extra few minutes to act with kindness in the midst of the ordinary.
People forget what you do. People forget what you say.
But nobody will forget how you made them feel.
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