It’s December 2019 and Caroline Flack tweeted: “If you can be anything, be kind.” By February 2020, she was dead. Our planet has somehow managed to swirl around its sun again (still time for an extinction-level event though. Who had gamma-ray burst for January?) since then and I’m exhausted at being told to be kind by the NHS, random shops, major supermarkets, the moral police of the Twitterati, Lewis Hamilton, pop stars and YouTubers.
The aforementioned and unfortunate death of Caroline Flack was the catalyst for this. However, Covid-19 is primarily responsible for this kindness deluge that I currently wade through, like a sticky aspartame syrup, on a daily basis. Posters and posts adorn every physical and virtual space. The fake, hollow, enforced jollity of the kindness industry and its zealous compatriots is endemic now.
I’m still confused as to why shops have to tell me to “be kind” to begin with. I was planning on being polite and courteous to the assistant anyway. I have self-managed this miraculous feat independently for decades now. A simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when goods are exchanged for currency always seemed sufficient before.
Was I supposed to enquire as to the person’s mental health and stage an intervention if they were ‘in crisis’? Am I unkind for not caring deeply about a total stranger in one of the most fortunate places to live on Earth and that I just sort of expect them to function as a responsible adult, much like I do every day? Perhaps I’m a monster.
And like most contemporary issues, it has also been needlessly politicised. Don’t believe that sanitary products should be free to all women (sorry, ‘people who bleed’)? Occasionally think that parents should perhaps feed their own children breakfast? Have aberrant thoughts in your mind that declaring something a human right does not make it immune from the vagaries of economic and environmental scarcity?
“UUUUNNNNKKIIIINNNDDDD”, the slavering mob will shout as your broken body is dragged through the streets to be hoisted at the end of a rainbow scarf, quicker than you can say ‘personal responsibility’. Your skin later flayed from your body, cured and treated with a pink dye to be made into an A4 ‘2021 Kindness Diary’. And if the RRPs are anything to go by, your pink flesh diary will sell for anything between £8.50 and £19.50.
In a normal world, kindness should not come into these political issues, but some might say these times, are, to use another tiresome word from 2020/21, ‘unprecedented’. They used to be policy decisions, with economic and social consequences, but I can bet the perception of the ‘kindness’ of a proposed policy will have been brought up in a meeting last year. The use of the word ‘unkind’ itself also infantilises debate and further diminishes the political discourse as well, although perhaps that is the aim.
It’s probably a statement on the post-industrial, late-stage capitalism, welfare democracy that we inhabit (light cyberpunk aesthetic with Universal Credit and Fit-Bits), but there are entire websites devoted to what to do to be more ‘kind’, as if it’s something that you need to be taught how to do.
Ultimately, this entire kindness industry also reinforces the notion that I have the same kindness and empathy for everyone. This is patently and empirically false. Our circle of compassion can only extend so far before it frays into a meaningless, virtue-signalling void. This is okay. The death of a parent has far more bearing on our life than a boat capsizing in China. Again, this is a normal response and one that is both universal and human.
We British love our comparisons with World War Two, our finest hour. It was trotted out during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic with impunity. Our posters at the time were redolent with images of duty and forbearance in the face of danger. Today they would all just be replaced with #BeKind on a mauve background.