Random acts of kindness
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see,” said Mark Twain. John Fuller recently made a month-long effort not to utter a single negative word to or about his wife. For a similar period, Katie Phillips found something positive to say about her seven-year- old son, with whom she had a “prickly relationship”. And Christine King performed acts of kindness for an irritating co-worker.
Kindness – a virtue embraced by both the religious and the nonreligious – requires intentional behaviour and can have beneficial results for both the giver and recipient of a benevolent act, experts say. But we know that already, don’t we? Aren’t most of us already kind?
In recent months, Christian authors have highlighted step-by-step processes to help readers learn how to be kind. Though organisations like the World Kindness Movement and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation have encouraged altruism since the 1990s, more recent studies by scientists back up its benefits.
‘WHEREVER THERE IS A HUMAN BEING, THERE IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR A KINDNESS’ – SENECA
There is a strange power in Mark Twain’s words: “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” During the summer months, the reality of these words is being worked out by young people in the Church of Ireland the length and breadth of this island.
Summer Madness is one of Ireland’s largest youth festivals. Taking place at the beginning of July every year, it “exists to enthuse, equip and engage the youth and young adults of Ireland in the Christian faith so that they may be real change-makers in their churches and communities across the island”. This year it has celebrated its 30th birthday.
Some years ago, the concept of Streetreach grew out of the festival. A number of people had a desire to give young people who attended the festival more of an opportunity to give practical expression to their faith, through serving others. For several years Streetreach was an official part of Summer Madness, a five-day programme immediately following the festival. Now it is a programme that various dioceses across the Church of Ireland run themselves, as do a range of local parishes.
Streetreach usually includes young people aged 15 and over. Wherever on this island it takes place, the concept is a simple one. It is united in one purpose – to find practical ways of serving local people. It is often achieved through partnering with parishes in a diocese to enable young people to serve locally and encourage a local parish in its own mission.
Getting involved will usually involve all sorts of practical action – everything from litter picking to street cleaning, painting and gardening – as well as games and lots of fun activities for local young people, delivering a wide variety of activities and connecting with people of all ages. The only limit is the imagination. Over the years, activities have been as diverse as organising a community carnival, a Victorian tea for the elderly and local barbecues.
Martin Montgomery is Diocesan Youth Officer for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe. The dioceses runs its own version of the youth volunteering programme, entitled On the Move. Talking a number of years ago he said the team members had one agenda – to serve. He said: “It was amazing to see young people cleaning, weeding and painting all around our community – finding practical ways of helping to make our [local area] an even better place for everyone.”
Christina Baillie is a diocesan youth officer. Talking of the impact of Streetreach on those who volunteer she said: “Streetreach has had a massive impact on the young people who have taken part over the past two years … The opportunity has made connections across the diocese and really enhanced the community feeling amongst the young people.”
One of the encouraging things is that similar programmes take place locally, often using a different name – yet the aim is the same. It is a desire to serve others.
So, what language is kindness and what power does it have?
Several years ago, I was involved in a Streetreach programme. I have one abiding memory from that time. It was a Saturday morning and a group of young people were sweeping the main street in a local village. Talking with another leader, we both happened to look down the street. There I saw a young teenager kneeling on the pavement of a village that was not her own, using a garden trowel to dig weeds out of the pavement – doing it without fanfare, unaware that anyone noticed what she was doing. In that moment that is what service looked like.
As we watched the young person simply digging away at the weeds there was a realisation that service is a disarming thing – both for the person serving and those receiving the service. Never have Mark Twain’s words seemed so apt!
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