Everyday kindness

By Suzanne Rose – Mass Observation Education and outreach officer

Richard Ratcliffe, currently on day 17 of a hunger strike as part of his campaign to free his wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe writes in The Guardian on 10th November 2021,

“Amid all this angry politics, I have been struck by the care and kindness of strangers – packages sent via Amazon, the visits from old friends, former teachers from school or university, my old boss. It is not food, but it is sustenance. Our story is dark in many ways, but that reminder of kindness is absolutely central to survival.”

It is perhaps fitting that he should write of the vital importance of kindness at this time. On Saturday 13th November 2021 it is World Kindness Day. To mark this occasion, KindFest will be celebrating all manner of kindness and inviting people to join the Kindness revolution.

Mass Observation is only too keen to support to this online festival of kindness and looks forward to celebrating all things kind. MO will be encouraging people to share examples of everyday kindness #MOKindness

The Mass Observation Archive has been recording everyday life and the thoughts, feelings, beliefs and opinions of ordinary people since 1937. Through diaries and responses to directives we can come to understand how kindness manifests through time and at key points in our history. A dip into the collection reveals examples of kindness from war time tales of childhood evacuation and the Blitz, to everyday kindness shown to the local milkman.

Of course these are the stories we have been told of the war and there are many differing accounts within the archive, which might suggest not everyone was so keen to show kindness at this time of crisis, but for those that did, their example is both heartening and humbling.

Mass Observation’s ‘What Is Happiness?’ survey from 1938, also reveals much about how closely aligned this is to kindness with many noting that being kind to others is a source of happiness for ourselves.

Asked in 1989, writers for the Mass Observation Project responded to a directive on Rules of Conduct and how these are observed in daily life. Responses spoke of manners and behaviour, but also of kindness and the simple act of smiling at a stranger.

Kindness can be found throughout the collection as it permeates responses to directives as diverse as the NHS, Social Wellbeing, Friends and Neighbours, Close Relationships, Education, Growing Older, Present Giving and Receiving, The Family, Childhood and Dear 16 year old me, which encouraged people to reflect and show a little kindness and compassion to their younger selves.

There are, however, many places and spaces where kindness may be harder to find and to this end Mass Observation’s outreach and engagement programme has sought to capture the voices of those who so often go unheard, such as those in prison, or who are street homeless. Responses shine a light on areas where society could do more to show and offer kindness.

Mass Observation was well placed to record the Covid-19 pandemic and has collected over 10,000 narrative accounts in the form of diaries, journals and directive responses detailing this extraordinary time in our lives. Many echo the experiences of the Second World War. Despite the empty streets of Lockdown and the lack of human contact, kindness still seeps through many of the accounts of this time. From support for the NHS and care workers, to friends, family neighbours and communities coming together to show kindness, we are offered a glimpse of what it meant to people.

Mass Observation continues to explore and record topics, which are vital to our understanding of ourselves and everyday life in Britain and is thrilled to be working with the School of Psychology at The University of Sussex on the new directive on Kindness, which will be launched at Kindfest 2021.

Extracts on Kindness from Mass Observation

“A great reminder that kindness is like a golden thread running through human beings regardless of time or place.” Professor Robin Banerjee, Head of School of Psychology at University of Sussex

The Mass Observation Archive is housed at The Keep as part of the University’s Special Collections. If you would like any further information about the collection please email moa@sussex.ac.uk and keep up-to-date with all things Mass Observation @MassObsArchive

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