Anna Douglas is a curator, artist and editor/writer whose projects – exhibitions, books, performances, community engagement – engage broadly with everyday culture and history. She loves exploring the taken for granted and the ordinary, making it less so by enquiry and curiosity and the participation of others.
Sarah Taylor Silverwood is a visual artist working mainly with drawing and print, often investigating the creation of narrative and distribution of images.
Kindness Initiative project
In September 2014, I was traveling down to London from Coventry by train. Taking up a seat at a table near the door and opposite me was an elderly woman, head down reading her women’s magazine.
That morning I was plagued by a dripping nose. All the paper handkerchiefs I had soon ran out. And I was yo-yo-ing up and down to the toilet for more paper. I snivelled and honked throughout our journey.
Arriving at Watford Gap and gathering her bags, the lady made to leave. Silently, she pushed a small, flat white square towards me and disembarked.
Picking up what I quickly realised was a handkerchief, I was dumbfounded. It was cotton, ironed and monogrammed with the initial J.
Jean, or Janet or perhaps Jeanette had given me her own cotton handkerchief. I was stunned by her kindness and gift, from one complete stranger to another.
I wondered, had she thought about her action for long – certainly I’d been sniffing for long enough? Did she deliberate? Or was her kindness entirely spontaneous?
All that I knew for sure was that I felt good. She had taken me into her consideration and concern, and I now felt lovely. I did not know I was someone in line for help until she gave me it. A warm glow was now hugging my spirit. And it stayed with me throughout the day. And I wondered, through this exchange, did she feel glowing too?
This little act of kindness, as I came to think of it, put me on the path of thinking about kindness. What is it? Who does it? And is it available to us all or do only special people like RSPCA rescue workers, vicars and charity workers get to practice it.
I began to wonder was kindness all around me? Was it just that I couldn’t see it?
The neuro-sciencey type theory has it that by repeatedly undertaking the same action (experience-driven alteration) humans can change the way their brain wiring routes, that in turn changes their behaviour and actions.
Not particularly thinking of myself as kind, all this got me thinking. By repeatedly being kinder could I turn me into a ‘kind person’? How long would it take before kindness came second nature to me? Or would it?
So, I’ve set myself an experiment.
For the next 366 days, I am going to try to be kind.
Either to do something kind for someone, but more than that, to try to think more kindly about everything: people, the world, even myself! I am going to be attentive to receiving kindnesses, and develop a curiosity into its nature and behaviour. To see what happens.
I’ve asked a few friends to collaborate with me in this durational challenge. My talented artist friend Sarah Taylor Silverwood is following her own journey into kindness. She has the demanding job of interpreting each of my daily postings, in which I relay the acts of kindness I either give or receive, with an original drawing. And friends from Studio Nash that will help with the launch of my venture.
Along the way, we’ll commission think-pieces and provocations from a neuroscientist, a psychoanalyst, a spiritual guide, a philosopher, a charity worker, a new immigrant in which thoughts about what constitutes kindness gets aired and debated.
We also want to hear about your experiences of kindness and what you think kindness is, so there’ll be lots of opportunities across all our social media sites to contribute.