World Kindness Day: Marina Mahathir On Why It’s Important To Be Helpful

Marina Mahathir pens down her thoughts on why it’s important for us to be kind, and not just on World Kindness Day (photo of Marina and her brother)

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“The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.”

Mahatma Gandhi

When my brother and I were children, he brought home a papier-mâché (pulped paper) ball from school. Seeing what I thought was a toy, I started kicking it around, and pretty much destroyed it. When my brother saw this, he was furious. The ball didn’t belong to him but to a classmate who’d made it in art class. His friend was afraid it would be crushed if he took it home on the bus, so he had given it to my brother for safekeeping because my brother is driven to school in a car.

I felt so bad about my callous act that more than 50 years later, I still remember it. This is the thing about cruelty and kindness. If you’ve been brought up with certain values, like I was, you’re more likely to have your few acts of unkindness haunt you your entire life than your many more acts of kindness. And that’s the way it should be because remembering being mean and horrible deters you from repeating them.

(Dee @ Copper and Wild/Unsplash)

World Kindness Day is celebrated on November 13 each year. It is a global day “that promotes the importance of being kind to each other, to yourself and to the world. (Its purpose) is to help everyone understand that compassion for others is what binds us all together. This understanding has the power to bridge the gap between nations.”

It’s a rather grandiose purpose, but also a little sad that we need to be reminded to be kind to one another on a specific day every year. But perhaps, seeing the way the world is today, we could do with a reminder.

Is it so hard to be kind to one another? For some people, being cruel is the easiest and most natural thing to do. Harsh words trip off the tongue, or in most cases these days, off the keyboard, as easily as pouring water. Insults are traded like cards, like a game without any heed to the pain they may cause. Innocent people are hounded for imagined infractions, until some are even forced to seek asylum in foreign countries. Scores of people are forced to endure humiliation after humiliation because they are powerless to speak up.

All these cause an environment of conflict and mistrust that do nothing to resolve any disputes at hand. Are people proud to be known as mean and heartless? Does it lend them prestige of any sort? Have we not evolved from the days of cruel overlords and suffering peasants?

Yet how much effort does it take to be humane to others? During the COVID-19 lockdowns, we have seen people rise to their best selves, getting together to help those who are hungry, buying food and other products online to support small businesses, helping the elderly get their vaccinations, and even feeding hungry stray animals. Some of these efforts required ingenuity and innovation, such as the kitajaga.co app that allows people in need to ask for help with dignity. Some required no more than the click of a button. Others involved finding out what people needed to survive. Thousands of people volunteered to sew personal protective equipment for front-liners to keep them safe as they did their work.

Acts of kindness need not be very large or obvious. Indeed, the motives of those who insist on publicising their generosity should be questioned. The most genuine people are those who do things quietly and expect nothing more than a good feeling in return. My best days begin with the thankful nuzzles of a skinny street cat I know when I bring it some food.

World Kindness Day also reminds us to be kind to ourselves. For many people, especially women, this is the hardest thing to do. We are so trained to care for others that being nice to ourselves seems selfish. Yet we can only be kind to others if we’re first compassionate to ourselves. That means resting enough, not judging ourselves too harshly, and protecting our mental health. It’s okay to stop thinking about the rest of the world for a day or two; none of it depends on our 24/7 attention. We need to do ourselves a favour by taking days off or going for a massage or simply having a lie-in in the mornings. There’s absolutely no shame in that.

Finally, we should treat our Earth with the respect that it deserves. How hard is it to not throw rubbish everywhere, to keep our rivers clean, to plant more trees? The kindness we bestow on our planet, will be amply rewarded by greener surroundings, cleaner air, and more places in nature for us to enjoy. What’s not to like?

*Photos provided by author unless stated otherwise

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Marina M.
Marina M. thinks she should be invited to design jetplanes to make them more comfortable and user-friendly, having spent years flying with babies and husband in tow as well as alone. She is dreading the advent of mobile phone access on planes because long plane flights are the only time she is totally cut off from everyone else and she likes it that way.