OPINION | Lizette Rabe: Humankind – be both human and kind

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Rabbi David Masinter, director of the Miracle Drive annual charity drive and Chabad House poses next to the 'Be Kind' artwork outside Sandton City (Supplied)
Rabbi David Masinter, director of the Miracle Drive annual charity drive and Chabad House poses next to the 'Be Kind' artwork outside Sandton City (Supplied)

Saturday 13 November is World Kindness Day. Your small gesture of kindness just might have a domino effect, writes Lizette Rabe.

After the so unkind, so inhumane and too often vicious drama of the electioneering period which we have just survived, not to mention the days of trauma during the July insurrection, especially we South Africans need a little bit of TLC just to remind ourselves we're human. And that we are in dire need of kindness.     

It can only be a small gesture, like allowing that person waiting for who knows how long to enter your lane in peak traffic. Or something bigger, like a long-term involvement in changing someone's life for the better. Like Mary, a pseudonym, who has lost her adult daughter, and, on hearing of a colleague of her daughter's struggle with depression, sponsored her therapy sessions. After many months of trying to find the right therapist, there is an improvement, and the person is finding harmony and balance again.  

Kindness does not mean long-term investment, nor costs, such as Mary's above. But we can all make life just a little less harsh for our fellow humans, especially in these so challenging Covid-times. Even though we're out of the clutches of the Third Wave, we should not forget that the predictions of the Fourth Wave are real – and awaiting us. And anyway, we are already struggling because our planet and humankind is really in such a mess that one simply wants to despair.

How can we make a difference?

So how can we make a difference? On the face of it, it sounds easy to build a culture of kindness instead of a relentless dog-eat-dog environment. 

But collectively, humans have never had to carry such a heavy psychological burden as we do currently. Lockdown, plus its totally unnatural and abnormal living conditions, have increased the strain on our wellbeing. Added to this: It has caused not only a psychological burden, but also a physical one. Just look around, and you can see how our earth now literally carries more weight: The increased girth of those of us who unfortunately put on weight because work-from-home meant we did not move as much as compared to when simply going to the office meant more calories were burnt. (And the fridge kept on calling your name.)

But making light of a heavy-weight issue aside: Humanity is suffering collectively because the Covid crisis has worsened global mental health dramatically . According to one study, cases of mental ill-health around the world increased in 2020, with an estimated 76 million extra cases of anxiety and 53 million extra cases of major depressive disorder.

According to the study, especially women and children bore the brunt of this extraordinary wave of depression and anxiety. Women carry the burden of not only having to work from home, but most of them also juggle childcare and households. Women also earn lower salaries, and therefore have less savings, as well as less secure employment as men. 

The report, which was published in the Lancet this October, reviewed 28 studies between January 2020 and January 2021. The research team estimated there were in total 246 million cases of major depressive disorder and 374 million cases of anxiety disorders worldwide in 2020. The study concluded that we need to "seriously re-evaluate how we respond to mental health needs". Also: "Taking no action to address major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders should not be an option." The question of course remains: In under-resourced South Africa, where mental health already is not prioritised, how can we remedy this serious situation?

Invent your own kindness

And then there is the matter of eco-anxiety. Although not yet regarded as a diagnosable condition, researchers recently published a study that shows eco-anxiety has a growing toll on especially the mental health of children and young people. Eco-anxiety is defined as "the chronic fear of environmental doom". According to a 2020 survey, 57% of child psychiatrists in England saw children and young people who were distressed about the climate crisis. Another poll in Britain, just before COP26, showed that the concern about global warming is almost as common among older and working-class people as it is among the young or middle-class. In fact, 78% of people reported some level of eco-anxiety.

As a result of such an acute condition of weltschmerz, no wonder World Kindness Day is gaining traction. Launched in 1998 by The World Kindness Movement, an organisation formed at a 1997 Tokyo conference of "kindness organisations", more than 28 countries are currently actively involved. While not being affiliated to any religion or political party, the movement simply wants to create a kinder world by inspiring greater kindness. And don't limit it to one day – try and change your world with this year's theme of "The World We Make – Inspire Kindness".

Encourage kindness

You can invent your own kindness – donate an amount to a charity or a children's home, or mow your neighbour's grass, or just send an uplifting message to someone who needs it. Or how about getting that jab this Vooma weekend as your act of kindness?

Make it as straightforward or as involved as you like. The idea is simply to be kind and to "encourage kindness to triumph over hatred".Even just complimenting someone on their hairstyle might make a world of difference. You don't know what hardships they might be battling. In the words of oh so wonderful author Maya Angelou: "Try to be a rainbow in someone else's cloud."

Let's truly try to be humankind – both human and kind.

- Lizette Rabe is a professor at Stellenbosch University and as mental health advocate, founder of the Ithemba Foundation (www.ithembafoundation.org.za), which raises awareness around mental health such as depression and anxiety, and raises funds to support research. 

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