OPINION | Lizette Rabe: Needed: kindness. What can you do to make our world a better place?

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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)

Sunday marks World Kindness Day. Lizette Rabe writes that everyone can be an agent of change and we can make our communities and our country a better place by doing small acts of kindness, by giving of ourselves.

We are caught in the perfect storm—hares in the headlights. Everything is just too much. Our psyches cannot take another second of load shedding. No more news of state capture and corruption. Not another pothole. The year has simply been too long. 

And the worst is yet to come: Those never-ending tinned tinsel tunes in the supermarket. 

Please! I want to flee to another universe!

But. Be still, ye burnt-out humankind. 

There is a very simple solution: Be kind. In doing so, you are also kind to yourself. 

And don't we need a groundswell of kindness. Let us all help grow that small wave into a tsunami of kindness to make our world a better place.

That is why the Ithemba Foundation – ithemba means hope – has launched its Two Weeks of Kindness campaign, starting on World Kindness Day on Sunday, 13 November, up to Giving Tuesday on 29 November. 

'Feel good' hormones

Every person, young, old, and everyone in between, can be an agent of change. We ourselves can make our communities and our country a better place by doing small acts of kindness, by giving of ourselves, whether it is time or assistance. Maybe simply giving someone a smile or a compliment – you might never know how that person needed it at that specific moment.

What’s more, research shows how doing good deeds to others release those "feel-good” hormones in your own brain. By showing compassion to others, you show compassion towards yourself. The basic premise: If you help someone else, you actually help yourself. What's more: It reduces stress.

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

It means the emotional gains, including a positive mindset, is much bigger than the actual good deed you did to someone. Doctor Cobus McCallaghan, psychiatrist and Ithemba Board Member, says: "To give something should not be something tangible, like a bunch of flowers. Share something that you might have learnt and that has helped you in the past, like taking ten deep breaths, and slowly exhaling. By sharing this knowledge of how to avoid the stress response and stimulate chemical substances that contribute to a sense of calm, a positive mood, and reduction of anxiety, can be a gift that someone can use for a lifetime."

This year's theme for World Kindness Day is "Be kind wherever possible", while "Giving Tuesday" wants to unleash the "power of radical generosity". 

What can you do to ensure kindness "wherever possible", and thereby unleashing the “power of radical generosity”?

Start with yourself 

Begin with yourself. Start by saying, "Let me count the ways … I am blessed", and surprise yourself. And then think how you can make a difference – it does not matter how small. The fact that you are reading here means you are literate. And that you can access the internet. And that you have the luxury of time. Maybe you can share some of that of which you have enough, with a child in a disadvantaged school to give them a better future. 

There are so many ways in which to make a difference. Maybe bake a batch of cupcakes for a children’s home or make a donation to their charity. To get you started, here are just a couple of ideas:

  • Switch off the lights when you leave a room – if we all do it, we're going to save a lot of electricity;
  • Take a milk tart – or two – to your local vet – they will be over the moon with the lovely surprise and show of appreciation for what they do for our four-legged family members;
  • WhatsApp a friend just to say you hope they're well;
  • If you're in traffic, let that guy merge into the lane in front of you;
  • Give someone an unexpected – but sincere – compliment;
  • Clean your cupboards and donate all the excess to a charity, whether it is pots and pans or clothing.

Our communities and our country are in need of so much kindness. If you, reading here, are experiencing burnout, imagine what it is for a mother in an informal settlement where she needs to care for a family, where the schools are dysfunctional, where she has no access to a doctor. Or, if she had the money, there's probably not a surgery close by.

Count our blessings

So let's count our blessings and try to make that difference somewhere, somehow. For the next two weeks: Let your kindness create a ripple effect, growing stronger and stronger. In the process, you yourself will get more energy to feel you can face the rest of the year. 

Get inspired here, and post your act of kindness as inspiration. Let us make kindness the norm; let us unleash generosity.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said "Compassion is the basis of morality". Indeed, by showing compassion towards others who might struggle even more than you do, you get right to the core of morality. Closer to home, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said: "Do your little bit of good wherever you are; it's those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world." 

Let's overwhelm our overwhelmed world with little bits of good.

- Lizette Rabe is Professor at Stellenbosch University and founder of the Ithemba Foundation which creates awareness of the importance of mental health. 

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