Without the kindness of strangers, the heartbreak and challenges this year has presented me with would have felt a lot worse.
Without the kindness of strangers, my partner and I would have been unable to have stayed in a room, free of charge just minutes away from our baby who was fighting for his life in a neonatal unit.
The kindness of strangers helped my son receive treatment with state-of-the-art medical technology, and his parents small comforts like cups of tea and a sofa to sit on.
The kindness of strangers (as well as my family and friends) is helping me survive the worst time of my life.
Charity giving has received a high profile during the past couple of weeks due to the ALS ice bucket challenge. Your social media feeds have probably been full of folk tipping buckets of ice water over their heads, just as mine has.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, to give ALS its full name, or motor neurone disease (MND) as it is better known in the UK is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. Put simply, it affects the messages that the brain sends to the spinal cord and then to the muscles in the body. Many patients eventually become paralysed, and the disease eventually leads to their death.
Raising awareness and invaluable funds towards finding a cure for this debilitating disease through the ice bucket challenge is a great idea, which has gone viral across all forms of social media. The social media craze has given ALS/MND a profile that arguably money could not buy with a traditional marketing campaign.
The trouble is, a survey has revealed that fewer than half of the people in this country who have participated in the challenge have donated money to an ALS charity. Just more than half did not know what cause the challenge was in aid of. Worse, a third of the survey’s respondents said they did the challenge just to get attention on social media, and others said they did it because of peer pressure.
The results of that survey left me feeling rather irked and exasperated. It confirmed my cynical head’s concerns about the challenge.
The positive side is that the ALS charity has received a record £57 million in donations since the end of July (an increase of some £55 million compared to the same period last year).
Another positive is that a number of people have chosen to donate to another charity, one that has personal meaning to them. People in need will benefit from funds donated to any charity, and that is a good thing.
For that reason, I was disappointed by the reaction to Macmillan’s adoption of the ice bucket challenge, in particular those who had rather hysterically claimed they would no longer donate any money to the cancer charity as a result. I am uncomfortable with that charity’s decision to pay for a Google Ad to promote their campaign, but that is another matter, as is whether or not they ‘hijacked’ it.
For me, the real point of not just the ice bucket challenge, but of life in general is giving.
Money is the most useful thing to give to charities. It’s how they fund their work – they would not be able to exist and help people (or animals) in need otherwise.
Donations of small change, as well as sponsored activities like runs, walks, and jumping out of planes helped fund our room in the Ronald McDonald House. Such donations also help First Touch provide equipment for sick and premature babies, and small comforts for their parents.
Random acts of kindness, such as buying a coffee for the person in front of you in the queue, or buying a random stranger some flowers are examples of small gestures that can make someone’s day.
Giving doesn’t always have to be about money, however. Giving can also be about kindness. Kindness, compassion and generosity towards others. Not judging.
Giving a kind word, or lending a non-judgmental ear to someone who is going through a tough time. Friends and family have done that for me in spades, and that’s wonderful. But they’re supposed to. It doesn’t mean I take them for granted – it’s part of the reciprocal relationship.
Kindness from strangers can often be more cherished by the recipient, because the stranger doesn’t have to be kind.
Virtual hugs, compliments about Hugo, my beautiful baby boy, and general kindness from complete strangers on social media have provided a small comfort to me in my grief.
Kind is something I always try to be to everyone I know, and to those I don’t know, too. It usually doesn’t take much to be kind, and there is usually no excuse to not be kind.
Writing a kind comment to someone, especially if they are feeling down takes just seconds. I know from experience that even a simple four-lettered word (a kind one!) – ‘hugs’ – can make someone feel like they are not alone in the world.
In a world that is full of such sadness and sorrow, the value of kindness cannot be overrated. Whether that kindness is through a financial donation to a charity, a random act of kindness or generosity of spirit towards someone experiencing a difficult time, it can all make a difference to someone’s life.
Psychological research has suggested any acts of kindness can also enhance your personal happiness. Being kind to strangers can give you a warm glow.
A warm glow that will help thaw the chill of the ice challenge – provided you donate some money to charity, of course.
Disclosure: I have not done the ice bucket challenge – and no one has nominated me. Would I do it if they had? I’m not sure. It feels like jumping on a bandwagon. Like others who have declined the challenge, I don’t feel like I need to post a video to Facebook to donate to charity.