Thoughts on Radical Kindness: Why writers and artists should practice it (Part 3)

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[This is part 3 of a series of blogs about kindness. Please see parts 1 and 2 here]

When I began writing these posts I kind of thought this would have been one of my ‘here are my random thoughts on this’ kind of posts and that would be it. However life rarely turns out as you expect. I have been thinking a bit about my own journey as a person, and as an artist and writer, and what I’m about really through these posts.

I actually wanted to write and make art when I was a teenager, but I also wanted to ‘help people’ and somehow got it into my head that being an artist/writer would mean that I wouldn’t be doing that (I have seriously revised my view on this now!). Instead I went off to university to study medicine, thinking that doctors ‘helped’ people so that was what I should do. While I really loved learning about the science, and believe that having the opportunity to study human anatomy through full body dissection was one of the great privileges of my life, it turned out that the practice of medicine was not for me. I left after four years to do a PhD in psychology, during which I studied things like advertising, persuasion and the impact that stories can have on us. I still wanted to write and make art, but some how I wasn’t ready, because I hadn’t really found my subject.

Later I did research into mental health and genetics, and I left a long term relationship because my then partner would not even talk about having children (hence I am quite late to the baby party). After this I had a bit of a break down really, although I would not have called it that at the time. I was depressed, very anxious, and drinking lots. I was in a bad way, and (cliche alert) I became attached to a number of men who were not attached to me.

I continued to work in mental health but the kind of work I did changed so that I was doing research with colleagues who also had mental health issues. We talked a lot, and I listened a lot, and in the middle of all of that, I found I was ready to make things and write things. I am now writing a novel in which people have experienced trauma and who live with those things. It’s also a fantasy novel, so I am trying to weave in strands of myth and magic, which makes things a bit complicated, but and I think I finally found my subject. I think this is the many splendid forms of being human and all the emotional consequences of that. 

So why do I think that artists and writers in particular should practice radical kindness? I think that, beyond just being a good person, there are a number of reasons. I think to create art, or convincing characters that really speak to people, it can really help to understand people. It can really help to understand the rich and varied emotional lives many people live. To understand people, you need to connect with people on an honest level. To connect with people, it really, really helps if you are kind. People will tell you things about themselves, and help you, incrementally, to better understand all the different ways of being human, if you are kind.

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.

Thoughts on Radical Kindness as a Daily Practice: Part 2

img_0390[This blog is Part 2 of a series blogs – see Part 1 here.]

When I started writing this blog series I just wanted to express a general thought about kindness; that posting nice quotes or stories is not enough. We need to think about it like yoga, as a kind of daily or weekly practice to actually make a difference. I see this a potential political movement, not just a personal practice, although perhaps more developed thoughts on that can wait for later.

In writing that post I realised that I had learned a few specific things in the last few years working in mental health that were helpful to me. You may or may not find them helpful to you, so I’ve made a little list:

  1. Listening to, rather than talking to, people. I think this has been my major learning in the last few years and it’s also something I keep banging on about. I have even blogged about this in the past here. Learning to listen carefully to people, and to be able to show that I am listening to them has, I think, been the thing that has made the biggest difference in being able to really connect with people. I have learned a whole set skills that relate to listening over time. I will write a separate post about them at some point.
  2. Resisting the urge to ‘fix it’, and understanding that is often not what people need anyway. I think that ignoring or avoiding the urge to immediately jump up and try to fix something for someone when they are having a difficult time is really important. I am not sure if this is a British thing or more broadly applicable, but in the UK we are socially accustomed to avoiding difficult conversations. This often leads to the impulse to jump up and ‘do something’ when one arises, rather than giving someone the full extent of space and time they need to explain themselves. While practical is often help is very much appreciated, if offered too early it is often inappropriate and may just demonstrate that you weren’t listening in the first place.
  3. Resisting the urge to interrupt, or finish people’s sentences. Actually I have a really hard time with this one, because I find myself doing this quite a bit and then being cross with myself. But it’s also the biggest indicator for me that someone is not listening, or has lost patience with me when they do this. So this is an area I am working on.
  4. Don’t dismiss someone’s feelings, or suggest someone may be overreacting or making it up. Just don’t. It’s not nice. It’s not kind.
  5. Understanding that kindness may look different to different people. You can’t always get it right. I have often said things or done things that have landed badly, often when I was too tired, or took too little time to understand. It’s ok to get things wrong. It’s not ok to stop trying, or to avoid understanding why things went wrong. Try, try again. 
  6. Try not to give advice. Lots of people with mental health problems have heard all the advice before. I have found asking people what they have tried, and not tried out is a much better way to get into a conversation about what to do next. For example don’t tell people with anxiety to try a puzzle book, or a colouring book. They very probably have six of each sitting at home, half finished. Please don’t tell people to ‘go for a nice walk’. It’s not that simple. I always come back to listening. A lot of people feel a little bit better when they feel heard, and that they can trust you to keep a confidence.
  7. Don’t assume you know what someone is feeling. Even if you have been through the exact same thing, which you probably haven’t, you don’t. Let them tell you instead.
  8. Understanding my own boundaries, trying to protect them. Again this is something I have really struggled with in the past because I thought being kind meant being there for everyone else all the time, at the expense of what ever may be going on for me. Then I got really ill for a while with anxiety, drank waaay too much, and realised that this approach, amongst other issues in my life at the time, were not working. Now I try really hard to limit the time spent in social situations as I find these very tiring, and to basically give my self a sensible amount of time to do things like replying to emails and texts rather than being ‘on tap’. I think some people may have felt that I have become very anti social because of this, but I’m happy with the focus on quality over quantity. 
  9. Don’t consume things that are cruel. As a rule I don’t buy gossip magazine or tabloid newspapers, I try to avoid clickbait type articles online (with partial success). I don’t follow people like Katie Hopkins or Piers Morgan on Twitter. Most of these media forms have, in part or in full, cruelty built into their business model. Let’s think about that. They make money by spreading things like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, disability hate, rape myths and assorted forms of ignorance, and untrue stories about people’s private lives. These things make the lives of ordinary people harder, and those people are often people who had a difficult run in the first place. It that what you want your hard earned money, or your precious time, to be doing? We can make things better, collectively, by refusing to reward anyone who makes money from this kind of content. Don’t pay for it. Don’t click on it. Don’t follow it. It’s like adding poison to your own well. As a happy side effect, you’ll feel a lot better without that kind of influence in your life. I have not bought a single ‘woman’s magazine’ for ten years, and I have not missed them at all.

I will have missed loads of things so please add your thoughts in the comments below.

I also make art. You can see things with my designs on at my shop here. Could even treat yourself if you wanted to. Just saying. If buying art is not your thing, but you would like to support what you see I also have a Patreon Page here.