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Is It Just Me Or... Does Everyday Kindness Still Matter?
Rachel Cargle once wrote something brilliant about the misconception that doing good requires a massive online platform to speak from. She pointed out that our real-life communities, our families, our day-to-day is where we can all create change – and that change adds up, even if you don’t quite believe it does.
When I was knee-deep in online social justice culture spaces, I noticed that everyday kindness was kind of looked down upon. It wasn’t radical enough to be kind. It wasn’t the same as doing the work. Unless you were shouting loudly, calling out others, publicly confronting all your -isms every second of the day and demanding that people around you do the same, it just ain’t good enough kid. You’re not Good™ enough.
And while I agree that kindness isn’t going to dismantle systemic inequality or solve all injustice, I’m not really interested in existing in a space where we disregard its value entirely. Seems pretty all-or-nothing, to me.
At points over the last few years, I’ve been so deeply invested in proving my morality on the internet - always saying exactly the right thing in exactly the right way to placate the right people – that I didn’t have the mental capacity left over to consider the everyday stuff. I had no idea whether my neighbour could have used some support because I was too busy stressing about whether I’d posted the right infographics to my stories. When I left the house I couldn’t see the opportunities around me to help people because I was convinced that all people must hate me for not being Good™ enough.
Unless I was shouting from my online podium, I didn’t see how I could possibly be making a positive difference.
Then something interesting happened. I tapped out.
I spent a year being honest with myself about all the toxic parts of online social justice culture and how they’d impacted me mentally, and after a whole lot of unlearning (and therapy), I gave myself permission to get off the podium. To not feel the pressure to prove my morality to thousands of strangers on the internet every day. To not comment on everything. To not perform Goodness™. To live in my values without needing anyone else to co-sign on whether I was doing it right.
As soon as I let go, all of these new everyday opportunities to be kind, create change and do good seemed to open up around me. I spent less time posting infographics and more time having conversations with people, listening to their lives and what might make them easier. I cared less about the online social justice police, which meant I could care more about my friends and how to support them. I started to pay attention to the people who are really out here doing grassroots community work, not just the ones who are shouting the loudest online (and I realised that sometimes the ones who are shouting the loudest online are actually doing the least offline).
Every day I noticed another opportunity to be kind.
Buying coffee for the person behind me in the queue. Taking tins to the food bank. Asking a service worker how they are and actually listening. Donating period products. Saving a bee. Cooking for someone. Complimenting a stranger. Asking the person sat outside the supermarket whether I can get them anything while I’m inside. Buying independent when possible. Leaving a positive affirmation somewhere in public. Giving my neighbour a gift. Telling a friend what I love about them. Organising a fun Christmas party at the local disabled community centre. Opportunities to be kind are everywhere.
And rather than dismissing those acts of kindness as not enough, I’m starting to realise that this is the only way things actually add up. We can take part in the Woke Olympics online every day and compete for who has the hottest take, but if we can’t connect with other humans and find tangible ways to offer support, we’re kind of all just… Shouting?
Yes, education is valuable and yes, online activism is real and can do good. But lately I can’t help wondering whether we’ve got the balance wrong. Maybe we’re not investing our energy in the places that could actually help others the most. Maybe it’s time to reaffirm the value of everyday kindness, of living in our values rather than shouting about them, of doing, imperfectly, rather than saying, perfectly.
I’ve done a lot of shouting on the internet in my life. Often about things that really do matter, and that I believe have been droplets in some pretty big waves of social change. I’m not going to stop using social media to talk about those things, but I no longer believe that putting out a perfectly worded post about social justice has greater impact than taking the chance to directly help one person in real life. Every time I take a chance to be kind in real life, I feel connected to community in a way that can’t quite be recreated online. Dismissing the value in that isn’t a hot take, it’s fucking silly.
And if we can do both – leverage social media to educate, spread awareness, fundraise, and also have the capacity for every day acts of kindness and compassion? Perfect. That’s the dream. But right now, it’s time for me to rebalance, and reaffirm all the ways that everyday acts of kindness do still matter.
You’re free to rebalance if you need to, too.
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