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Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Commonality of Kindness

The Commonality of Kindness

You’ll have heard the story by now.  On Sunday, an Englishman was helped out of a tight spot by a Welshman. I like to think there’s a certain poetic quality to having the ‘dragon’ being the good guy on St George’s Day…

But this is not a tale of nationality, but one of sportsmanship and human kindness.

Matthew Rees, from Swansea Harriers, was 300 metres from the end of his London Marathon effort when he spotted David Wyeth struggling to reach the finishing line.  Actually, struggling doesn’t really do it justice.  David’s body was shot.  He’d given everything and his limbs really could do no more.  Without assistance, he’d have become a human road bump.  Fortunately, assistance was on hand in the shape of a fellow runner.

Matthew had already completed over 42,000 metres and had been struggling with an injury himself when he spied his fellow athlete in distress with a short distance left to run.  As the TV pictures showed, a number of runners ran past David before Matthew helped out.  Many of these runners may well have been blinkered by the sight of the end approaching and many more may have underestimated David’s plight.

running men

I’m not suggesting that any of the other runners were remiss in not lending a hand and would absolutely echo everything that’s been said about Matthew’s selflessness, as well as about the community spirit that evidently exists within the sport.  David said in interviews afterwards in fact, that he wasn’t surprised to receive help as runners tend to look out for each other, adding that the cameras caught an act of kindness that wasn’t unusual to those in the running fraternity.

There is no doubt that Matthew acted selflessly and deserves the attention and credit given to him. Like many, I found this story more inspiring and of more interest than who won overall.  What I find interesting is that an act of kindness like this is considered exceptional. So, where strangers are concerned, at least, is kindness uncommon?

The commentary could have run something like this, “There’s a runner really struggling here, it’s not looking good for him to finish the race with only metres to go. Oh, but there’s another runner stopping to help him get over the line. Well done.” Aside from being proof that I would make a lousy commentator, my point is that this could have been all that was said, just a simple acknowledgement of everyday altruism.

I can’t pretend to know what I’d have done myself, had I been in Matthew’s shoes.  I would like to say I’d have stepped in and helped out.

But would I have done so?  Would you?

We can all say we’d behave in this way or that, but if tested, it would be fascinating to see how we’d really behave. That’s the thing, you see. We rightly praise Matthew’s sportsmanship, but we notice and highlight it because it’s unusually positive behaviour.  If we were all as helpful as we could be, we wouldn’t notice stories like this (except of course this one happened so publicly)

Are we to think that acts that (I would believe) fall into the common decency category are in fact examples of going ‘above and beyond’? The exception, rather than the rule? And if being kind is exceptional rather than expected, does this elevate selflessness to the point where it’s considered ‘normal’ behaviour for us to be more self-involved and therefore behave less thoughtfully?

Clearly, Matthew and David’s marathon story is not a common occurrence that we call relate to directly, but I would hope that my metaphorical neighbour would lend a hand if it were needed and that I would do the same in return.  And not only should kindness be forthcoming, it really shouldn’t be as surprising when it is.

In short, it’s important that kindness continues to be rewarded and recognised, particularly in an increasing inward-looking, isolationist world, but it would be nice if being kind to one another was normal rather than news.

Mind Your Language

Mind Your Language

She had a difficult birth with her second child.

I wasn’t there myself (being neither parent nor her practitioner), but I almost feel like I was.

Such was the intimate and visceral (not to mention detailed) portrait painted in my mind by way of conversational tidbits flying overhead one day in the office. No-one partaking in the chat appeared to feel awkward about the exchange, and no-one else overtly took issue with it, though the details were enough to make many a prudish Brit blush.

watercooler

Not every office would play host to such chat, but you can be sure that most will hear discourse on health topics regularly.  If a colleague has had a cold, measles or even a bout of Delhi Belhi, you run the risk of hearing more about it than strictly necessary (and probably timed as you take your first bite of lunch). And we’ll all have had workmates talking of their dodgy knee that’ll need surgery or the upcoming root canal surgery they’ve been dreading.

Given this national pastime of oversharing, buoyed further by the unstoppable juggernaut that is our collective social media obsession, why aren’t there more public conversations on anxiety, stress and depression?

The way we as a society discuss mental health (or don’t) is very different to how we talk about physical illness. This is, to a large extent, a result of attitudes towards the two branches of health. They are barely seen as comparable, let alone intrinsically linked, as they actually are. And, where one is all too readily brought up in conversation, the other is still taboo.

Going to see your GP to discuss a bout of the flu or a sore throat is not going to worry the majority of us.  It’s straightforward.  We go in, serve up a soupçon of symptoms, get checked over and are offered a diagnosis with a side salad of suggested treatments.  It’s not always that simple of course, thanks to NHS resource issues and waiting times, but in the main it works well enough.

Moreover, most of us would be happy to discuss a range of bodily ailments with our doctor and seek advice at the early stages of a problem’s onset. Hurt your back and you’ll book an appointment as soon as you can, maybe the same day.

mental

If you’re going to the doctor because you’re feeling anxious or depressed however, my guess is that a) you’ll have been feeling that way for weeks, months or even years and b) you’ve only sought help because you’ve reached breaking point. It could even quite easily be someone other than you that identifies that there’s even an issue to address.

It is also this crisis mentality that I think is partly to blame for mental health not being raised as a topic among friends and colleagues.  And I imagine that even close-knit families and those in relationships are also not always having the conversations that really they should.

It seems that psychological concerns are viewed as either non-existent or catastrophic. When talking about a cold, you have a broad spectrum of suffering that can be expressed.  You can have anything from a bit of a sniffle to full-blown flu and place yourself on a sliding scale, depending on your current state. We are far less inclined to talk about matters of the mind in this way.  When did you last hear someone talk about feeling down or a bit mentally frazzled?

As well as the fear most of us have about admitting to not being ‘okay’, we don’t appear to have words to express the low levels of mental health problems we all experience in life.  Clinically determined conditions are one thing, but there is a multitude of states we can find ourselves in from one day to the next.

It is not a binary issue, but it’s common for us to think of someone as being basically fine (whatever THAT means) or depressed, with nothing in between.  And if there’s no in-between, how can we talk about the journey from feeling good to feeling grim and back again? Or about the low-level bouts of feeling bad that we all go through in life?

snowball

Discussing mental health problems only once they manifest themselves as extreme cases means that we aren’t talking about the smaller things that all add up, the starter snowball before it reaches unmanageable proportions.

It’s possible we’re not quite ready to talk about all our mini-anxieties and smaller stresses by the office watercooler just yet, but if you’re feeling low or strung out, make sure you share with friends and family if you can. We may not have the language to express it as well we do our physical issues, but that’s no excuse not to talk about our mental health.

Start the conversation.

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