Posted: Wednesday 7th July 2021
Returning once more to home schooling my children in the last lockdown, I found myself alongside my son, this time researching the benefits of kindness. What a great subject to study, and testament to some positive changes in education and society since my days in primary school. It turns out that the research tells us that kindness has a host of physical, psychological and social benefits. Stimulating the release of serotonin and oxytocin in both the instigator and the recipient, acts of kindness ease pain, reduce stress and heart disease, help us to heal physically and extend our life expectancy. Acts of kindness help us to feel calmer, happier and more socially bonded with one another. The power of these impacts rival the effects of painkillers and antidepressants.
It wasn’t a surprise to learn that kindness is beneficial; who’d argue with that? Yet that kindness is so powerful? The scale of the benefits and the clarity of the evidence surprised me. The whole episode of researching with my son and being surprised with our findings got me thinking; how commonly do the solutions to our problems lay hidden from us but are in fact in plain sight, right under our noses?
There seems to be a common habit of assuming that the answer to problems must be difficult to access, and ‘out there’ somewhere beyond the ordinary reach of ordinary people. When our problems are serious, it is certainly tempting to assume that solutions are similarly rare and beyond the ordinary. Perhaps this idea is deepened by capitalism, with its marketing of solutions for every problem, even those we haven’t even thought of having yet, and its claims to have invested such specialness in solutions to justify their price to us consumers.
Yet take a walk with a young child and it very quickly becomes clear that so many delights ‘hide’ right in front of us. The beautifully coloured autumn leaf, the fluffiness of a passing dog, the strangely shaped crack in the pavement which reveals itself as a smiley face if regarded from the requisite angle. Young children show us that it is how we look which determines a large part of what we see or don’t see.
So if we want to access those solutions which lie hidden in plain sight, how might we in mental health services practice looking? At MyST we try our best to look at the issues we encounter in our work as a young child might; not assuming that we already know, being curious, open to being mistaken or surprised, overlooking the potential value of nothing. Despite our experience, we try to look and listen as if for the first time. Unique as we all are, unique as every moment is, it is always the first time for every particular thing after all. With these first-timer’s eyes, perhaps we can see what has been hiding right in front of us all along waiting to be discovered.
This may sound simplistic or naïve, but in situations where all of the weighty, technical, specialist, and otherwise rare and hard to access solutions have failed, and when because of this, people are looking further and further away for the next answer, as they so often are for children with complex needs, it is worth considering whether changing how we look, just as ‘naïve’ young children do, might be worth it. Perhaps, paradoxically, rare and brilliant gems are actually found right before us amongst the apparently humble ordinary, if only we know how to look. And perhaps diamonds are even to be found between the cracks of the pavement.
Jen & Jael