This piece was recently written by a resident of Wester Hailes, and in it being published here hopes it will reach folk far and wide.
This year, the world has turned inside out and upside down, and at the worst
possible time things are getting worse again. Everyone is hurting, so many are
already traumatised, and things aren’t about to get any better any time soon.
I started to write this as the second wave of this hideous pandemic began to
crash down upon the shores of humanity. More recently, light at the end of
the tunnel has appeared in the announcement of the discovery of a vaccine.
The end of that tunnel is still a long way off though, and this is not the time to
take our eye off the ball. Now is the time use this good news to strengthen our
resolve to continue to fight this thing, to continue to help each other to fight
We have seen such extraordinary acts of courage, compassion and kindness
from the very beginning of this. What comes first the kindness, the
compassion or the courage? To my mind, if an act of compassion requires
sacrifice or risk, it takes courage. If courage is required for an act of
compassion then it is indeed kind.
But how much sacrifice does it take to smile, to say please, thank you and
you’re welcome? How much courage does it take to allow a person behind
you in the queue at the supermarket to take your place when your trolley is
full and the person behind has only 2 or 3 items?
Such seemingly trivial acts of kindness, cost us nothing and are a gift to all. It is
the act of kindness itself that is important rather than the recipient’s material
benefit. To be reminded of compassion when your own world is crumbling
around you is to be reminded of all of the better parts of humanity. It lifts a
person from their introverted and ever tightening thoughts to share in love
and empathy. We are no longer alone when we appreciate kindness.
Never has kindness been of such value, never has it been so needed. Whether
we give, we receive or we merely observe it, we benefit. It uplifts and re-
humanises, it gives us strength, it makes us whole again when we are broken.
There’s already so much suffering and trauma because of this disaster.
Everyone’s mental health is under threat. Trauma will be a part of the National
psyche for decades to come now. A secondary pandemic of trauma is already
becoming manifest. Kindness is its only antidote.
I am no stranger to trauma, but I have the good fortune to be well acquainted
with kindness too. The details of my own trauma, past and present, are
irrelevant to this. What happened to me three weeks ago is relevant though.
Three weeks ago, I rolled out of a taxi at A&E at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary in
screaming agony. Since then, I have been treated to the very best that NHS
Scotland has to offer during a week long stay in the emergency surgery ward.
Outside, I was screaming in agony. Inside, I was screaming in terror. Before
this happened; the perfect storm of the nightmare that I wouldn’t even dream
of imagining would be for me to need to have emergency surgery during this
pandemic. There I was, in A&E, screaming inside and out.
Suddenly there were kind and concerned eyes peering at me from behind face
masks. Because of their obvious kindness, the panic began to subside almost
I’d love to write a long piece about all of the amazing medicine that I witnessed
and received, and certainly, I will always be grateful to everyone that I
encountered during my stay. They absolutely do deserve my gratitude and
praise, and it is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
But this isn’t a piece about the extraordinary speed, skill and dexterity of my
surgeon. This isn’t a piece about his perfectly coordinated and enmeshed
team. Neither is this a piece about how various teams across various
departments synchronise so exquisitely to deliver the right tests and
treatments at the right times. However humbled, privileged, pain free and
alive I am as a result of this ultimate machine having made me a priority at this
difficult time, this is not a piece about the major miracles performed by the
bucket load every single day by the NHS.
This is a piece about the minor miracles made moment by moment in the
wards themselves. This is a piece about the relationship between kindness and
From the moment that I arrived, it was clear that I was not the first person to
arrive at A&E, alone, terrified and in agony. From inside of my isolation, my
panic, from the inside of the epicentre of my agony, my trust was won with
kindness and compassion. What I thought was something completely different
was almost immediately diagnosed for what it actually was; again, not for the
Pain relief was administered, and the next, I think, slightly more than 24 hrs
were spent having scans done, bloods taken and waiting for results. All the
while, I was cossetted in a swaddle of kindness and compassion.
The pain returned with a vengeance on the way to the procedure. I had to
overcome both the agony and another panic attack. This is no tale of daring do
though. I screamed like a child.
The pain, long past the point where it had evolved into something more
intense and focussed than any pain could possibly be, had collapsed into a
singularity. A single point in space and time, somewhere inside my abdomen,
from which all of the agony of the universe emanates. That pain was telling
me that now was a crisis point. The panic was telling me that now was a crisis
But throughout it all, a calming constant reminder of kindness and concern.
The rapport that the surgeon had carefully built with me. That at every stage, I
was persuaded by reasoned voices of what was needed. That I was asked
permission for everything and even thanked for allowing these wonderful
people to perform their tests and procedures. Bloods taken, pills given,
injections, canulas and drips, tests, all administered with consent gained with
patience. All done with a calm, gentle kindness.
That is how the surgeon reached me during that terrible moment, that is what
gave me the trust and strength to unwrap myself from around my pain, to
straighten out and to find the will to remain still for long enough for them to
perform their surgical magic.
I remember this; a nick to my side and, ‘Im in…’, from the surgeon. There’s
barely perceptible movement and suddenly a nudge against the singularity. An
electric shock of anticipated pain pulses through me, but the pain doesn’t
follow. Something is different. Was it before or after that nudge that I heard,
Moments, mere moments, and yet a mere moment more would have been an
Then, ‘Taps open…’.
Suddenly all of my agony, my terror, my torture was draining away. There
were some very emotional thank yous on my part, let me tell you.
Straight back to the ward, straight back to an array of sparkling eyes, radiating
warmth and kindness. From behind every mask, eyes smiled back at me. Kind,
gentle eyes, relieved to see the pain gone. Kind, gentle eyes that had seen my
pain and my terror all too often before. Kind, gentle eyes that see trauma and
its associated agonies every single day.
Trauma on the emergency surgery ward is obvious, it is ubiquitous. To
emergency medicine, trauma is visible, tangible and palpable. It is met the
only way it can possibly be met. It is met with kindness.
Kindness is our base reflex to trauma. Kindness is a fundament of our nature
that to some is only revealed when the juggernaut of trauma smashes through
the brittle veneers of social conditioning. To others, kindness is how they
choose to live their lives.
Our trauma; our country’s trauma, the world’s trauma is invisible. You do not
know what the man/woman/child standing next to you at the bus stop has
been through during the day. What kind of cumulative impact has the past
year had on her? Was this exam year for him? Have they been forced to stay
distant from a fading loved one?
Just for a moment, imagine being in a war zone during this, imagine being far
from home, a refugee even. Closer to home, imagine being in lockdown when
you are already within a coercive and controlling environment. If you do so,
then you are in fact, imagining being a torture victim.
Apocalypse is now, trauma is here and it is everywhere.
My trauma is my own and predates this mess by nearly half a century. We all
react differently to trauma and our experiences are all uniquely personal.
Mine has resulted in a debilitating stress disorder. The details of why the past
four years or so have layered additional trauma upon additional trauma for me
are unimportant to this piece. The fact that all of that trauma was coming to a
head and that my mental health was already at a crisis point before these
symptoms became apparent is very relevant though.
The indescribable pain combined with the increasing sense of imminent death
during the previous couple of weeks had already conspired to make this event
the worst single trauma of my life.
When I arrived at A&E, I was convinced that even if they managed to take
away the pain, even if they managed to save my life, the trauma of living
through my ultimate nightmare would utterly destroy me mentally.
And yet I left the hospital less traumatised than when I arrived. Much less
traumatised. I left the hospital empowered, enlightened and re-engaged. The
binary transition from the worst agony that I have ever experienced, amplified
ten fold by a panic attack, to sitting up in the ward minutes later safely
swaddled in kindness and compassion will remain the most uplifting
experience of my life.
You might well be reading this and thinking, that’s just the pain meds talking. I
would respond with this. The kindness was there and noticeable and already
making a difference from the beginning, before any pharmaceuticals were
administered. Some of those pain killers are very seductive, so much so, that I
was very keen to get off them as soon as they were not needed. I spent
several days on that ward clean of pain meds and the kindness there was still
there, it was still real and it was still continuous. All of those same kind eyes
continued to sparkle for everyone during the whole time that I was there.
My traumas have never resolved like that before. Usually there is no distinct
resolution in the first place. To find that resolution, whilst bathed in warmth,
humanity and kindness… It’s little wonder that I feel uplifted. It’s early days
for me, Im still processing this experience, but it seems to me that I’ll be
strengthened now against past and future trauma, both.
I have no sense of panic whatsoever about returning to hospital either.
For the first time in quite literally decades, I am brimming over with joy.
When I began writing this piece, I wanted to talk about how I had been used to
thinking about kindness as ripples on a pond.
One of my favourite things is to allow someone with only a couple of items to
step ahead of me in the checkout queue at the supermarket. It costs me
seconds and might save them minutes. I feel good, they feel good, everyone’s
a winner. I think that my record is five in a row. As I do such things, I imagine
that perhaps this small act of kindness will inspire its recipient to act kindly
themselves at the next opportunity.
I think that if I do this enough times, then perhaps someone having a really bad
day will suddenly see a ray of sunlight break through the dark clouds of
inhumanity. Perhaps if I do it enough, a road rage event, on the way out of the
car park that would otherwise have happened wouldn’t. Perhaps, at the end
of the day, a child would be praised for achievement and not gas-lighted as a
If I do it ten thousand times, then perhaps a spouse won’t have their ribs
Who knows what potential impact any single act of kindness can have?
It struck me that the ripples metaphor is limited. It is too linear. It takes no
account of the infectious nature of kindness. It takes no account of how the
smallest act of kindness can illuminate the darkest of moods. It takes no
account of the unintended consequences of kindness.
Did the nurses on the ward treat me with extra special kindness because I was
a special case? I don’t think so. I think that I was treated to extra special
kindness because that’s how everyone in the emergency surgery ward is
Was kindness administered as medicine with the specific intention of curing
past trauma? I don’t think so. I think that it was administered as medicine
because kindness is the natural response of a caring human being to trauma,
and it was administered with such a high standard of excellence because they
operate in a field where such a high standard of excellence is standard in
Was their kindness motivated by the thought that I would have so many more
opportunities to be kind as a result of being de-traumatised by it, or were they
just being kind?
Perhaps a more contemporary and useful metaphor than ripples on a pond can
be extracted from our current disaster. There is no doubt in my mind now that
kindness is infectious. There is no doubt that its impact is non-linear and its
consequences go well beyond its intentions. Perhaps it is more useful to think
of kindness and its antithesis, malice, as two competing viruses, the former
beneficial, the latter toxic and harmful.
It strikes me that malice has always had the upper hand in terms of infection
rates, and now it seems to have so many more opportunities to spread. Malice
and trauma feed on each other. When traumatised; we are less inclined to
trust, more inclined to be defensive. We will aggressively protect and hide our
weaknesses. We are more inclined to meet malice with malice. Never has
malice had such an opportunity to feed.
Malice is afoot and hides everywhere behind the dishonesty of our post-truth
Is it possible to make kindness more infectious in order to compensate? If we
think of kindness as a virus, is there a way to increase its R number?
A kind friend suggested, ‘K number’, for the reproduction number of kindness.
Following the theme, let’s assign a similar number, ‘M’, for the reproduction
rate for malice.
Is it possible to make kindness more infectious than malice, to make K bigger
than M, K>M?
Imagine for a moment that it is possible. Try to imagine how you might help to
make it happen, just for a moment.
That is the very simple idea behind this kindness campaign. To help to protect
ourselves from future harms by making kindness more infectious.
We ask for simple messages from our leaders. Perhaps this is a simple
message that we can adopt for ourselves to help to get us through this.
Perhaps this is a simple message that we can give to our leaders.
Help make kindness more infectious.
And above all, please be kind.
My hope is that the R number for this particular message is much larger than 1.
I hope that enough of you who read this will find enough to agree with to want
to forward this on to a large number of people. My hope is that enough
people will eventually read it to install the idea of a kindness campaign into the
National consciousness. My hope is that you will all find your own creative
ways to make kindness more infectious.
If this resonates with enough people, then perhaps the notion of trying to
make kindness more infectious will be the next great thing that Scotland gives
to the world.
I cannot begin to imagine all of the ways that we could make kindness more
infectious, but I can certainly imagine a few obvious ones. Top of the list has to
simply be; please be kind. Look for and create opportunities for kindness,
celebrate it and praise it when you encounter it.
I cannot begin to imagine all of the possible ways that a kindness campaign
might develop and evolve either, but I imagine it being national policy
nonetheless. I imagine the word, ‘kind’, being in the first line of every new
constitution, of every mission statement, of every organisation.
I imagine every news programme ending with an anecdote, a quote, a thought
on kindness. I imagine religious leaders of every faith holding up examples of
local kindness as the action of heroes. Awards and medals handed out, willy
nilly, for acts of kindness. Footballers famed for their kindness before their
goals, (bless you Marcus). I imagine a world where kindness is the first instinct
of us all.
I imagine a revolution of kindness led by us. I imagine policy informed and
dictated by our own kind acts.
I imagine a better world.
Just for a moment, imagine a world where the kindness that I encountered in
the emergency surgery ward is standard everywhere. Just for a moment,
please just imagine that.
If we were to strive for such perfection and we were to fall a little short, then
what would we have lost?
Could you help to start a revolution of kindness just by forwarding this
message? Could you help to influence national, regional or local policy? Could
we have the word, ‘kind’, written into the first line of every new constitution
and mission statement? Could our schools, councils and institutions operate
from within a culture of kindness?
Could sending this message to a few friends who might be amused by the
notion of making kindness more infectious increase the amount of kindness in
the world by the slightest sliver?
Or could this message simply cash in on an already very real increasing up-
swell of kindness to help to make a very real difference?
There’s only one way to find out. If you like these ideas, then please forward
this message to as many as you can and above all, please be kind.
None of this message is copyright. None of these ideas should belong to any
one person. My aim is simply to scatter the seeds of what some friends and I
thought of as a good idea as far and wide as possible. How you cultivate them
is up to you.
I am a luddite who still lives in the email age, I know nothing of hashtags,
tweets and Facebook. I understand that they are fertile ground for
communication though. I hope that you will take my words and do what you
will with them. My hope is that you will find ways to use social media to
project your own message of kindness to the world. My hope is that you will
run your own kindness campaign your own way.
Dark times are here and worse are coming. When this apocalypse is done with
us, we will awaken to those others that we have made for ourselves and that
COVID has distracted us from. Whatever the future holds for us, we need each
other now and for the foreseeable future and we need each other now more
than ever. We need each other to be kind.
May your own kindness reach many souls, after all, it is the universal panacea.
Help make kindness more infectious.
And above all, please be kind.