We all have choices to make. In my personal life I usually run a mile from choices because I am never confident in my ability to pay the costs involved. Professionally I make a million choices a day. Sometimes I have been happy with, even proud of my choices, other times not so much. Sometimes I make a choice which logic and intelligence determine to be right but I can’t help feeling sick as I make it.
Humanitarian work is full of these kinds of choice. Choices on who to help, when to help, and how to help. Choices of who to work with and who not to work with. Choices about what kind of humanitarian you want to be. Do you want to be one who strictly adheres to humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence? Do you want to be a humanitarian who does what ever it takes to get the job done?
I’m not even a tried and tested humanitarian, I haven’t seen the devastation of a rapid onset natural disaster or been in the aftermath of civil unrest. I am a student and a trainee and as such I feel unprepared for the barrage of choices that I am facing in my newly chosen career. I am confronted by the mirror that humanitarian work holds up in front of you.
One choice that I know I have to remake and recommit to each moment is the choice to be kind.
It’s such a simple, rather old fashion notion and one that is easily forgotten in times of pressure and stress. Over the past few weeks I’ve tried to bring some reSILLYence to my team and I have noticed that more than the laughs and jokes, it’s been those small acts of kindness that have really made the difference. It got me thinking, the darkest moments I have experienced and witnessed in my life always featured an act of random kindness.
When I lived in Korea I got tuberculosis. I barely remember the fever, the pain or the coughing. I do, and always will, remember the kindness I was shown by my boss, colleagues, friends and even the local bar tender throughout my 12-month recovery.
My first trip with work took me to the slums of India. We were filming the residents of Chennai as they woke from their spots on the ground, packed up their meagre belongings and disappeared into the city’s streets. After a few days of talking with a young lady she presented me with a thread of white flowers. I had seen these flowers being worn in women’s hair and knew this was her income source. I didn’t know if I should accept, offer to pay or what. Not having a hair clip of my own she took out hers and clipped the flowers to my hair, thanking me for listening to her story.
In a training scenario where I was covered in fake blood and vomit pretending to die a stranger sat next to me, held my hand and sung me a lullaby.
Frustration at feeling useless, anger and annoyance at not being listened to, and defeat by passive aggression make it easy to overlook kindness in others. Worse still, they provide a twisted self-justification for forgetting to be kind yourself.
I’m not proud of some of my behaviour over the past few months. I know that in some instances I have not been kind. For all our right and wrong undertakings, for all our achievements and stumbles it’s the kindness that we show that will be remembered. Kindness is a choice and I am choosing right now to be kind. Cos in the end that is all that matters.