By: Oliver Lloyd – Deputy Head (Pastoral), Framlingham College Senior School
May the fourth be with you! Today is Star Wars Day (May 4th ). Star Wars – the ultimate battle of good versus evil, compassion versus hatred, kindness vs unkindness. So, please think about which Star Wars character you would be whilst I say what I am about to say…
In December of 1994 I found myself under canvas in Yemen, a country that was then, and still is, lawless. I was being guarded, along with 5 other archaeologists, by local tribesmen in our small encampment in the middle of the desert known as the Tihamah plain – one of the most inhospitable places on earth. We were there to excavate a temple complex from around 800 BC and it was pretty common for westerners to be kidnapped in the Yemen at this time. As a university student it was exhilarating and frightening in equal measure – I loved it! Guns and knives are pretty common in Yemen and you saw them everywhere. At night lying in my tent I would hear guns going off and the whizz of bullets flying high above me. These mostly came from wedding parties as a celebration, but you were never quite sure. Looking back it was an intense experience that really took me to the edge at times and was, on reflection, just downright dangerous.
What got me through, however; was …. the kindness of strangers.
Our small encampment was guarded day and night by people we did not know, who had no allegiance to us, but who took it upon themselves to look after us in their territory. I was in no doubt that any member of the local tribe, whose land we were next to, would have defended me and my fellow archaeologists with their life. It was their kindness and support that helped me through what turned out to be a really tough experience. Fortunately, in return we were able to help save one of their lives with antibiotics that they could not afford. So, we were able to return the kindness.
Yemen is not the only place I have experienced great kindness.
When I was not much older than you my goal was to see as much of the world as I could by the time I was 30. I took a gap year and headed off, on my own, to the Middle East in search of adventure and archaeological sites. I spent quite a bit of time exploring Egypt, Jordan and Syria. I saw it as part of my education to learn about the ancient cultures of these places and I met a lot of people along the way.
My first experience of the kindness of strangers was in Egypt when, during Ramadan, I went off to see the Great Pyramids of Giza. I thought it would be pretty cool to get a horse and ride up around the pyramids into the desert at sunset.. so that’s what I did. I went to the stable nearby and asked to rent a horse. Not only was I given the horse for free, but after my ride around the pyramids cantering through the desert (which was pretty awesome), I was then invited into the stable owner’s House where I joined his family to break the daily Ramadan fast; not only was it a culturally enlightening experience, it was another example of the kindness of strangers and a fitting welcome to a part of the world known for its hospitality.
As I travelled through the rest of Egpyt, Jordan and Syria and in the continuing pursuits of my pre-30 life goal I continued to experience considerable kindness and fortunately I have been able to bestow kindness on others I have met along the way… and it is probably one of the main factors why I have extended my pre-30 goal to a bit of a way of life – I can’t stop travelling.
I have focused here on what I perceive to be grand gestures but it is often the small things that can make the biggest difference to our daily lives:
- A smile ‘If you smile at me, I will understand because that is something everybody, everywhere does in the same language.’
- A – Good morning
- Open body language – the language of inclusion
- A compliment.
Kindness comes in many forms…
- The kindness of strangers;
- Random acts of kindness;
- Anonymous acts of kindness;
- Collective acts of kindness;
- Kindness to self – positive self-speak.
All religions are based around a culture of kindness.
- In Islam one of the 5 pillars of Islam is ZAKAT – the giving of charity to the poor;
- In Sikhism – it is part of a Sikh’s duty to go to the Gurdwara and serve others food;
- In Christianity, many of the Ten Commandments act as a moral code for kindness towards others and I am sure you have all heard the parable of the Good Samaritan, which illustrates clearly how we should never be a bystander and walk past someone in need of a little kindness.
So, what is it about kindness that is so important?
Well – When you receive kindness from others it HITS YOU WITH A WARM GLOW and we all know what that feels like. You feel SPECIAL, it gives you confidence and it makes you feel GOOD!
Conversely, we all also know how unkindness makes us feel.
I have experienced some unkindness in the world too – I have been kicked in the head a couple of times whilst minding my own business. I have been verbally abused, called names, spat on and I’ve had stones thrown at me kayaking down a river. I have felt the hurt of being excluded, being whispered about and looked upon with disgust.
I would suggest that it’s impossible to go through life without some level of unkindness being bestowed upon you – which is sad, but a reality. And we all react differently to this. Some brush it off and some are crushed by it.
And while kindness shines upon us with a warm glow, unkindness puts us in the dark – in the cold shadows, where we are forced to question who we are and why someone would choose to bestow unkindness upon us. Why me!?
If we relate kindness and unkindness to communities, it is very apparent that those who live in kind, supportive communities thrive. The teamwork effect. By talking each other up and being positive you and your community benefit and therefore everyone thrives.
Unkind communities that are torn apart by hatred and war tend not to thrive. They stand divided, disjointed and a culture of negativity pervades. People do not feel they can be themselves; confidence disappears and the community crumbles.
So how does this all relate to us and our daily lives at this beautiful School. While grand gestures may not be possible, we can certainly focus on the small things.
As teenagers, you are particularly susceptible to comments, glances, body language and being judged, so the small things really matter. Added to this you are at a stage where you are finding yourselves, understanding who you are, which can make you quite vulnerable. So, all the more reason to be surrounded by kindness.
So, my challenge to you, is to really develop a culture of kindness in all that you do. But how do we define kindness? It is the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate… It means you should:
- Include others;
- Welcome differences and diversity (and this could relate to race, gender or sexual preference);
- Make a positive comment to someone outside your friendship group;
- Rethink those petty jealousies;
- Stand up when something is wrong or if you hear a comment that is out of order;
- If you’re an older pupil – include the younger ones so they know they have been noticed;
- Make positive comments to raise up those around you;
- Commit yourself to giving random acts of kindness;
- Watch your body language and understand its impact;
- The list goes on…
You are all in this together and you all want to succeed, no matter who you are and what you choose to do, and we can all help each other to do this by being kind within our community.
So finally, just as you might look across to the wonderful castle bathed in the beautifully warm light of an English summers’ evening. Think how you might cast your own warm light on those around you (your friends and your other peers), safe in the knowledge that you are living within a culture of kindness, where if we raise each other up we can all achieve anything. Also, we have a kindness candle. Bill Rimmer the old Chair of Governors gave us this candle and Rev B would like to light it more often. If you see or hear about an act of kindness then please email Rev. B, who will anonymously light the candle in recognition of that act.