Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Taking Time To Be Kind

I don't always pose with celebrities, but when I do, I'm dressed like a Wally.

It doesn't take much to be kind.  Sometimes, the smallest actions carry the greatest weight.  After all, we never know how precious a seemingly trivial act on our part may be to the person on the receiving end.  Similarly, a thoughtless word or a casual snub might seem incredibly trivial, but can easily end up ruining someone's day.

I've been thinking a lot about the ripple effect that our actions have, in the last couple of days.  Mainly because within 24 hours of each other, I experienced two very small incidents that had a very big effect on me.  The first was hugely positive.  The second... Less so.

On Saturday night, I was away at Butlin's, hanging out in Centre Stage, having just seen the 90s boyband, 911.  Those who know me "in real life," know that I was 911 obsessed in my teens, to the point that friends addressed birthday and Christmas cards to "the future Mrs Lee Brennan."  So, as you can imagine, I was quite excited to see the band again (having not seen them since the 2013 Big Reunion tour).  After the show was over, my friend and I dashed over to the venue's VIP area.  My mate Jess had access to the area via a wristband and I wanted to get her attention to ask what she'd thought of the show.  You had to pay extra for VIP wristbands and I wasn't too fussed about not having one, but when Jess told me that 911 were headed for the VIP bar, I asked her if she could cheekily send Lee over, so I could say a quick hello.  Whilst I waited for the band to appear, I stood around, leaning against the railing that led into the VIP area, occasionally waving to Jess, who was standing on the other side.  After a few minutes, a guy came wandering out of the VIP area and smiled at me as he walked past.  I smiled back and thought nothing more of it.  A moment later, he walked around the railings to where I was standing, placed something on the narrow bar that ran along them and then promptly disappeared.  At first, I thought he'd dumped some rubbish in front of me and I was actually slightly annoyed.  But then my friend Lizzie picked the "rubbish" up and realised it was actually a pair of VIP wristbands.  I glanced around for the guy, so I could thank him, but he had already gone from sight.  I had to make a snap decision; rush around the venue (or even outside the venue) searching for him so I could thank him, or just put the wristband on and rush into the VIP area...

I did scan the area around the bar and the entrance, but after not spotting the guy in question, I figured: "Well, he obviously wanted me to use these wristbands..." and off Lizzie and I went.

And here's where we get to that "ripple effect" that I mentioned, earlier.  Because that stranger's small but kind action, in casually leaving those wristbands for us, led to bigger and better things as the night went on.

I got to meet Lee Brennan - the object of my teen affections - as well as another member of the band, Jimmy Constable.  I had photos with them, chatted a little bit and generally felt fourteen again for a little while (pretty impressive, seeing as I'd turned 33 the day before...).

I could spend some time with Jess, actually chatting and hanging out properly, rather than standing on opposite sides of a walkway, waving from a distance.

I got to spend time catching up with a friend I'd not had a chance to chat properly to in ages.

I met new people and had space to dance somewhere other than a massively crowded dance floor.

I even had a fleetingly brief but lovely moment with someone I've nursed a crush on for the last six months, that, because I was a bit tipsy, caused me to make the face below:

Don't worry, I know I'm destined to be the eternally single, unfanciable member of my friendship group.  Just let me have my moment...

...Okay, done now.

As I sat with Lizzie, at 5:30am, eating chocolate cake and dissecting the night's events, the one thing we said over and over was: "Wow, we owe that random stranger one heck of a thank you."  Because we definitely had a more memorable, better night thanks to his small act of kindness, than we would have had without it.  One little action had created ripples of awesomeness.  

But the opposite is definitely true, too.  One small act of unkindness can make ripples that stretch just as far.

Despite having only had two and a half hours of sleep and in spite of a pounding in my temples, I woke up on Sunday morning, feeling perfectly content and looking forward to the day ahead.  Sadly, the feeling didn't last.

I have a recurring stomach problem (doctors are still in the process of trying to diagnose what it actually is), which causes crippling pains, nausea and breathlessness.  Sure enough, by Sunday afternoon, I was experiencing an attack of this as-yet-undiagnosed condition and I felt horrendous.  I tried everything I could think of: Drinking milk to calm my tummy, having a nap, making a hot water bottle, taking indigestion tablets and painkillers... You name it, I did it.  None of it worked.

So, there I was, on my last night of a holiday, with a friend who was perfectly fit and healthy and wanted a fun night out, whilst all I wanted to do was curl up in bed and try to sleep away the pain.  I didn't think it was fair to do that to Lizzie, so I put on a dress, did my make up and hobbled off to Centre Stage.

We picked a comfy sofa in the VIP area (bonus of having the wristband for sure) and I curled up there, instead.  Lizzie and I chatted, Jess joined us and whilst we were definitely having a quieter night, we were still managing to enjoy ourselves for the most part, despite the fact that I was physically incapable of dancing and very much not myself.

After a couple of hours, a guy approached us.  He marched straight over to where we were sitting and loudly declared: "You look fucking miserable."

His loudness and the hostile manner in which he came over to accost me for my apparently off-putting demeanour made me feel incredibly self-conscious.  I told him I felt unwell, but wanted to come out, seeing as it was our last night.  I also made a point of saying he can't have been paying much attention to my "misery," or he'd have actually noticed me laughing and chatting with my friends.  Besides which, what did it matter to him, whether I was enjoying myself or not?  I wasn't causing him any problems by sitting quietly and keeping myself to myself.  I would normally have brushed it off and ignored it, but the guy insisted on taking a seat next to Lizzie and proceeded to continue making judgemental comments about our appearances and demeanour.  Considering I was already feeling ill, his actions were incredibly unwelcome and only served to make me feel as though everyone around me was watching me and judging me, too.  I wanted to go back to our room and hide under the covers.

Now, almost 48 hours later, I'm just as certain that that man had no idea how offensive he was being as I am that the guy who gave me the wristbands had no idea how much he'd improved my night out in the process of doing so.  But the fact remains; one person's casual act did improve a situation, whereas the other person's actions made a situation much worse.

We come into contact with so many people in our daily lives and we can never know all of their stories.  We don't know what has recently happened to them to make them feel happy or sad.  We don't know what problems they might be dealing with, or why they look or behave the way they do.  But our actions - our words, gestures and behaviour - can still influence those people.  We can make or break an hour for them, or even a full day, just with the split-second choices we make when encountering someone.

Life is busy, I get that.  We all have our own lives to live and our own issues to handle.  It's very easy to get wrapped up in ourselves and to not give much of a second thought to the way we behave towards people we're almost certain never to see again.  But just as we have our own lives, our own worries, hopes and feelings, so does everyone else we come into contact with, however briefly.  We can choose to be the person who carries out a small gesture of kindness, or we can choose to be the person who speaks without thinking, or acts without consideration.

Sometimes, it only takes a few seconds to be the kinder person.  The one who holds a door open for the person carrying heavy bags.  The one who simply asks if someone else is okay.  It might seem like absolutely nothing to us at the time, but to the person on the receiving end of a kind gesture - however small - it will inevitably mean much more.

So, my mission - both for myself and for my readers - is to take more time to be kind.  Be the one who stops and chats to an old acquaintance properly, rather than just waving in the street and then rushing to get on with your day.  Extend the hand of friendship to people you meet and allow others to do the same to you.  Consider what you can do to put a smile on the face of another person, rather than becoming responsible for their frown.  

We all lead busy lives.  But we can all find some time to be kind.

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