Living Truth with Charlie Mitchell
The Power of Simple Kindness
Since I was very young I have been interested in what I can do to contribute to the lives of others. When exactly did this start? I’m not entirely sure, as to be honest we are talking about a scarily long time ago. I think it was a combination of things. I remember watching the London Marathon in April 1985, when I was 8, and being completely overwhelmed by the incredible diversity. I had always thought I needed to be a ‘proper runner’ to be able to take part in something like that, and yet the incredible feats of human endurance I was watching showed me a very different picture.
Here were people without arms or legs, or elderly and walking, or dressed in a crocodile costume, alongside some of the world’s top athletes. All taking part together. All being celebrated. All being cheered on by the incredible crowds with their flags waving. I found it a very moving experience and it had a huge impact on me.
This was followed later that same year by Live Aid in 1985, with harrowing pictures of children in Ethiopia, dying from starvation. It made me feel incredibly lucky to have access to food, with a roof over my head and a school to go to. It was my first experience of appreciating that other children had such different lives and it seemed so unfair to me that we could have so much while they had so little.
So, I started fundraising. I would hold coffee mornings in my grandmother’s front room, sponsored skips, sponsored fasts. I sold my toys to friends and looked at what I could do with what I had to make a difference. And I had such lovely letters back from the charities, giving me details about how my money would be used, how many people it would support and how it would help with their future.
My dad brought home leaflets about the ways animals were treated and overnight, much to my mum’s dismay, I became vegetarian. I had very little idea what that actually meant and remember feeling very upset that meant I had to stop eating bacon – my favourite food. And yet I couldn’t eat meat once I knew how much suffering it was causing.
This led to me campaigning to my local council, at just aged 10, for healthy vegetarian school meals. I didn’t think I should get a lump of cheese and some mashed potato so I asked the lady who I should write to, to complain. She said ‘Shire Hall’ so I literally wrote that on an envelope and put a stamp on it and popped it in the post. I said I would write every week until I had a response. I was then terrified when I got called into the headmaster’s office one day and there was a man sat there ‘from Shire Hall’, which I now understand is the council headquarters for the county. My headteacher seemed rather put out to have this visit as a result of ‘that letter’. I thought the man seemed nice enough. He asked me lots of questions about being vegetarian and what sorts of things I would like to eat. And went on his way.
Not long after, I started getting the most incredible, individually made vegetarian school meals, with lasagne, vegetable bakes and food that looked far tastier than the standard school meals. A number of other kids became vegetarian too! At least at school…!
These experiences gave me a very real sense of my own power and ability to influence. It made me appreciate that I could make a difference in my own life and in the lives of others. I have often looked back fondly at these early experiences fondly, as they have shaped my life as an adult.
I completed the London marathon myself in 2005, crying for the final mile as I couldn’t believe I was actually going to finish. I was involved in setting up a social enterprise in 2010 called ‘Creating Space For You’ that has enabled over £160,000 of workforce development for charities who would not otherwise have been able to afford it.
And I have returned to this place of what I can contribute to others through my experiences over the last year. Having a son with a disability and losing my partner in quick succession has changed my life forever, and yet I still find tremendous solace in exploring how I can use my challenges to inspire others in similar situations. We are all interconnected in so many ways. And supporting others can help us to get perspective on our own situation, while helping someone else along the way. A genuine win-win situation.
But what can I give? What can I offer? I don’t have time / money / resources to do much…
It can be tiny things:
- Opening a door for someone
- Offering to carry some shopping
- Saying ‘thank you’ and really meaning it
- Smiling at the school gate and saying ‘Hi’
- Sending a note to a friend when you know they are struggling
- Paying for a coffee for the next person in the queue
- Having a clear out and donating some items to charity
- Making cakes and donating the money from the sales
- Having a street party to get your neighbours together
- Looking around for someone who looks like they need some help and offering it
- Visiting an elderly relative
Little things matter. They feel good when we do them and they feel good to receive them. Our lives are not made from the grandiose gestures. They are made in tiny moments of noticing and being kind. That build on each other, and build and build. Bringing powerful positivity to the lives of others and also to our own lives. As my friend’s mother used to say: ‘You cannot give a hug without receiving one back!’
What kindness can you offer today?
Due to the birth of her third child and untimely death of her partner, she has taken time out to grieve, heal and learn new ways of living. She is currently writing a book about surviving crisis and living bravely. She has a private Facebook group where she shares she skills and experience to help others use challenges as a catalyst for positive growth. She does live videos and webinars as part of the process.
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