On a toasty day in Brisbane, World Kindness Australia chairman Michael Lloyd-White sits at Nundah’s Royal Exchange Hotel, orders the fish, drops the occasional expletive and perspires in the heat.
Yes, the person who is in charge of keeping Australia kind sweats, swears and even eats animals. Lloyd-White is no angel – this big bear of a man is just as likely to break up a scuffle in a pub as he is to give you a cuddle. But he is adamant he doesn’t lose his cool in traffic.
For Lloyd-White, kindness is a simple concept that cuts deep, and means stopping a fight is as important as a hug. “Kindness is doing something you don’t really want to do that is going to benefit someone else,” he says. “Kindness turns on your radar and you start to notice things. That people have fallen between the cracks. Not being mean does not mean you are being kind. It is about making a conscious decision and asking yourself: ‘What is the kinder option?’”
The movement traces its roots to Japan, where a national kindness campaign in 1963 was launched to combat a negative global perception still lingering from World War II and promote tourism. In 1997 the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Tokyo agreed to form a Coalition of The Good Willing, and Australia was one of 16 countries to form the World Kindness Movement (WKM). In 2000, Singapore took over from Japan in running the WKM, though no one really knew about it – or Australia’s involvement, which flew under the radar for a decade.
In the early 2000s, Lloyd-White was “just a dad” who disliked bullying he was witnessing in schools. He approached the state education minister to speak about the concept of “Goodwill Ambassadors” and met with the governor in a bid to put kindness on the national agenda. Singapore learned of Lloyd-White’s efforts and asked him to host the 2010 WKM General Assembly in Australia. Two years later, Australia became the secretariat to the movement and the not-for-profit organisation World Kindness Australia was set up.
“When I started this, it was about making sure my kids got to high school and were not cast in the mean girl culture,” Lloyd-White says.
“The challenge today is that governments and people do things that are popular more than things that are right. The traditional messaging around kindness is about sugar and spice and all things nice, and it’s not that. Women seem to associate more with kindness while men see it as a weakness. Our culture has become toxic.”
Lloyd-White is quick to point out that kindness is neither a feminine or masculine trait – rather, it is a human one.
Now 28 nations including China are part of the WKM and are bound by Kindness Performance Indicators, or KPIs, and a Kindness Constitution. Under the constitution, the primary purpose of government and non-government members is to promote a kindness campaign. Lloyd-White says it is important that countries known for a less-than-admirable human rights record are not judged on their past. “China is not about reflecting on the past but what we can do about the future. We’ve all made mistakes,” he says. “The constitution is primarily about connecting and sharing. Whatever decision we make it is all about choosing the kinder option.
“We live in this culture of terror where we think we need to fight fire with fire. We need to fight fire with water. Yes, Islamic State is a threat and it is about fear. The only thing that inspires people more than fear is courage. “A real act of kindness takes courage. I can’t think of courage not tempered with kindness. That’s why it inspires us.”
One inspiring action to come out of the WKM is the introduction of World Kindness cards, which are based on the concept of “paying it forward”. The card holder records their story online, then hands it to a stranger, who records their story. Thousands of cards are circulating globally with thousands of stories about kindness linked to them. Lloyd-White says similar to Australia’s history, New Zealand was previously a member of WKM, but its membership lapsed.
World Kindness Australia is currently in discussion with Kiwi organisations such as Kind Hearts and Kindness Kiwis, as well as individuals, with a view to establishing a national body, World Kindness NZ.
The Charity Leigh Rosanoski is founder and CEO of Kind Hearts, whose motto is “be kind and make someone’s day”. Originally formed from a one-off post on Facebook two years ago, it became a registered charitable trust in January this year, with a global vision to help develop “a kinder world”. Among a number of initiatives, Kind Hearts offers biodegradable and compostable pay-it-forward takeaway coffee cups for cafés.
“The more we receive stories of kindness on our Facebook page [Kind Hearts Movement] and in conversations, the more I have discovered that kindness is happening far more than I realised or would know from general media sources,” Rosanoski says. “We need to talk about it more, honour it more, do it more. Simply do what you can, where you can, and when you can. Be kind. Elevate it from unconscious acts you sometimes do, to conscious decisions and actions you most frequently do, so that being kind is your lifestyle, your chosen way of being in our world.”
The Yogi Brisbane yoga teacher Samantha Sirgun Lindsay-German believes kindness must start with oneself before “having that sense of compassion for all, even if you are struggling to find that compassion”. “In yoga, we talk about Seva – the act of selflessly serving others. But I believe we should not do that at the detriment to ourselves,” she says.
“Kind people can have unkind moments. It is about learning to take the time to know whether to act on them or not. It’s about asking yourself: ‘What am I seeing in the other that I’m fighting in my myself?’ Can we find that love, compassion and truth in ourselves? I believe every human being is authentically kind.” The Buddhist Buddhist Council of New South Wales director Les Tscherne says kindness is when the body, speech and mind are all working together.
“From a Buddhist perspective, it starts in the mind and developing a kind way of thinking about ourselves,” he says. “I don’t know anyone who can have kind thoughts all of the time. I like to think that most people have a kind heart but the pressure of our life challenges us to forget that kindness in our day-to-day living. People don’t have to meditate, they can start with mindfulness in their everyday lives. Everyone can easily feel the benefits of kindness when it’s given to them. Think about how good you feel when someone is kind to you.”
10 ways that you can be more kind
• Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
• Give empathy, not sympathy.
• Understand your own needs.
• Exercise self-love.
• Meditate/tune into yourself.
• Embrace silence.
• Spend time in nature.
• Express gratitude for yourself and others.
• Connect with others and be really present.
• Silently bless the first 40 living things you see each day.