When sad and scary things happen in the world, even if they don’t happen directly to us, but reach us via our TVs and phone screens, it’s so easy to feel heartbroken and despondent. At times when I’m feeling overwhelmed by people and their capacity for violence and discord I remember this Fred Rogers quote: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
And it’s helpers – the people who think of others first, who act selflessly, with big hearts and great courage – who restore my faith in humanity.
You might have read the quote: ‘in a world where you can be anything, be kind’ and my goodness if it isn’t true. I’ve said it before (and regular readers of this blog will know I’ll say it again!) but veganism has helped me to empathise more with people as well as animals. It’s made me want to be a softer, gentler, more thoughtful and all-round better person. In a world that’s too often shitty, kindness is the magic that gives me strength and hope.
Whether it’s the hairdresser who gives free haircuts to homeless people, or ‘suspended coffee’: where people buy a cup of coffee for the next customer, or the people who donate their winter coats to people who need them more, whether it’s when Stephen Jones, a rough-sleeper, rushed to help victims of the terror attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester or the people who donate their hair to children who are undergoing treatment for cancer, these kind acts make the world a happier, brighter, more beautiful place to be.
There’s that bit at the end of Clueless – SPOILER – when Cher Horowitz describes all the ways in which her friends, family and teachers are special. And I like to do the same with my buddies. Kindness is magic! It’s magic when my husband Josh helps strangers carry their luggage upstairs on the London Underground or rescues butterflies that fall into the swimming pool on holiday. It’s magic when my friend Jo donates blood. It’s magic when my sister-in-law spends her days over Christmas volunteering for homeless people. It’s magic when my cat sitting customers bring back (cat-themed!) gifts from their trips away to say thank you. It’s magic when my friend Hollie lets me borrow her dresses when I’m going to a wedding and am too broke to buy anything fancy and new. It was magic when my amazing local Indian Street Kitchen, Chai Naasto, knowing I’m vegan had a dairy-free lassi waiting for me last time I went there for dinner. It’s magic when my friend Felix ran the Sierra Leone Marathon twice to raise money for Street Child. It’s magic when my friend Jen’s five-and-a-half-year-old nephew shares his Oreos with his little brother and gives away one of his favourite toys to his friend. It’s magic when my friend Ava pulls together a last-minute fundraiser for Save The Children.
To everyone who runs after a stranger who’s dropped a belonging on the floor to give it back to them, or donates to a food bank, who checks in on their elderly or lonely neighbours, who makes the new person in the office feel welcome, who picks up litter, who supports their friend’s endeavours, who leaves positive reviews for businesses or people who’ve provided really good service or gone out of their way to help, who speaks up when they see someone being bullied or picked upon, who gives directions for confused tourists, who offers their seat on public transport for a person who needs it more than they do, who takes the time to listen to other people, who tips well in restaurants if they can afford it, who volunteers and donates whatever they can – you rule.
I am trying to be a more compassionate and generous person, and veganism is one way in which I am, practically, a little bit kinder every day. This more gentle way of living is probably the thing about myself of which I’m most proud. I make mistakes like all of us. I can be a jerk: irrational, grouchy, hot-tempered, selfish, lazy – all of the seven sins basically, and that’s on a good day! – but opting to live a life that is as kind as possible to other creatures feels amazing.
I read a quote by James Herriot which said: “I hope to make people realise how totally helpless animals are, how dependent on us, trusting as a child must trust that we will be kind and take care of their needs… they are an obligation put on us, a responsibility we have no right to neglect, nor to violate by cruelty.”
In modern agriculture – and with the growing use of factory farms in the UK – there is very little time or profit in being kind to the intelligent, sentient animals that are turned into food. Once I looked into it, I realised I would never treat a cat or a dog the way farmed animals are treated: the conditions these animals so often live and die in are nothing short of hellish. When I read, in Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, about the types of experiments that are performed on animals – on monkeys, cats and beagles – I wanted to howl with rage and heartbreak. The Civil Rights activist César Chávez said “We know we cannot be kind to animals until we stop exploiting them — exploiting animals in the name of science, exploiting animals in the name of sport, exploiting animals in the name of fashion, and yes, exploiting animals in the name of food.”
Every one of us who adopts a vegan or a veggie diet, who chooses to eat less meat or dairy, who chooses to buy cruelty-free cosmetics and household products, who chooses to adopt an animal, who stops to revive a bumblebee, who decides to make their garden hedgehog-friendly, who buys fur-free clothing or vegan-leather bags, or who chooses to volunteer time or money to animal welfare charities, all of you are being gracious and kind to those who cannot defend themselves – you rule.
To restaurants, sandwich shops and cafes who donate their food to vulnerable people instead of letting it go to waste (Pret has, this year, distributed over 3 million food items to hostels and shelters across the UK) or businesses that give a percentage of their profits to animal charities (like Food Fight in Portland) or Green People who donate 10% of our net profits every year to charitable causes – thank you.
Never be afraid to be kind. No kindness is too small or too simple – all these acts of kindness together are immense. Be kind to yourself too. Together we can all make the world a greener, happier, kinder place. What kind action have you performed that made you feel amazing? What act of kindness have you received or witnessed? What’s the kindest thing you’ve heard about or want to do one day?