Recently I have been asked repeatedly what inspired The Kindness Effect. I have pondered this question and, after a few confronting moments in my own life just recently, I think it is time to open up to our readers and followers on a more personal level and let you know why I started this campaign.
The answer to this question is complex and like an onion, needs to be peeled back slowly and in layers. The answer lies in memories of long ago, when I was only a little girl. To fully understand ourselves, we need to go back to our earliest memories and refocus on those events from long ago. I am told that I was a quiet and shy child, and someone who really was very content to play independently, alone and without being bothered with others. My mother tells the story of how I was able to entertain myself for hours at home, as I persevered trying to put on my socks. We all laughed at that memory when I was growing up, but looking back, it holds the seeds of some interesting observations.
Even though I have told myself many times that my parents’ divorce did not affect me, I certainly know that looking back it must have had a profound affect on my life. They separated when I was four years old and I don’t remember much about it. I can vividly recall that later down the track when I was 15, we moved from Melbourne to the beautiful coastal town of Anglesea. I was not keen to go, and one could say it was a result of moving schools four times, moving house 9 times and generally the constant change in my life that may have started to create a feeling as if I never quite belonged anywhere or had a ‘home’. All I know is that being on the move was a normal state of affairs for me. This resulted in always feeling alone, or at least feeling as if I was not quite grounded with anyone or in any one place. Change has been, and always will be a part of my life. Now, as a young woman I have taken that familiarity of change and put it into things I love, such as travelling and creative pursuits.
A key moment in my life when I really began to connect with myself and listen to my own feelings was when I was in Year 10. At that stage of my life, anxiety and stress started to really surface. It would start off on a very unconscious level with me feeling uneasy and saying to mum “I don’t know how I feel”. I just couldn’t quite figure out my emotions or really get in touch with my inner whisperings. Looking back it got to the point of not really being able to eat, with my stomach just closing up; the thought of eating would make me feel sick. These are not the most pleasant of memories, but my memories none-the-less.
Year 11 and Year 12 were better; I loved school and generally enjoyed learning. I had great friends and good support, but despite this, I still just felt alone. I have had relationships along the way, but despite how much love I gave and how much love I received, I just never felt fully supported, or completely understood. I often remember being in a room full of people, yet at times feeling alone and disconnected.
It has been a long time since I have felt like that. Throughout the last couple of years I have finished my degree, gone on a roller coaster ride personally and professionally, and pushed myself way out of my comfort zone in the hope of ‘finding’ myself. This journey of self-discovery started in 2011 when I decided that I would volunteer my time and efforts to work with the underprivileged, in South Africa. I taught young children in the extremely poor township of Cape Town and then went on a two week adventure, which involved me confronting some of my biggest fears; I bungee jumped, danced on tables, slept in the middle of the jungle and let go of old hurt and pain. I emerged feeling connected to the world and humanity.
It wasn’t until last week that my journey came full circle and I was reminded why I wanted to start The Kindness Effect. Last week I had a couple of reminders of the need to be kind to ourselves. I had what are termed, ‘panic attacks’. These seemingly innocuous experiences came out of nowhere, occurred in the middle of my daily activities and completely debilitated me. I now know why these attacks happened; they are little things that overwhelmed me and looking back, I know that I personally need to be kinder to myself. But they also made me remember something else, and that is the feeling of being alone. Interestingly though, I realised that feeling alone doesn’t actually mean that I am alone, or that there is no one on whom I can lean.
My mother, who has always been my biggest ally and friend, has been there for me through absolutely everything. My sisters, who in recent years seem to understand me better than I understand myself at times, and my best friend who can read me like a book and give me the exact advice I need at the exact time I need it, are all people who remind me that I am not alone. Then there is my amazing, extended family and my beautiful team who also remind me that we are friends in a bigger, more complex web, and that ultimately we need to be kind to ourselves firstly, before we can show care to each other.
But this isn’t actually about me. It’s about you, the person reading this article. I know there is some part of you that sometimes feels alone, or stressed or not in-tune with your emotions and feelings. Well, The Kindness Effect is here to remind you that we are all connected and we are never alone, no matter how we feel.
I began The Kindness Effect because I saw how poorly we were all treating each other, on a personal level and on a broader and social level. I want to remind everyone that if we treat others the way we want to be treated, then we will never be alone.
My anxiety has taught me the biggest lesson that I preach, and that is to be kind to yourself first. You must start with yourself if you want to create any type of change in your life or the life of others. You need to confront your fears, let go of old hurt, follow your passions, and love yourself whole heartedly. And trust me, I know none of this is easy! I am still figuring it all out; but you have to at least start trying and start taking steps in the right direction. Sometimes just reaching out to others can start this process.
Once you start this personal journey, one that never really ends, you will start to treat others differently, with more compassion and love and trust, and only then will you feel real human connection, and that feeling of being alone in this big world, just might start to fade away.