World Kindness Day: Why 2019 is the year compassion became cool

Francesca Specter
Yahoo Style UK deputy editor
From left, Ellen DeGeneres, Meghan Markle and Pink are all advocates of being more kind. [Photo: Getty]

“Kindness is always fashionable, and always welcome,” wrote nineteenth-century British novelist Amelia Barr.

Fast-forward to 2019 and, arguably, the concept of kindness is more in vogue than ever before. Surprising, considering we live in the time of online trolls or ‘haters’.

Perhaps it’s exactly these types of people who have encouraged others to be kinder: Google Trends data shares there’s been a more than twofold in searches for the words “kindness” in the past five years.

Additionally, the past year’s bestselling non-fiction books include Christie Watson’s The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story and Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, a book that focuses on the power of friendship and compassion.

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Kindness used to be a word that “got a yawn at a dinner party,” says David Jamilly, CEO and founder of Kindness UK.

Now, the perception of kindness has changed - with people talking about it in day-to-day conversation, he says.

So, what’s behind our changing perceptions of kind? 

Kindness ambassadors

When a fan accidentally knocked Lady Gaga off her stage during a performance earlier this year, she said to him, before an audience, “You promise me you’re not gonna be sad about that, right?” before making an impromptu speech about kindness.

This reflects a climate where talking about kind has become de rigeur.

High profile, influential figures like P!nk and the Duchess of Sussex have recently made speeches hinging on the importance of being kind.

“I recently read that the culture of fashion has changed from where it was once ‘cool to be cruel’ to now where it is ‘cool to be kind,'” said the Duchess of Sussex in December 2018 at the British Fashion Awards.

Victoria Beckham praised the Duchess’s words in an interview with Glamour in September – saying kindness was fundamental to “girl power”. 

Ellen DeGeneres called for kindness last month while defending her unlikely friendship with former US president George W Bush: “When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don't mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone. It doesn't matter.’”

More recently, Pink spoke about kindness as an “act of rebellion” during a speech at the People’s Choice Awards over the weekend.

She said kindness today is “an act of rebellion”. There are people who don’t have what you have, help them get it. There is a planet that needs help, it feels good to help. Stop fighting each other and help each other. Get together with your friends and change the f—ing world.”

Social media campaigns

The internet isn’t typically considered a kind climate – given the presence of cyber-bullying and trolling which can occur on social media platforms.

Yet, in the past year alone, major brands have launched a number of hashtag-led kindness campaigns across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to help tackle the negativity on these platforms.

In January this year, Hello Magazine ran its #HelloToKindness campaign in response to the online abuse targeted at the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex.

Then there was the #ChooseKindness campaign, a partnership between Little Mix and skincare brand Simple, which aimed to counteract cyberbullying among teenagers.

Earlier this month, ITV show ‘This Morning’ launched its #Bekind campaign together with children’s retailer Smiggle as part of Anti-Bullying Week.

And while some may deem these campaigns a marketing gimmick, there’s no denying their ability to spark compassionate discussion on social platforms.

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“Just as negativity can spread like wildfire and cause people to lose faith in humanity - marketing campaigns that celebrate kindness are a much needed antidote to the existential pain and weariness we can feel about the world,” says Andrea San Pedro, founder and director of ASP Public Relations.

While she concedes some brands do look “forced and inauthentic”, others succeed in bringing about positive effects.

“There’s a reason why kindness ‘campaigns’ or such moments go viral. In its purest form, it shows how the simplest of gestures can have a positive impact on an individual, forever.”

Andy Barr, CEO and founder of digital marketing agency 10 Yetis, agrees.

“A campaign based around the element of kindness can sometimes look insincere and make the brand pushing it look as though they are running a campaign purely for the sake of getting attention,” he says.

“However, when done correctly it can get a lot of people talking about a brand and a campaign, and encourage them to go on to do something nice or kind for others.”

Kindfulness

It’s not just kindness to others that’s trending. Kindfulness – a term originally coined by British monk Ajahn Brahm in 2016 – is about actively practising kindness to yourself.

As he described it, kindfulness “strengthens our ability to look after ourselves – looking after our own minds… to become a kindful force for good in the world.”

“Kindness is definitely the new cool but it’s not just about random acts of kindness to others,” says Caroline Millington, author of Kindfulness, a book inspired by the concept.

She says: “There’s never been a more important time to show understanding and compassion to yourself as well as others. In our politically charged world, empathy towards others and an awareness of mental health issues is key to making life better for everyone.”

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Millington advises starting with a gratitude diary, listing three things a day you’re grateful for, and praising yourself “in an attempt to silence that inner critic”.

This kindness to yourself will soon spread out into the world, she says.

“When you become your own personal cheerleader, you’ll soon be waving your pom poms and cheering others on too. Kindness is contagious so sprinkle it everywhere.”