Rigorous Kindness

BBC Radio Scotland 27 th June 2023

On the third Sunday in November every year, Judaism celebrates Mitzvah Day. It’s a day of community action, encouraging people to take part in projects, giving of their time to help others rather than giving charity. Interestingly, Mitzvah Day comes in the same month as World Kindness Day, which falls on November 13 th.

Does the fact that our calendar has a World Kindness Day mean that we don’t need to be kind on the other 364 days of the year? And do we really need a special day, once a year, to focus on kindness?

Being kind is a choice. We’ve all seen memes on our social media declaring ‘if you can’t be anything else, be kind.’ But what if being kind were more than just a glib statement on Facebook or something limited to every November 13th? After all, Judaism teaches us to ‘love our neighbour as we love ourselves’. We are commanded to be kind.

Along with two colleagues, I’ve been working on a project we’re calling Rigorous Kindness. Its intention is to raise awareness of how easy it is to make kindness a part of everyday life. 

Attaching the word rigorous to kindness may seem odd. But it’s meant to sound awkward. The idea is that rather than kindness being something spontaneous and unexpected – we’ve all heard of random acts of kindness – it should underpin and be at the heart of every human action and interaction. Kindness is too often perceived as soft and woolly, and even derided as a weakness. 

Rigorous kindness rejects this. It proposes that kindness underpin every engagement we have with others: being sensitive to people’s needs whether it be smiling at them in the street, offering help if needed, or demanding that all our politicians treat one another, us and the institutions that support us with respect and – yes – with kindness. 

In our cynical world, it’s easy to dismiss this approach as naive. But if rigorously applied, kindness has the potential to permeate every level of human existence – from our closest relationships through our local communities to the national and global stage. Every day can and should be Rigorous Kindness Day.