Today hundreds of people around the world are blogging about a small kindness they have received and what it meant to them. I am joining in this Small Kindnesses Blogsplash!
I thought long and hard about what small kindness I should share, and as often happens I started thinking about it in research terms as well, and I thought about all the people who I have spoken to as part of my research and the small kindnesses they share as a result of their spirituality. And this brought me to a small kindness which I received a couple of years ago, when I was working on the book and also suffering poor health as a result of the ulcerative colitis which had just decided to invite itself into my life. It is a small kindness that meant so much to me, and resonated with something a lot of my research participants talk about…
The small kindness I am going to share arrived through the post one morning, totally unexpected, and it was a letter from a very dear friend, containing a prayer card. My friend is a Catholic and presumably is surrounded by prayer cards, but it was something new to me. I had vague recollections of seeing similar things in my grandmother’s house as a child, but I had never held or read one. With the prayer card my friend had put a note saying the thing about St Theresa is that you don’t have to be Catholic to ask for her strength.
The fact that my friend had given up one of her dearly-held prayer cards to send it to me with a message she felt I needed to hear meant the world to me, and I still have St Teresa by my desk every day. I’m not a Catholic, but in receiving that small kindness, and in taking the time to sit and mindfully read the message it contained, it had a powerful calming effect on a mind and body which at the time were struggling to live in the moment.
So this small kindness sticks in my mind, and that is why I am sharing it with you in this blogging-event. But I also said it linked to my research. That is because one of the common things which participants told me about was the practice of sending ‘bubbles of protection’ to people. If they knew someone was feeling down or were unwell, or if they saw somebody obviously in pain or distress, they would mentally – and spiritually – send them some ‘healing energy’ or a ‘bubble of protection’.
I used a quote from one of my participants saying exactly this at a conference recently and I received a really surprising response during questions afterwards from someone sitting in the audience. She said she felt what they were doing was incredibly unethical. The person in receipt of this bubble, she argued, may not want that bubble, they weren’t asked if they wanted it and so it was unethical of the person to have sent it in the first place. I was totally confused by this response, as were most of the rest of the audience. Surely anybody who shared the beliefs of the person sending the bubble would see it in the spirit it was meant – as a gift of healing energy that could do no hard. And anybody who didn’t share the same beliefs could presumably just laugh it off – not that they would even know that it had been sent in the first place, because in their worldview there is no such thing as ‘healing energy’, and this wasn’t being forced on them in an aggressive sales pitch but simply sent silently, invisibly and without a word.
It still troubles me, I want to acknowledge that audience member’s concerns, but equally I don’t quite see it as an ethical issue. It is an act of kindness which can do no harm. If you are a believer, it sends good, if you are a non-believer it doesn’t exist, so it doesn’t matter.
When my friend put her prayer card in the post to me I’m glad she didn’t question whether she was doing the ‘right’ or ‘ethical’ thing by sending a non-religious person a Catholic prayer card, because I really benefitted from that small kindness. Whether I benefitted simply by knowing she cared and having that moment of stillness as I read the card, or whether I benefitted because St Teresa heard my ‘prayer’ as I read her message, I will never know. But I don’t think it is ethically problematic, because the intention was harmless, the impact was beneficial and nobody was hurt. If anybody ever gets hurt by having a healing bubble of protection sent to them, perhaps I will change my view. But I think it’s highly unlikely. So for me, these are small kindnesses which, although they might very often go unnoticed by the recipient, spread a little kindness in ways which make sense for those who send them.
And don’t they always say giving is even better than receiving?