There’s no question 2020 will be one for the history books. But with a vaccine on the horizon, will the ‘cure’ for Covid 19 spell an end to the kindness and compassion we have seen during some very grim days for our world?
Have people actually become ‘nicer’ because of Covid 19?
Yes, in fact, it seems they may have. A study released by greeting card company Thortful (on World Kindness Day no less) found that searches for the term ‘random acts of kindness’ had more than tripled since 2019, and searches for ‘acts of kindness’ had grown from 2,900 in 2019 to 4,400 in 2020. (This doesn’t mean that people are acting on the search findings, but it’s a great indication).
And while there has been no shortage of bad news over the past 12 months, there also seems to be a very real shift towards the celebration of a more courteous, caring persona, especially when it comes to medical communications encouraging the use of face masks.
Although a controversial issue for some, face coverings have been promoted by many government agencies and organisations as ‘the kind thing to do’, particularly for the protection of the elderly and those with weak immune systems. It has also been seen as a mark of respect to those on the front line of the pandemic, where healthcare workers have to literally put their lives at risk by turning up to work everyday.
And largely, people are complying, with their reason for doing so not always directly related to their own personal health, but to safeguard others. A simple Google search results in no end of articles and columns explaining why wearing a face mask is the easiest act of kindness, humility and community.
So if it is possible to measure humanity’s level of kindness through a simple show of people wearing masks, would it then be reasonable to assume that there has been a direct increase of selflessness around the world? It would appear so.
But, does kindness actually help in a pandemic?
While the act of kindness is not a cure for Covid 19, there is no denying its effectiveness in the spread of the disease. A scientific brief from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention concluded that experimental and epidemiological data support community masking to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2. And perhaps more interesting was the relationship between source control and personal protection, in that the individual benefit increased when community mask use increased.
Many other studies have also proven that face masks can help to reduce the spread of Covid 19, which leads to the hypothesis that if kindness is wearing a mask, and masks do work, then kindness as a virtue does actually aid in a pandemic.
Also fascinating to note is a National Geographic article about how kindness in children can actually have direct physiological health benefits, by decreasing the stress hormone cortisol and releasing endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers. In addition to this, a cited 20-year study followed preschoolers from kindergarten until they turned 25 and uncovered numerous benefits from ‘prosocial behavior’ (being cooperative, helpful, empathetic, and nice). What it showed was that children who displayed these behaviours from a young age were more likely to stay in school, avoid criminal activity, steer clear of drug or alcohol abuse, and have better mental health as grown-ups.
So while the immediate gain from wearing masks is evident, there could also be positive, long term effects from encouraging children to be kind and considerate to others.
Will all the displays of goodwill dwindle over time?
Memories fade. Time goes on. So in 10 or more years, when the bruises of a global health catastrophe have disappeared, will people still ‘be kind’?
The Pew Research Center in Washington DC conducted a study of more than 10,000 Americans to determine whether humankind had lessons to learn from the pandemic. An overwhelming 86% thought there was – which ranged from religious (that it was an act of God), to practical (such as wearing a mask) to the more personal, including spending more time with family and loved ones, having a better understanding of life’s priorities, and the need for universal health care.
Further to this, some respondents described lessons in regards to society’s failure to face up to problems like racism, economic inequality and climate change. And while there has certainly been plenty of unrest to illustrate this sentiment, whether it will actually have a permanent and lasting effect is yet to be seen.
However, perhaps there is already evidence of a shift to a world more open to kindness – no longer seeing it as one of the more ‘weaker’ traits to possess, but that there is actually a great deal of power behind it. As this article from the Global Thinkers Forum suggests, the time is now ripe for people to all think more about the long-term value of kindness and to bring it to the fore in their lives, at home, in their communities, workplaces, countries and in their cooperation around the world.
And in this personal piece from a CFO of an American Bank, Kelvin Tran states that Covid 19 has made him a more compassionate leader, helping him to refocus on the kind of leader and man he wants to be moving forward, by bringing many things into perspective through a changing of priorities. Which is certainly an opinion shared by many who are seeing the benefits that come from being more kind and considerate in their day-to-day lives.