The three things most likely to disrupt one’s mental equilibrium, I am told, are uncertainty, isolation and the fear of death.
Small wonder, then, that the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have prompted an upsurge in mental health concerns across the world. Mental Health Awareness Week, which concludes today, has sought to focus attention on this partly hidden problem under the hashtag #Kindness Matters.
At first glance ‘kindness’ as an answer to our current ills seems a somewhat pallid offering, with the adjective ‘kind’ nestling against ‘nice’ in the lexicon of everyday banalities we over-use in speech and think about too little. Surely, a global pandemic with the potential to send the economy into freefall and transform our daily lives and life prospects beyond recognition calls for something more full-blooded than kindness. Considering it more carefully, however, I see how it speaks to our current condition with remarkable exactness and in surprising ways.
As usual, going to the roots reveals complexities and connections invisible on the surface. Its origins in Middle English take us straight to kindred and kinship. Kindness, then, may be understood as that sense of fellow feeling that pulls us over to the side of the road to make way for an ambulance and takes us to stand on the doorstep to applaud healthcare workers on Thursday evenings. It is the impulse behind the initiative to launch a postcard-writing project with Year 7 for elderly residents in local care homes, led by Miss Berry, and the inspiration behind the many acts of community service our girls are undertaking in their neighbourhoods. It is the motive force behind the survival guide produced by the Year 12’s to help the younger students manage the sudden transition to lockdown (and which we are reissuing to girls in Years 7, 8 and 9 in time for the half-term break) and the sponsoring thought behind Mr Hodgins’s project to use the school’s idle 3D printer to manufacture protective face masks to augment supplies to healthcare workers.
Each of us is one of a kind, occupying our own place in the world with our thoughts, tastes and talents. Each of us is also part of humankind, with many things in common, not least the anxieties and vulnerabilities we are prey to now. Knowing that we are all in this together has been a great source of strength to our dispersed community. We have stayed in touch, shared our experiences and given what and when we could to comfort and cheer each other. These pages capture a fraction of the stories of giving in like kind we hear of every day and give a flavour of the spirit of OHS, undiminished and unquenchable.
Kindness may be no prophylactic against mortality or the vagaries of the global economy but it can be a sturdy rope bridge across the chasm of social isolation and, in this way, be a valuable weapon in our fight against COVID-19.
Wishing you well in the fortnight ahead.