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And now for the good news: Kindness is catching

Have you had a look at the news headlines recently? War, drugs, murder, financial crisis and yet another story containing the ‘C’ word. So where are the uplifting stories? You know, like Johnny helps 80-year-old with her shopping or middle-aged woman found smiling because she was told how good she looked?

I remember a few years back. I was working on a radio station and happened to stroll into the newsroom, which was unusually quiet. A glum looking news editor sat slumped in his chair. “Nothing’s happening,” he said, shaking his head, “what we need is a good murder!”

Is that it then? A good murder is all we want to read about? Is that what being newsworthy means?

Apparently, when writing the news, there are five separate points that have to be taken into consideration. To test each story’s newsworthiness. It’s not necessary, by the way, for all five sections of a story to get a tick. News editors are ecstatic, if it has just two.

Life, they say is all about ‘timing,” and that certainly applies in the news game. Timing, is rule number one. In other words, things which are new. Topics which are current, are news. It also helps, according to rule two, that the story has some sort of significance. The number of people affected by the story is important. Thousands of deaths instead of two or three is good, millions is even better!

Rule three: proximity. Stories which happen near to us, have more significance. A famine in Africa, can make you stop and think, but, the fact that contractors are thinking about building 400 houses on the field, slap, bang, opposite your home, is just not on. This’ll have you phoning the council, signing petitions and planning sits ins.

The next thing to consider, is that although we live in an egalitarian society, the more famous you are, the more likely you’ll make news. Rule four: Famous people get more coverage, just be-cause they are famous.

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” Dalai Lama

The last point, is one, that is supposed to tug at the heart strings. Human interest. These are stories that get you, right there. In other words, appeal to emotions, such as amusement or sadness. Often, you’ll find that these stories appear at the end of the TV news. Rarely though, on the front page. These stories are not, headline makers.

So, if that’s why news is news, is news the be all and end all of our lives? Does news feed the soul? Does it make us happy?

A recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that for many Americans, “news consumption has a downside.” It causes stress, anxiety, fatigue and sleep loss. Yet, it seems checking the news has become an obsession, with one in ten adults, checking the news, every hour.

Of course, you don’t want to be the person who knows nothing, but on the other hand, is this obsession with what’s happing in the world, beneficial? It may in fact, be quite the reverse, and detrimental to your mental, or even, physical wellbeing?

Difficult one this. I tend to read the papers and switch to the radio or TV, to catch the news headlines. Even, when I’m writing, I’ll stop to check the latest news, online. At this point, my own Father’s words echo, somewhere in the back of my brain, “Moderation in everything.” In saying that, I’m sure he meant to include, taking in the news, as well.

So, if the news isn’t the answer, what is it that makes us happy ? Can you remember when you were so happy, you could burst? Going on holiday or buying a new car? Yes, I can go along with that. There is a certain kick from both, but is it a rewarding kick? It certainly isn’t one, that lasts too long. Sooner rather than later, you’ll be looking forward to the next holiday or a better car!

I’m actually not talking about that sort of ‘kick,’ more of an all consuming glow really. When was the last time you felt one of those? Your new born baby’s first smile? The warmth of the sun on your back?

Perhaps, it was the time you did something for someone else without looking for thanks?

Even gangster Al Capone knew the value of kindness when he said, “You can go a long way with a gun. You can go a lot farther with a gun and a smile.”

Filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa once said: “There are no rewards for good deeds, except in the hearts and minds of those that do them.” I may be paraphrasing, but I think you get the gist. Doing something good for the sake of doing it, is reward in itself.

A simple act, can have an amazing domino effect too. Have you ever done something as simple as letting another driver in from a side road? You get a wave and a smile, as the driver pulls out in front of you. Then what happens? A few hundred yards later, another side road and the driver in front, lets another driver in. Another smile, and a thank you wave! See, you’ve started a kindness trend!

Even gangster Al Capone knew the value of kindness when he said, “You can go a long way with a gun. You can go a lot farther with a gun and a smile.”

A kind word or a small gesture, can snap us out of a bad mood and brighten our day. An added bonus is if that kindness comes from a stranger, it’s even more moving because it’s so unexpected.

But this talk about kindness is all well and good, but we have to face reality. As the proverb says, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions?’ An intention is only something that you think about doing, an aim or a plan. A good act, is something actually done. As the proverb, goes on to say,’…but heaven is full of good works.’

By its very nature religion has to come into this argument in one form or another. So, I’m ending on this quote from the Dalai Lama, which is non secular but fitting. “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

Pic by @breakyourboundaries4

Peter Reeves
Peter Reeves is a radio broadcaster, university lecturer and writer. He has scripted for Count Duckula and Bob the Builder and is currently producing a book with illustrator Korky Paul.

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