It’s a New Year and for the last few years we have seen the New Year in with our New Year Tree. It’s our way of seeing the New Year in with you.
Each year the tree has been covered in wishes, and dreams, and memories. And this year, the tree is awash with kindness … because this year, the New Year Tree is the Cup of Kindness Tree. People have been sending in their messages of kindness for the tree, from remembering a kindness, to witnessing a kindness, to promising a kindness and more. And we have been purchasing cups from charity shops all over the country for every message, and then we will donate them all to charity after the twelfth day of Christmas.
Every New Year, all around the world, people sing the lyrics of Auld Lang Syne, a Scottish poem written by Rabbie Burns in 1788. It is a poem about remembering and nurturing long friendships. And most of all, it is a poem about kindness. And it is from that famous poem that we take A Cup of Kindness for the Tree.
Animals don’t often get credited with kindness, but science does talk about altruism, which in a lot of ways really is just a longer word for kindness. What science understands as altruism is where there is no relationship between the giver and the receiver that could explain the kindness. In other words, you cannot be altruistic to family, although you probably should and could be kind, of course. Some scientists have looked for all sorts of reasons for kindness in animals and why it may not be kindness at all … Does it actually help the animal who is giving the kindness and so is not kindness at all? Are the two animals actually related and so it is just a case of gene survival? And so on. Often it seems like a case of looking for any reason available to show that animals cannot be altruistic at all. People are so worried about thinking it might be anthropomorphic to describe an animal as kind, that they miss how egocentric it is not to.
But other scientists have talked about altruism between animals as a relationship, where the giver might have a reasonable hope that the receiver will return the favour when they can. For this kind of kindness to thrive, we have to have a chance of seeing each other again, of recognising each other again. Sounds like all the makings of a lasting friendship to us! This idea of a relationship of kindness is interesting. The Oxford Dictionary starts out by defining kindness not in terms of the act but in terms of the connection. That is, as well as the quality of being kind, kindness also means kinship and closeness. In other words, kindness means relationship.
But what of the relationship generated by kindness where there otherwise is none? Kindness literally makes friends of strangers. And it can also make friends of people we may never have a chance to meet. Our friend Missy, who lives thousands of miles away, very generously filled a cup of kindness just for us: “A big hug and thank you to each of you guys and your human for always having your heart in a good place when it’s become so difficult to do most days in this crazy world. Y’all are the sunshine on my cloudy days.” Kindness can happen in two places at once, even if “seas between us braid hae roar’d.”
And even science has described how this happens. Scientists have shown that the act of kindness doesn’t even have to happen to you. It can be a kindness you witness or hear about, and that just makes everything better for a while. They have described how just witnessing a kindness can infuse someone with feelings of goodwill and elation, feelings that can go on for days afterwards. And even more than that, witnessing an act of kindness builds community. It creates a sort of kinship with the person giving and the person receiving the kindness. The kinship just grows and grows. Kindness creates family in what can otherwise be a very alienating world at times.
So when we look up at the New Year Tree, and we see all the messages from all around the world filling the cups of kindness, we feel that same kind of happiness. And what’s more, our friendship with our pals all around the world just grows and grows. Kindness is, quite simply, good for you.
Maybe that is what people mean when they talk about the miracles of the season. All it takes is a little cup of kindness and it spreads around. It’s just like Frank Cross says in Scrooged, “You have to do something. You have to take a chance. You do have to get involved. There are people that are having … having trouble making their miracle happen.” Just a small cup of kindness can nourish a person for weeks. But if you don’t take a chance, you will waste that miracle.
In her message for the tree, Meg reminds us of the wonderful lyrics that Mahalia Jackson sang: “If I can help somebody as I travel along … my living shall not be in vain.” As Meg wisely says, “Everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about, so be kind always. As I travel through 2019, if I can be gentler, kinder and more giving of myself, then maybe my living will not be in vain.” Our pal Kathy pledges for 2019, “I want patience with people and situations. I want to be more gracious and give people the benefit of the doubt whether they are being aggressive in driving, speaking unkind words, I want to look beyond their harshness and be sensitive. The world will be a gentler place.” And Mary’s hope for the tree, “Peace and love. Both seem in extraordinarily short supply.”
And the tree is full of such kindness. A favourite quote of Bobbi’s is anonymous … perhaps no-one said it, perhaps we have all said it … “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Jacqueline’s cup of kindness thanks all those giving their lives to help animals around the world, and she pledges to try and help as many as she can in 2019. Kristie wants to see kindness receive kindness and just keep the cycle going. What scientists might call reciprocal altruism, Kristie hopes, “that the people who are kind in the world will also receive kindness every day so that they may continue to give kindness and receive kindness and give kindness and receive kindness …” in a perpetual kindness machine! As Sarah rightly says, “The world would be so much better if we all tried to be kind to each other. However, there are so many kind people, hopefully it cancels out most of the unkind.” We need to witness more of that kindness, and Sarah thanks Mila’s Fund for their work in raising funds for Bedlington Terriers with health issues and in need, “The kindness of strangers to help these poorly dogs has been amazing.” And we have filled a cup of kindness for the wonderful London Black Cab drivers and the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans, taking veterans on outings, and to the seaside, and even all the way to France for the D-Day Commemorations.
And the cups of kindness remember as well, for auld lang syne. Missy’s father-in-law very sadly passed away just before Christmas and she remembers him as so generous and kind, immediately welcoming her into his family. She writes to him, “Thank you, Bill. Thank you for your kindness, your generosity and your help. Rest easy my friend.”
We also lost a good friend on the night before Christmas Eve. To Wilson, our “wolfram friend,” Kristie fills a cup, “To honour the love and laughter that Mr Wilson brought us. We will remember him forever.” And Kristie filled another cup, one which we dare say is overflowing, “To our dear Finnegan, who brought so many of us together.”
We filled cups for family and friends. We filled a cup for Leo, one of the kindest dogs there ever could be. Everybody loved Leo, and Leo loved everybody. And to Finnegan, we remember his kindness, which made family of the world. To dear Finnegan, who will always be that dog.
So, on this New Year’s Day, drink from our cups of kindness, and keep the kindness flowing. Remember, recognise, and respect all year round. Sometimes it is just a case of simply noticing someone.
To you, to us, to 2019, to kindness.
We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.