When I was teaching in the 80s until I retired in 2006, at the beginning of each year, I gave my senior students the following assignment to help welcome junior students to the school. Each senior was to find a junior student they did not know, make eye contact and smile. They were to not speak, just make eye contact and smile, every time they saw the junior student.
The senior students were at first uncomfortable but as time went on, they became more relaxed. The junior students, when I talked to them, said that they felt really welcomed at the school and that the senior students were nice and kind. The world’s largest in-depth study into kindness, the Kindness Test, led by Professor Robin Banerjee at the University of Sussex was launched on BBC Radio 4 in 2021. More than 60,000 people from 144 countries chose to take part. Here are some things they learned from the study. We believe the world is not a kind place and the newspapers, TV and Radio news re-enforce this perception every day, but the results of the kindness survey say differently.
1. Kind acts are very common
Three-quarters of people told us they received kindness from close friends or family quite often or nearly all the time. And when we asked about the most recent time someone was kind to them, 16% of people said it was within the last hour and a further 43% said it was within the last day. Whatever people’s age or wherever they lived, kindness was very common.
2. The most common kind of action is to help people when they ask
You don’t have to scale Everest for charity or save someone from a burning building (wonderful as these acts both are) to practise kindness in everyday life and to make a difference to people. Our study shows how everyday most acts of kindness are.
Helping people when they asked was the most commonly reported kindness. Next came doing favours for friends, opening doors to let people through, helping strangers to pick up things they’d dropped, followed by having concerned feelings for people less fortunate than them.
3. Two-thirds of the people think the pandemic has made us kinder
People who took part in The Kindness Test felt that in terms of their lifetimes, levels of kindness had either stayed the same (39%) or declined (36%). Yet the experience during the pandemic seems very different with two-thirds of people saying this unprecedented time made people kinder. Perhaps because it was so difficult, people took more time to look after each other and noticed the small kindnesses that can make such a difference.