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We Need To Rethink The Phrase ‘Be Kind’

by : Poppy Bilderbeck on : 07 Sep 2021 14:19
We Need To Rethink The Phrase 'Be Kind'PA Images/Pexels

The phrase ‘Be Kind’ has become a common one on social media, often ending up plastered over celebrities’ accounts in a bid to stop trolling and urging followers to take other peoples’ mental health into consideration.

To many, telling people to simply ‘be kind’ may seem like the easiest and best solution to reduce trolling, hate, and in turn, prevent unkindness. However, it should not always be the sticker we slap on any injustice we see.

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What does the phrase actually mean? When should it really be used? And is it misused or manipulated by some to suit certain situations?

Has the movement truly worked in encouraging trolls to give up their hating and instead be kinder? Moreover, when flipped on its head, many are told that if someone is nasty to them they should just ‘kill them with kindness’, but ‘being kind’ is not always so easy.

I myself have often preached the phrase, offering it up quickly and without thinking, as if it’s the solution to any problem. However, is ‘being kind’ always the best fix?

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The phrase ‘Be Kind’ started trending on social media in the wake of the passing of Mike Thalassitus and Sophie Gradon, contestants on ITV’s reality show Love Island, and later presenter Caroline Flack.

However, if you search the hashtag up in Instagram now, you’re faced with a whole variety of posts, some of which have no relevance to the positive message of the saying.

While there are posts with similar quotes and individuals posting about topics such as body positivity, the hashtag is also being misused by some to gain traction on explicit images – content that would be much better suited to platforms such as OnlyFans.

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It is all very well telling online trolls to ‘be kind’, but what about the larger companies involved too? Is it not hypocritical to preach the saying but then not put it into practice oneself?

Caroline Flack’s mother has since called out the ease at which the show has continued after her daughter’s death. In an interview with The Sun, she spoke of the show’s endurance, the #BeKind movement, and if social media users have truly learnt their lesson.

She said:

I watched Love Island because Carrie was in it. Now, it’s horrible when the advert comes up and the girl that’s taken her place is all in almost the same dress, in almost the same pose.

I think ITV2 could have done it a little differently. They could have done it out of respect. It’s all very well putting these films on saying, ‘Oh, we love Carrie blah blah blah.’ But you know, just have a little bit of respect.

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Christine explained how the idea of the #BeKind movement was ‘amazing in theory’, but she ‘doesn’t know if anyone has learned anything by it’. ‘The world didn’t get nice, even after Covid. Unfortunately there’s a lot of jumping on the bandwagon,’ she said.

At first, its message appears simple, but when you analyse it more deeply and think about what sort of situations it should be used in, the saying becomes more complex and difficult to navigate.

Indeed, those who hate online, spread hurtful messages and attack others should stop and instead ‘be kind’, due to not knowing what anyone is going through in their private lives. However, not only has the phrase often proved a futile attempt to truly stop trolling, but when considered in reverse, should we always ‘be kind’ if something has offended us or rubbed us up the wrong way?

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For example, if someone experiences trolling and online hate regarding their appearance, should they respond by just ‘being kind’? If someone is abused or discriminated against, are they just meant to sit there and hold their tongue and ‘rise above it’? What happens if someone tells you to just ‘be kind’, but that person is instead the guilty party and and are simply using the phrase to try to avoid being held accountable for their own actions?

Is such a misuse of the phrase actually more common than we may think? Have some people manipulated what was first a phrase used to promote positivity and awareness to suit their own agendas; as a defence mechanism for when they in fact have been the person to do wrong, but don’t want to face the truth or consequences?

I was recently told to ‘be kind’ by someone who has not often treated me fairly. By someone who had let me down, manipulated me and who then demanded that I be kinder to them despite their own wrongdoings.

While their mental health was vulnerable, mine had been impacted too and ‘rising above it’ or ‘being kind’ to them, would in turn not have been ‘being kind to myself’.

If I had ‘been kind’ it would have been at a further detriment to my own mental wellbeing. So when is enough, enough? When are you allowed to draw a line and ‘be kind’ to yourself first, and others second? Whose mental health are you most responsible for?

Upon speaking with my therapist, they too saw the flaws in the saying. How just ‘being kind’, while perhaps being a preferred option for the other party involved, can subsequently act as a detriment to ones’ own wellbeing.

While it has good sentiment, it needs to be used more carefully and in a more balanced way. Like many sayings, it depends how it is used, who it is said by and what context it is said in – all of which make dramatic differences to whether the saying is particularly positive or not.

Furthermore, it feels somewhat reductive after people have lost their lives, to whittle the remembrance of them down to a simple – and at times, misleading, misused and quite futile – hashtag.

While the campaign for #BeKind had value in how it sought to enlighten trolls and users about why such hate can be so damaging, raise awareness of mental health, and encourage more positive behaviour, did it work as well as it set out to?

Professor Robin Banerjee, head of psychology and director of Kindness Research at Sussex University, told The Guardian that, while he thought the campaign had ‘potential merit’, he was sceptical as to how much of an impact the movement would truly have.

‘There is a growing evidence base within psychology and other disciplines that kindness is positively associated with wellbeing, not just for those who receive it, but also for those who give it’, Banerjee said.

He went on to say the campaign has to be more than just ‘telling people to ‘be kind” and that it should be about ‘changing the contexts in which we live and work so that there is a genuine investment in people and their relationships’.

‘Being kind’ is not always healthy, fair or, in turn, kind to ourselves. So while the importance of its initial message reigns true – in how people should be more considerate about what others are going through behind closed doors and to others’ mental wellbeing – the phrase cannot simply be used as a one-size-fits for all difficult behaviours or situations.

As someone who has suffered with their own mental wellbeing and felt pushed to the brink, I admit that someone being ‘kind’ does make a lot of difference. If I’m anxious or depressed one day, my mood can instantly be turned around by someone smiling or simply thanking me for moving out of their way in the street. I’m not arguing that being kind doesn’t have tremendous power for good, but the saying is one that doesn’t quite get to the root of the problem, and it is one that hasn’t promoted the change it set out to.

Love Island has carried on despite trolling remaining rife against its contestants and new presenter. The show continues despite its proven, potentially fatal damage to contestant’s lives, and while that is largely down to factors far outside the show’s control, should the show have carried on? Three lives have been lost, three lives who were thrust further into the public eye by the reality show itself. The company may not be responsible for the hate, but they helped put the celebrities into the spotlight and on the receiving end of such trolls.

Contestants who go on it now receive a measly amount of followers compared to the likes of series one or two contestants, or Love Island Queen Molly-Mae Hague. This series also highlighted how, for many, the show is not about love at all anymore, but the rise to be an influencer – Brad making Lucinda stay due to a comment, which did not go unnoticed, about her ‘clothing brand’, for example. But does it even achieve that anymore? Is the show worth the risk?

‘Being kind’ is therefore not just an easy fix. It is about the dynamic between people and people including the treatment of themselves in the term too. For ‘being kind’ to oneself is often overlooked, with ‘being kind’ to others instead prioritised. A healthier balance needs to be struck.

Furthermore, the phrase cannot just be preached and thrown about without then being put into practice, not just by Instagram followers and trolls, but by companies, management teams and wider authorities too.

Has Love Island been kind by continuing its programme despite the tragic deaths that plague its past, its continuation subsequently posing a risk not just to its vulnerable contestants subject to further hate, but viewers who are comparing themselves to the people they see on screen? People are led by example and a positive one is not always being set on, or by, the show.

The movement may have started with good intentions, but the saying now feels trivialized, confused and misused by many. Simple quotes may look pretty and nice in a hashtag, it also may be easier to utter two words instead of committing to delving into and properly solving an issue, but actions speak louder than words and the saying ‘be kind’ has subsequently proven to not always be the best or most effective solution. Let’s talk about depression, anxiety, BPD, schizophrenia and other mental health issues, rather than just skimming the surface because that’s what we feel most comfortable doing.

When it comes to expressing your opinions on social media, it is often best to ‘say something kind or say nothing at all’, but ‘being kind’ does not always work in other areas of life, especially if it is at a detriment to your own mental wellbeing.

#BeKind needs to stop being taken at face value and thrown around – kindness does not solve everything. Honesty, difficult conversations and actual actions are just a few of the other things which need to be incorporated too, if mental health awareness is ever going to progress. The theme of this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 is ‘Creating Hope Through Action’. The theme will continue to 2023 and like previous themes, does not focus on simply ‘being kind’, but active prevention and effort.

Mental health is not a trend, it cannot be boiled down to something easily digestible like the saying #BeKind. It is a start, but there is still a long way to go and the solution, like mental health, is far more complex.

If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone

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Topics: Featured, Instagram, Love Island, Mental Health, no-article-matching, Now, Social Media, trolling

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The Sun
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