Acts of kindness
It was in the mid-eighties when one Anne Herbert was reputed to be enjoying a meal in a San Francisco restaurant when she was suddenly inspired.
She reached for a place mat and wrote down “practise random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty”.
This notion of Random Acts of Kindness has since inspired an international movement.
which, in various practical ways, encourages its members to routinely perform simple acts of kindness and consideration to those they know and strangers alike.
From Jul 20 to 22, a conglomeration of Clonakilty-based groups have organised their own celebration of this kindly ethos in a festival, which brings together a diverse collection of events and talents to entertain and encourage people to try out the feelgood factor for themselves.
It can be as simple as letting somebody go ahead of you in a queue, visiting someone who lives alone, or even a simple smile and good morning to a stranger.
Anything, in fact, that might brighten someone’s day. And the Clonakilty Random Acts of Kindness Festival aims to celebrate and encourage the kindness, spirit and welcoming nature, not just of Clonakilty but also of the Irish people.
In such challenging times, the more kindness we can show toward each other, the better. But it’s not all about some abstract notion of a super-sixties kind of feelgood euphoria either.
Research studies have shown the positive effects of kindness on the immune system and increased production of seratonin in the brain. Many anti-depressants are designed to stimulate seratonin chemically.
Yet research proved that a single, simple act of kindness could have the same effect, not only on the recipient and person extending the kindness but remarkably, on someone who is observing it too.
So it’s what you might call a win-win situation for all concerned.
The organisers of the Random Acts of Kindness Festival in Clonakilty have a lively programme of events planned over two days which include storytelling, a swap shop, a jungle jam, music and street performances throughout the town — and all free of course. More events are expected to be announced nearer to the date.
Organising such an event — if it is to be successful — requires the support of many. Clonakilty Favours, Jungle City and Clonakilty Macra are just a few of those who are currently hard at work ensuring that kindness will blossom on the streets of the town in July.
And organising is something Macra na Feirme members tend to be rather good at. Founded in 1944 by Stephen Cullinan, it is one of Ireland’s oldest clubs.
It’s original purpose was to provide young farmers with training and to provide an important and much-needed outlet for socialising in rural areas.
But Macra rapidly outgrew its original brief to become a leading force in drama, debating, community involvement and farming of course.
The Irish Farmers Journal, the Farm Apprenticeship Scheme and the National Farmers Association are just some of the organisations Macra na Feirme has helped to establish over the years.
It has welcomed over 250,000 young rural dwellers since its inception and today’s membership is a healthy 8,000-plus. Last year numbers increased by some 16%.
“What people get from it is exactly what people got from it right back at the start,” one member observed. “It’s about self esteem, education, the ability to organise and make things happen in the community.”
The Clonakilty branch of Macra have a long history of community involvement, everything from helping to restore the prehistoric Lios na gCon Ringfort, the impressive Asian Elephant project and the Know Your Neighbours Weekend.
So it was no surprise to discover that they were enthusiastic participants in the forthcoming Random Acts of Kindness Festival.
I spoke to Macra member Ger O’Donovan, one of the busy organisers.
* How long have you been a Macra member Ger?
>>“It’s been about nine years. Joining Macra’s a great way to enjoy such a wide range of activities, as well as meeting some great people. There’s something in it for everyone.”
* Are you from a framing background yourself?
>>“I am, but I went into teaching. I was working in Wexford until recently when I decided it was time to come home.”
* Just in time to get involved in the festival.
>>“Yes, we thought it was a great idea right away. And we’ve been in contact with Macra groups from around the country looking for volunteers. We’re offering couch-surfing in return.!
Macra people are great to get involved. We don’t have a budget. We’re working solely on a basis of goodwill and volunteerism. The festival’s motto is “Cut the misery, spread positivity”.
* What exactly are you asking people to do?
>> “Well, to volunteer during the weekend, help spread the kindness, organise an event by using your creativity to come up with an idea for an act of kindness you can offer, or perhaps to donate something to help in running the festival — capital, skills or resources. Everyone can play a part.
* The idea is that all this positivity and kindness will multiply, spread throughout the locality and create a special atmosphere isn’t it?
>>“That’s right. In the times we live in, too many activities seem to involve money. So it’s great to have an event like this where people can get together, enjoy themselves and at the same time, put a smile on someone else’s face.”
* What is it about the Macra experience that makes you ideal candidates for undertaking a project like this?
>>“It’s really a lot of things. Being a Macra member definitely does increase personal development; self-esteem through drama and debating. Anyone can have their chance on stage. There’s no such thing as “can’t” with us. I’ve seen new members who were originally very shy come out of themselves after they’ve joined. And this sort of self-confidence encourages people to believe that they really can make a difference in their community.”
* How have you found membership numbers in recent years?
>>“Since I’ve been involved there have obviously been peaks and troughs. Right now we have forty members but that can fluctuate.
“Some members may have gone to Australia for a year or two and are glad to be able to re-join us when they get back. We meet every two weeks and there’s always a lot going on. It’s a great way to meet new people, and if you have been away for a while, it’s a good way of reconnecting with old friends and your community.”
* Were you surprised at the support you are getting?
>>“It’s been terrific. Many Clonakilty businesses and individuals have already signed up as participants and there are more joining every day. One of the surprising things we’ve discovered along the way is that a lot of people are actually less motivated when there’s money involved.”
* What are you hoping that everyone will take away with them from this special event?
>>“That by extending even small acts of kindness and generosity to each other we will all enjoy a better quality of life and a strengthened sense of community. And all it will cost you is a smile!”