How kindness can boost our mental health

By Moira Billinge

‘If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with care:
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak
And how, and when and where.’

Have you ever passed on a piece of gossip? Maybe it felt okay at the time, but did the guilt kick in afterwards and make you wish that you had said nothing? If you have ever been on the receiving end of gossip you will know that it hurts a lot, and probably made you feel horribly exposed and vulnerable.

A February 2010 edition of Psychology Today declared: ‘Gossip is like those dreams where you wake up and go to school and discover that you forgot to put your clothes on. It exposes you to the powerful public eye, and all the scrutiny, evaluation, ridicule and ostracism that come with that exposure.’

If you are on the receiving end of gossip, where can you hide? If it continues long enough, what does it do to your morale? Is life even worth living?

Until fairly recently, ‘mental health’ was not generally talked about, and many people suffered in silence until they reached crisis point. Now it is a cause that has been energetically and vigorously taken up by all sorts of people across the globe – celebrities, athletes, even royalty – and, thankfully mental-health issues no longer carry the stigma they once did. Rarely does a day pass by without someone taking up the cudgel of mental health in the media, and it is even being incorporated into the storylines of popular television and radio programmes.

Yet despite knowing that we are not Teflon-coated after all, and can ‘break’ far more easily than was acknowledged in the past, we continue to scrutinise the lives of individuals in the public eye in minute detail – as if they are not real people with real lives and therefore can’t really be hurt.

The notion that we can say anything about anyone with impunity impacts negatively on society as a whole and our penchant for gossip has ignored its – sometimes – deadly consequences, for which status or office provide little immunity.

‘At least if they are talking about me, they are leaving someone else alone.’ Brave words like these ring hollow, ultimately. Unless the victim is extraordinarily thick-skinned, gossip hurts and can have lasting effects. Occasionally a story holds a grain of truth, but as the adage goes, ‘There are three truths to every story: yours, mine and the real truth.’

Aesop (620–564 BC) was a storyteller whose tales are as relevant today as in his own time. He tells of a fox that invited a crane to dinner and provided bean soup in a flat dish from which the bird found it impossible to eat. The fox thought this very funny. The crane, however, had a fitting response and invited him to a meal served into a long-necked flask. The fox found it impossible to taste the food at the bottom. The moral of the story is that we should behave towards others as we would like them to behave towards ourselves.

Mutual kindness is the best way of improving society’s mental health. Let our human words make the Divine Word living, human, alive and active in our own little world. May each new day be a wonderful opportunity to allow God to fill our words and for each word to be a genuine ‘I love you’ to everybody we meet.