Back in the days when I spent a lot of time each day on Facebook and Instagram, I sought out people and organizations to follow that would enrich my "feed" with inspiration. Artists of all kinds, people who cared about kindness... in short, positive, upbeat news items. All I can think of now is the saying, "be careful what you wish for."
One account I started following on Instagram belonged to the mother of a young girl who had decided she wanted to perform a specific number (I don't remember now what it was) of Acts of Kindness, in memory of her grandmother. Beautiful, uplifting, inspirational. But the longer I followed the account, the more uncomfortable I became with the almost daily recitation of activities. It all began to feel a little bit forced, a little too self-aware. And then the day came when, included on the list, was the time this little girl's act of kindness was... helping her father with something.
I've spoken before about some of the problems I have with words like "charity." It seems like in today's selfie-driven world, Acts of Kindness and Random Acts of Kindness (always capitalized, naturally), are the trendy labels. It often feels to me like it's more about the label than the action. Maybe I'm just a dinosaur, a relic from long ago, but I get the impression that the emphasis has shifted from the emotion behind the action, to the label and to the person performing the action. And of course, to the accompanying photo op.
Several years ago, in the course of an on-line conversation with my elderly friend Miriam in New Jersey (not a knitter), I learned that she did not own a winter hat. I immediately selected a pattern, grabbed the ball of yarn that screamed "pick me!" and made Miriam a hat. I didn't really think about it, and I certainly didn't consider it an act of kindness, much less an Act of Kindness. I'm a knitter, my friend needed a hat. End of story. (And to make it a really great story, Miriam later told me that the color I picked was her very favorite. Moral: listen when your yarn talks to you...).
All of this came back to my mind yesterday when I read in one of the charitable knitting groups on Ravelry that someone had made something for a co-worker. To me, that isn't charity. And it's not an act of kindness. It's being a good person. I wonder what has happened to our world, that some people think that doing something nice for someone they know, someone they presumably care about, is suddenly label worthy. Yes, it feels good to help others, and yes, it also feels good to be recognized for doing so. But if that has become our motivation - recognition, appreciation, compliments - then how "charitable" or "kind" are we actually being? Are we doing these things because we want to help others, or because we want others to realize how kind, how generous, we are?
I struggle with this myself. Of course it's fun when people tell you how great you are. But is that my only motivation? I have mostly stopped posting on social media about the things I do, with the exception of Ravelry, which is where I keep track of the things I make. In that charitable knitting group, we share what we've made and who it's for, and everyone gives each other a lot of support, encouragement, and appreciation. It's a great community, and people are lovely there. And I think most, if not all, of the people there do what they do because it brings them joy to help others. But sometimes I feel a little weird making an announcement to the group that I've done this, or that. It feels a bit self-aggrandizing to me. (Note: I don't feel that way about other people's posts, just my own).
Because to me, it shouldn't be about the label, or even about the action itself. To me, it should be about the emotion. Because the world doesn't need more labels, or more selfies. It needs more caring.