It’s tempting to think of kindness as a lovely soft thing. A pillow against the awful times we’re living in. An analgesic marshmallow. The easy way. Give money to the homeless, buy for the foodbank, donate a gift. Invite the estranged relative to the family feast; say yes to the things you’re asked to do; bake the extra cakes, another batch of mince pies. The planning, shopping and cooking. You can cover that shift, make that meeting, pick up that parcel. Order that present, send that e mail, write that card. Carol services, nativities, end of term concerts. The invisible burden that’s somehow meant to make us feel good about ourselves and about the world, made up of things so small that to complain about any one of them is mean spirited. Unkind, in fact.
But just as there is a difference between faith and submission, so there is a difference between kindness and simply saying yes to everything anyone asks of you. If we were living in a feel-good Christmas film, it would be quite de rigueur to push yourself to fainting point, because you’d pass out in the supermarket and come round in a hospital bed whilst the demanding community you were in the process of serving rallied around and donated their time and expertise to give you and your family the perfect Christmas you’d always worked so hard to give them. Here in the real world, though, your collapse would seriously impair your ability to be kind and lose you too much of that time that’s in such short supply at the moment.
So today I offer you, not so much a commandment, as a magic gift. It’s a Kindness Sieve. You put it over your head, a bit like an Iron Man mask, only rose gold and tea strainer-y. It collects all the voices – both the ones coming into your head from outside and the ones inside your head already. Those whose messages are truly kind, or whose requests, when fulfilled, will add to the sum total of kindness in the world, are transferred directly into your cerebral cortex. Those which take you for granted, which are self-serving or the result of others’ laziness rather than need, are held in the filters and recycled into scripts for Christmas films as outlined above. The net result is that any thank yous will get through instead of being drowned in a self-critical commentary about how you’re not doing enough (you are). Comparisons with others – people who’ve already bought all their presents, who have managed to put their tree up AND decorate it, who were sensible enough to decide NOT to have a Christmas craft party tomorrow afternoon, who are intently looking forward to seeing every single one of the people who are forming their festive experience – are caught in the filter. Moments of joy – an unsteady performance of Little Donkey on a heartfelt flute, the permanent attachment of a Santa hat to a 12 yo head, three impromptu teenagers pouring into the kitchen for hot chocolate and demanding a recipe for gingerbread stars – are given an internal light that will burn bright as the stresses take hold.
The Kindness Sieve can have unexpected side effects. You may find yourself saying yes to one-time only cake for breakfast, no to the instant gratification of plastic toys. You’ll utter sentences which seem strange to you – ‘I think you can do that yourself,’ or, ‘You’ll be passing Tesco on your way back, why don’t you pick some up?’ or even, ‘No.’ Since I put the Kindness Sieve on, I’ve accepted that no one here actually eats Christmas cake, so I haven’t made one. I’ve bought (yes, bought) a tiny Christmas pudding for the one person who eats it; everyone else is having do-it-yourself ice creams sundaes, with carriages of sweets pulled round the Christmas table by a Brio train. And I’ve understood that I love sprouts like other people love roast potatoes, and that that’s reason enough to steam half a hundredweight of them. Oh, and we’ll be having Yorkshire puddings with our turkey – the Kindness Sieve confers immunity from disapproving glances and allows the delight of the Yorkshire Pudding fans to shine through.
The kindness sieve lets you find your own way through the festive season, unfettered by traditions and expectations you didn’t institute and didn’t assume responsibility for. The kindness sieve puts Christmas human beings ahead of Christmas constructs. It lets its wearer focus on Christmas present, instead of appeasing Christmas past or fretting about Christmas yet to come.
Try it on. Let me know how it goes.