During the Second World War, London and other major UK cities were systematically bombed to weaken resistance and break morale before a planned invasion. What became known as the Blitz started on September 7th, 1940 and continued for another 57 days of unrelenting terror and destruction. The dominant social psychology theories of the day assumed that society would crumble into anarchy and chaos and that people would quickly feel helpless, confused, and defeated. What happened was the opposite, as the population worked together to care for the injured and repair the damage with a shared purpose and camaraderie.
Although it’s often compared to the Blitz, the global pandemic, that is still very much with us, is different in many ways. Where the bombings were intense, brutal, and physical, apart from the medical symptoms and impacts on society, the virus is unseen. Although our home, work, and social lives are all impacted, it’s mainly the front-line medical and caring professions who take the greatest burden. Many of us are isolated at home, whereas during the Blitz there were many obvious things to do to help and volunteers were effectively mobilised.
Back in our distant past, we lived in small groups as nomadic foragers for tens of thousands of years. During that time, the archaeological and anthropological evidence is that we were friendly and open to strangers, that there was managed equality between group members, that we had an intimate connection with the natural world, and that we were relatively peaceful and healthy. Then around ten thousand years ago we started to settle and make claims to areas of land as early farmers.
It’s from this point that strong individuals grabbed power and warfare began. In his book, “Human kind”, Rutger Gregman points out that, like our ancient ancestors, humans are fundamentally peaceful, kind, and generous. The book traces our deep historic path to the difficult times we find ourselves in today, with the climate crisis and global pandemic. Part of the challenge is about bringing the same primal human qualities of our ancient ancestors into the modern world of today. Even in the past few years, we have experienced positive change. From taking our relationship with the environment more seriously, important challenges to inequality, to greater awareness of the food we eat. And there are many stories of kindness and care that arise from the pandemic. For example, people helping the elderly and isolated neighbours or providing food and shelter for the homeless.
The emergence of secular mindfulness may also play a part in this change, as it encourages us to explore and become more aware of who we are and our place in the world. With greater awareness and openness, it’s much easier to find the capacity to feel and act with compassion, kindness, and care. With mindfulness, we are more aware of our emotions and those of others, even when these feelings are difficult. We also learn what it means to be kind and caring with ourselves, which is a great place to start bringing more kindness into the world.
There are still people alive today who can tell us what it was like during the early 1940s. What they often say is that they never felt more alive and connected to others. They had a shared purpose and accepted difficulties like the uncertainty of the situation and food rationing. Similarly, maybe the pandemic and climate crisis, together with recent research on what it means to be human, can help us on our journey.
Suggested weekly practice
- See how many stories of kindness during the pandemic you can find and share these with your family and friends.
- Watch out for opportunities to practise acts of kindness with people you know as well as complete strangers.
- Bring kindness and care into how you communicate during the week, whether this is through reading and writing, or listening and speaking.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second practice to explore kindness in difficult times.
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