Nirmala Mehendale, founder trustee and general secretary of Kindness Unlimited, says that the smallest gesture counts. A report by Rishi Rathod.
Kindness is one of the most important and simplest of acts that we can do, both for ourselves and others. It can help one to connect with others effortlessly, relax, feel wanted, and develop a general feeling of well-being. Ms Nirmala Mehendale, founder trustee and general secretary of Kindness Unlimited, says, “If we even begin using the word ‘kind’ more often, we could trigger change. Kindness can help all of us live a little more collaboratively in today’s fast-paced digital world, where we seem to lose some of that human connection.” She further adds, “Speaking from my experience, kindness can become a habit; the more we do, the more we start seeing the benefits it brings to oneself and to others.”
Kindness nurtures humanity
When one digs deep into the philosophy and practical application of being kind, we realise that right through Darwin’s evolution of man, co-operation and collaboration has helped humans innovate and prosper. With this understanding in mind, the movement Kindness Unlimited (KU) was started in 2005 from one of Mumbai’s suburbs, Vile Parle (East), by a retired businessman, Mr Vasant Kalbag, who, in his late 70s, along with Nirmala, a HR professional, and others decided to inspire individuals, organisations, and communities with the power of kindness.
Over the years of working selflessly, Nirmala and her team have helped to connect givers and receivers. Nirmala says, “I’ve been contemplating on the kindness philosophy and have realised it’s so important to take care of ourselves; being kind to oneself is the first step. In an aeroplane, in times of turbulence, we are told to take the oxygen masks, before we help children and seniors. So, with this example, I share that once we are kind to ourselves, we can help and spread the magic to others.”
A balancing act
KU discovered that there are people who are unsuccessful givers, namely those who give time, energy, and resources to the extent of getting burnt out. Such people become negative and are unable to sustain their efforts of giving joyfully. At the other end of the spectrum are those who are ‘takers.’ They keep taking from others and from society far more than is necessary, and thus we see greed of enormous proportions that is harmful. Societies don’t see the danger of how more greed will ultimately upset the delicate balance of good and evil, potentially leading to anarchy.
In the words of Nirmala, “I believe that 80 per cent of people are good, and we must keep reminding ourselves and others about the role of the many upstanders. If the number of bystanders grows, that’s dangerous.” Our role is to help people balance self-interest with the common good and increase the number of ‘successful givers.’ KU has also realised that any transaction between givers and receivers has the potential to inspire ‘observers’ and thus create ripple effects of kindness. KU keeps emphasising the importance of joyful and sustainable giving.
The numbers keep growing
Team KU, since its inception 15 years ago, has approximately touched 1,50,000 givers, 35,00,000 receivers, and 1,50,00,000 observers and has a long way to go. The vision is to help make India a kinder nation and be a platform for enabling interconnectedness among its citizens and organisations, by encouraging acts of kindness through supportive networks.
KU’s work of connecting people and asking them to support the cause has created a unique platform where people are now coming forward on their own to volunteer for the cause. That’s the change Team KU is seeing. Their relentless hard work is paying off.
Nirmala says, “I feel satisfied with the way we have taken the kindness movement forward. I know we still have a long way to go. We have made many friends and got support from large numbers for the cause. It really helps to know that I am not alone and have a network and a large community of givers standing with me.”
KU is a registered NGO here in India and is an executive member of the World Kindness Movement, a global body for kindness, with representations from 28 countries across the world. The World Kindness Movement plays the role of supporting and encouraging their members to keep spreading kindness, in their corner of the world, where each country focuses on different areas.
The best part of Team KU is that, for all these years, it has been spreading the word with the help of givers and volunteers. Nirmala shared, “The pro bono method of sharing one’s gifts is miraculous, as whenever we have a project, help arrives from unexpected quarters. It is amazing to see how people give their time, talent, and resources.” She realises that the time has come to spread their wings; the trustees are working on an organisational structure to ensure retaining the beauty of this giving movement, which remains inclusive and transparent.
Catch them young
At KU, the major thrust is on youth, as behavioural changes are easier when one is younger, before fixed patterns, rigid mindsets, and prejudices are formed. Through creative events, it helps participants experience how giving and receiving kindness can be a joyful experience. The youth are able to buy into KU’s definition of ‘balancing self-interest with the common good.’ This is done through schools, colleges, and academic institutions. It also works with youth educators. KU reminds us that every opportunity of socialising, making friends, participating in groups, and networking starts by giving. That’s how you build friendships, networks, goodwill, and reputation by first giving of your time, talent, and resources.
Team KU also organises Kindness Hangouts where a subject expert is invited and persons of any age can come in to learn, share, and listen actively without being judgemental. The atmosphere of the hangouts is of unconditional positivity, trust, and respect for each other.
Social media has completely overwhelmed us today. Most of us are on smartphones and seem distracted. Even online, we have become less tolerant of other people’s views. Trolling and all kinds of unkind bullying behaviour are increasing by the day. KU uses social media to spread positivity and to remind people that kindness matters. The youth have joined hands in helping spread the message around.
A little goes a long way
How to spread kindness in small ways?
Nirmala explained a few simple ways to increase kindness in everyday living: “Smile and acknowledge another human being. Lend a helping hand, e.g., offer references, help carry a heavy load, hold the lift for someone who’s rushing to get in, check on someone who is sick, share something handmade like a card or food, refer to or call those who labour hard for us by their names and not their caste names or occupation title, etc. It seems very small, but it can make a huge difference by showing that you care and are concerned; it can trigger change. Once larger numbers start practising small little acts of caring, it would make a big difference and create a ripple effect.”
On 13 November 2019, World Kindness Day, KU organised an event called ‘The Kindness Jam’ in Mumbai. Artistes like Ankur Tiwari, Tanmay Bhat, acapella band Afflatunes, the band ONEmpire, and the students of St Andrew’s College performed and shared their talent at no charge. Event partners Schbang, a digital advertising agency, and ConnectFor joined as partners. The individuals who came for the show had all volunteered with over 40 NGOs through the help of ConnectFor, an NGO which provided volunteering opportunities for over 10 weekends, and the volunteers got paid in kind by getting a ticket to the jam. A total of 1,200 volunteers gave of their time and shared their skills joyfully.
The more the merrier
The reputation and goodwill thus gained have now reached a point where other NGOs and organisations are approaching KU to conduct creative programmes and events. For example, recently, two different volunteer groups working with homebound and differently abled individuals got together with KU to help organise a fun get-together. The volunteers managed the garden permission, music, snacks, and a Zumba instructor to help the invitees move and dance to music while remaining seated in their wheelchairs. All the volunteers went home touched.
Another group of musicians have been singing and entertaining their friends and family a couple of times a year while improving and showcasing their talent. They approached KU, wanting to support a social cause. The musicians contributed and the audience donated towards the show. It was a success, and now they are planning to do this four times a year. A wheelchair cricket match in March 2020 is being organised with the funds raised from their first show.
Ordinary people can do extraordinary things with great love and create ripple effects of goodness. We hope that readers get inspired to start their own kindness circles by doing what they do best, whether it’s writing, singing, painting, photography, or teaching. Each of us is blessed with unique gifts and sharing a little of this is the magic of the movement. Kindness is like jam; it works best when spread around.
“When millions of fireflies come together we can create light, beauty, and hope. It is the power of numbers that create larger ripples and a bigger impact,” says Nirmala.
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