2nd July 2015 Written by Katrina Williams Trending Conversation

Us and Them

There's not much that stops you in your tracks these days, the world moves at a faster pace than ever and we’ve been too busy to notice the acceleration. It seems that now all we can do is try to just keep up the pace.

The way we* relate to the world around us and others in our world has been slowly but surely reduced to mostly superficial interactions as we move from one thing to the next, pedalling hard and wondering where the day went. The valuable time we do have, we invest selectively and unfortunately it doesn't often get given to someone or something not connected to our immediate needs.

*And who is 'we'? 'We' is an imperative word in a world context and for the purposes of this writing, important to reflect on. 'We' usually refers to your own. That is, your family, your friends and you. However, this ideology was challenged in an excerpt from 'Love Over Hate, Finding Life by the Wayside' by Graham Long which talked about the homeless who are disconnected from society and defines 'we' as finding the joy of being human by simply being together.

That is together, as a world community and not as isolated masses.

Furthering the distance between us as individuals, is the amplified notion cooked up by the powers that be that ‘ourselves and our own’ should have more than we actually need. When we’re made to believe one of our main purposes in life is to build up assets and a small fortune of our own and that we must endeavour to do so at a break-neck pace, we can only afford to look out for ourselves and this effectively creates ‘us’ and ‘them’.

While we've taken care of 'us', we've looked on at the bad and good happening to 'them' and for some time now we've been conditioned to look away from the misfortunes happening to 'them'. It doesn't seem to occur to us that including others in 'we' could be easily done and that it could be a win-win scenario for all.

Kenneth Branagh recently highlighted the distinct yet common lack of empathy and kindness in society when discussing his direction of the new film remake of Cinderella. In his new version he says he has aimed to emphasise how the fairytale character demonstrates 'kindness as a super power'.

Cate 'Queen of the World' Blanchett, (I’m not a fan of the phrase 'girl crush' but if I had to admit to one, mine would be on Cate) who plays Cinderella's evil stepmother recently elaborated on Branagh's declaration of kindness as a superpower when discussing how the movie had been brought into contemporary context. “In this cut-throat world where economics is everything, if you stop and pause, have empathy and kindness towards someone, then people can walk all over you. The fact that [Cinderella's] goodness and kindness triumphs, that it really truly is a super power, is a wonderful message in the contemporary world” said Blanchett.

Needless to say, fairytales by definition don’t provide the most realistic expectations for actual life but some do have important messages and morals to their stories and in this instance, Branagh's and Blanchett's perspective and commentary on this fairytale make a vital point.

The question is, how does this idea play out in real life? Any act of kindness is invaluable and not to be measured for its magnitude but there are ways of making a simple act more powerful with the same amount of effort. Again, how? Well, there are many ways...

The phrase 'paying it forward' might sound familiar to some as a plot for a B-grade movie based on a plot for a book. However, the phrase is actually an age-old concept that has appeared in texts over time, even dating back to the plot of an Athens play in Ancient Grecian times. 'Paying it forward' is the idea of the beneficiary of a good deed repaying this deed to another instead of the original helper, for those of you who didn't end up watching a bunch of Haley Joel Osment movies in the late 90's and early 00's (it really wasn't avoidable), including the eponymously named, Pay it Forward.

Contrary to what some cynics reading this might think, there are people successfully carrying out this notion through conscious actions as you read this. Once upon a time, I was mindlessly trawling my Facebook feed and came across something that made me think about how I relate to the people who make up this little place we know as the world. What I stumbled upon was a story about a couple who had built a not-for-profit based on the 'paying it forward' concept. This couple had suffered through one of life's unexplainable tragedies, the loss of their young child, Rees Specht. The Specht's were overwhelmed with emotion when their community rallied around them during this tough time by bringing them supplies and offering services with no charge. As a result, they were inspired to show the same kindness they received to others in society and at the same time, found a way to carry their child's memory and name on. How they did this was via using the 'pay it forward' concept and spreading the word about it through the creation of The Rees Specht Life Foundation.

They kick-started this project when they were in a fast food drive-through and paid for the car behind them. The car they paid for then paid for the car behind them and the chain reaction continued until the morning rush was over and there were no more cars for a time. Their foundation's mission is to 'cultivate kindness' through promoting community, compassion and respect.After the drive-through success, the couple created 'pay it forward' cards which they issue to people whenever they carry out an act of kindness with the hope that each person in turn will carry out their own act of kindness and a chain reaction will ensue (as the card instructs).

This project isn't an isolated occurrence; a very successful 'pay it forward' scheme is in place at a pizza parlour in Philadelphia, incidentally the poorest large city in the U.S.A. One day a customer walked into Rosa's Fresh Pizza and surprised owner, Mason Wartman when they placed an order and also pre-paid a slice of pizza ($1) for the next homeless or needy person to walk into the store. Wartman wrote the pre-paid receipt on a post-it note and put it on a wall behind the register and since this act, word soon spread and now the wall has become a mosaic of countless post-it notes and a symbol of compassion. Rosa's has provided over 10,000 slices to those in need since that day and is a prime example of what good comes from relating to one another as 'we'.

Of course there are people around us doing kind things everyday. If you tune in and look up, you’ll likely find that you will witness random acts of kindness and realise how these moments are the magic of everyday life. Many of us can say that we try to do our part to make the world a better place through small yet meaningful acts. However, just like any world aid initiative, imparting skills and knowledge to people to pass forward to others in their community is what creates real change and empowerment. Bridging the divide between 'us' and 'them' and growing a more compassionate and connected community will only happen in the same way, where a world of 'we' is created through a chain reaction effect. So how do you impart this message to others and cultivate this effect without ostracizing or shaming people while sounding like a self-righteous TV evangelist? Don’t just talk about it; do something with your own superpower. Carry out a random act of kindness simply because you can and not necessarily because a noticeable opportunity presented itself. The next time you’re on the receiving end of some kindness, pay it forward with no agenda. Your compassion could inspire another compassionate act and a chain reaction will ensue.

Image: Katrina Williams