It’s rare for a clinical scientist, like me, to be asked to write about the relationship between a moral virtue like kindness (or any other virtue for that matter) and their own work understanding and promoting mental health. It puts us in the interesting position of having to consider, what are generally thought of as, impersonal scientific and/or medical concepts (like mental health) in the light of our personal understanding of an ethical and/or moral value (like kindness). It also forces us to make a full disclosure of the source of that understanding - in the interests of both our intellectual honesty as writers, and so the reader gets the full picture of any biases that might exist in what we write. To do this we need to do a bit of soul searching before writing. So here goes… there is no escaping the fact that my understanding of kindness comes directly from my Roman Catholic Faith – from which the concept derives a particular meaning and special significance. It’s importance to the Church can be seen from it being designated as one of just 12 human characteristics considered Fruits of the Holy Ghost. This knowledge, sits deep somewhere within the minds of most Catholics who, like me, were children in the 1960’s – a fact learnt off-by-heart during our daily class recitals of the Penny Catechism and reinforced by pictures of Gentle Jesus slipped into our little missals by our proud and hopeful mams on our first Holy Communion day. The notion of kindness I grew up with has two essential and complementary elements. The first is marked by compassion and a “quality of understanding sympathy and concern for those in trouble or need”. The second, is expressed as practical action “shown in affability of speech, generosity of conduct, and forgiveness of injuries sustained”. Both of these turn out to relevant to the current blog.
Last week we launched Families Under Pressure – a series of mini-animations giving research-based parenting tips to help families get through, what are for many, times of unprecedented challenges. The response from parents in the UK and beyond has already been overwhelming – with many 100’s of their comments on social media highlighting both the timeliness of the campaign and how the clips have encouraged them to reflect on the way they deal with their children’s difficult and disruptive behaviour and manage conflict in the home. Perhaps as importantly, they appear to have lifted the gloomy spirits of many parents who have seen them. If I’m honest with myself – this response, and the initial impact it may suggest, has as much, perhaps even more, to do with the way the tips are communicated in the clips, than the intrinsic merit of our messages or their formulation. Our initial strategy was to get parental engagement by combining a light-hearted, humorous and non-judgemental tone with voice overs by carefully chosen famous people (actors, sports stars etc) who are also parents. Thanks to our design partner TOAD this appears to have worked like a dream. The four young animators Esther Lalanne, Aysha Tengiz, Caitlin McCarthy and Giulia Frixione produced small things of great beauty, humanity and intelligence. The celebrities, Olivia Coleman, Sharon Horgan, Danny Dyer, Ron Bryden, Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, Holly Willoughby, Romesh Ranganathan and Shappi Khorshandi, have been generous to a T and, presenting the messages with great humour and sympathy.