This Friday, 13 November is World Kindness Day, an awareness day launched in 1998 with the aim of encouraging benevolent acts by individuals, organizations, and countries.
Coming at a time of international crisis, when demonstrations of kindness – from the never-ceasing selflessness of frontline to simple acts of concern for neighbours – can bring precious comfort and hope, such a celebration has never seemed more appropriate. It is also appropriate, then, that kindness should be Collins Dictionary’s Word of this Week.
The adjectival sense of ‘kind’ that we recognize here is first attested in the 14th century, but at that time of huge variation in the English language, its uses were multifarious. As well as the now-familiar meaning of generous and helpful, we can find it in the more limited senses of being noble, or behaving in manner considered becoming of that station; of being well-disposed to one’s own people (or kin); and, simply, of ‘belonging to a particular place’. Indeed, in its first recorded appearance in English, in the form of Old English gecynde, it means ‘natural, native’. In this way the sense is related, if now quite distantly, to the other meaning of ‘kind’ that we know today, the noun sense of a sort or type, derived from Old English gecynd, ‘nature’.
In more recent years, new words and phrases engendered by the idea of kindness have come to the fore. We’ve been invited to ‘pay it forward’ when we are the subject of a considerate act from another – that is, to respond to a good turn from one person by doing a kind deed for someone else. And, in the midst of this year’s struggles during lockdown, Canada first introduced us to the concept of caremongering, of going out of one’s way to assist the more vulnerable members of one’s community. In addition, there is a great deal of focus at the moment on the importance of being kind to oneself, and the idea of self-care is much discussed and encouraged as a way of helping to preserve one’s own physical and psychological wellbeing.
There is another pertinent aspect to this celebration of kindness taking place during a time of remembrance (which, as you may recall, was last week’s Word of the Week). After all, this is a year when the UK’s Captain Sir Tom Moore – a veteran of the harrowing conflicts of World War II – demonstrated just how much a compassionate thought translated into action can achieve.
Written by Mary O’Neill, managing editor.
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