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I must admit that I never thought I would be looking to an ex-member of One Direction for stimulus for this month’s article: I take my inspiration from the Take That! playbook if I ever need to find a non-literary reference.

However, I should like to acknowledge that I am very partial to Harry Styles’ ‘Treat People with Kindness” and that this title is highly appropriate for the Zeitgeist.

I am not sure that the lyrics of this recent hit would necessarily win the winsome Harry an Ivor Novello Award- unlike my beloved Barlow, who has won many during his long career. However, there is something about the harmony and the relentlessly-upbeat nature of this song that cheers me every time I hear it, and the banality of some of the words does not dampen the essential message at its core.

In the increasingly angry, keyboard warrior, fractious world in which we live at the moment, treating people with kindness is something to which we should all sign up to doing, as many times as can. In the immediate aftermath of the tragic suicide of Caroline Flack in 2020, just before COVID hit our collective consciousness with a bang, the hashtag #bekind was all the rage on social media. Moreover, it was being trotted out all over the country in school assemblies up and down the land, including from the mouth of yours truly. However, in certain areas of society, this is certainly not a message that has permeated enough throughout the different strata.

The news IRL is saturated with evidence of acts of evil on an endless loop, whilst social media continues to be hijacked as spaces where the anonymous can be as heinous as they like, with seemingly little sense of retribution or consequence for their actions. Celebrities- usually, but not exclusively, young women- are constantly vilified for their appearance and love lives, and are then pilloried all over again if they dare to speak out against their attackers. I am no Generation Zer, but even I am privy to the digital diatribes levelled against Jesy Nelson, Emily Atack and Demi Lovato, to name but three. Even ten years ago, such a widespread level of abuse would have been rare, but now it seems that this sort of bile is somehow acceptable as collateral damage for being a media personality.

So, what is it about being online that can make people act in such an appalling manner? Does a red mist descend for some trolls once their fingers engage with their keyboard, to the extent that they have an irresistible urge to denigrate and destroy someone else’s reputation, or at least’ upset their equilibrium? What sort of disconnect takes place as inadequate specimens spew out their venom? Unless they are bona fide psychopaths, they must realise that, despite what mothers have attested throughout the ages, names do hurt you alongside sticks and stones. What will successive generations to come make of our bitter and twisted approach to online communication?

Saturday 12 November is World Kindness Day, so I would urge us all, even if we have never sent a nasty tweet in our lives, or have never ‘liked’ a negative comment about Tom Cruise’s Dorian Gray appearance, to observe this day with respect and think about doing a random act of kindness to someone that could make, not mar, their day. Henry James, a much-underrated genius, anticipated the much-lauded Harry when he said: Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.

Mrs S Niblock
Headmistress


This monthly blog was originally published in Northern Insight magazine. The original article can be found here.