State of kindness: how crisis brought out the best in us
The Victorians who made compassion contagious.
Kindness, as you have probably discovered by now, is contagious.
Whether you’re delivering groceries to an elderly neighbour, a restaurant owner donating food to temporary visa holders, or a landlord reducing the rent of a newly jobless tenant, you are part of what has been dubbed the kindness epidemic.
The rolling crises of 2020 – the bushfires followed closely by COVID-19 – have been the worst of times for many of us, but they have also seen the best of human nature come sharply into focus.
The support for fire-ravaged communities in the aftermath of the summer bushfires that engulfed the eastern seaboard showcased Australia at its finest. And while it’s difficult to forget the unedifying fights over toilet paper that characterised the early days of the coronavirus crisis, they failed to set the tone of the pandemic. Our shared anxiety has found its best self in expressions of solidarity. Neighbours previously on nodding terms are connecting for the first time, the isolated elderly are being checked upon, and apartment buildings are newly collectivist communities sharing freshly baked bread, wine and toilet paper.
If only we could show this new world order to the late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher who famously declared, “There’s no such thing as society.”
People are going out of their way for each other, but Alex Dekker is going further than most. In mid-March, as Australia watched coronavirus turn Italy into a disaster zone and waited for COVID-19 to crash on our shores, the 20-year-old cooked a lasagne for his sister and her housemate, both doctors on the crisis frontline. He was then inspired to extend his offer to all health workers via Facebook, and the response was overwhelming. Now, Alex Makes Meals is a registered charity that serves around 1000 meals a day and has expanded to other capital cities, and Alex has abandoned his university degree to devote himself to it full-time.
“I meant to help 10 people… I didn’t expect to help 10,000,” says Alex. “I always knew people are hardwired to look after each other, I just never expected it to be me in charge of something like this. But it’s insanely fulfilling.”
Alex’s initiative has tapped into a groundswell of people wanting to do something for others. “Our active volunteer community is more than 700; we don’t actually have space for everyone.”
In a world where physical distancing now dictates our human interactions, digital technology has proven itself the 10-lane superhighway back to community. Informal WhatsApp groups and more polished web-based groups are giving people an easy way to ask for help or to offer it, and to share information and resources.
It was toilet paper, ironically enough, that led Aamir Qutub, 30, the founder and CEO of multinational digital firm Enterprise Monkey, to launch Angel Next Door in early April.
“One day I ran out of toilet paper, so I rang my sister, who lives close to me, and she came to my rescue,” says the Geelong resident. “I started thinking about people who don’t have anyone to help them or who don’t know their neighbours and are too shy to ask directly for help. I wanted to think of a way we could help each other in a way that is discreet and private.”
It took Aamir a week to launch the website that links people who need help with their neighbours. Users who register themselves as an ‘angel’ receive an email when someone in their neighbourhood posts a request.