Cool to be kind: an experiment in niceness
Ahead of Clonakilty Random Acts of Kindness Festival, Patrick Freyne set out to discover how people react to acts of altruism on the streets
Yvonne O’Shea is one of the first people to whom I give an ice-lolly. She thinks random acts of kindness are a good idea. “You are what you witness!” she says. The previous week she did some volunteer work with disabled children. “I study social care as a subject in college so was it purely altruistic? I don’t know.”
Sixteen-year-old Stephen Farrell and Evan Reilly, selling scratch cards to raise money for the Hanly Centre, say they can tell if people are kind just by looking at them. “I thought the elderly people would be the ones most interested in helping out,” says Reilly, holding his ice-lolly. “But they never stop. Younger people stop.”
In contrast Rita Meagher, out shopping with her daughter Ciara, thinks that the younger generation don’t pay enough attention to what’s going on around them. “People my age chat with one another in a queue,” she says, but she thinks young people are kinder in other ways. They talk about their emotions more, she says, and are much more accepting of gay people.
Theresa Ward from Ballyfermot says that Dublin is a kind place. “This morning there was a young fella looking for his bus fare so I said ‘You can come along with me.’ I have a pass that entitles me to have a carer. . . I pretended he was my carer.”
Steep learning curve
Of course, these are just some of the people who accept ice-creams and talk to me. I also experience a fair bit of social awkwardness and rejection. Here are some things I learn:
1 Many people have a perfunctory “No, thank you” ready on their lips when approached by a stranger. Some would say “no thank you”, walk a few yards and come back and say “Really? A free ice-lolly?” as if they only registered what was happening a few moments later.
2 My own kindness is shamefully conditional. I find myself getting unreasonably annoyed at people who take the ice-lollies and don’t stop to chat (One lady took five). True kindness is about expecting nothing in return, I’m told.
3The supermarket assistant isn’t remotely fazed to see me purchasing a fourth batch of ice-lollies. “Enjoy those!” she says cheerfully. This is a kind thing to say to a man with an apparent eating disorder, now that I think of it.
4 Distributing ice-lollies to teenagers is, on reflection, creepier than complimenting a stranger. When I meet Rita and Ciara Meagher, Ciara says: “I’m very trusting. I just think ‘Ice cream!’ But you could be trying to lure me into a van for all I know.”
Iran v Ireland
That all said, giving things away is a nice way to start a conversation with people you mightn’t otherwise meet. Mortezza Moussabi and Medi Safaei are from Iran and have a lot to say about Irish people. Moussabi feels we are very kind. Safaei thinks Iranians are kinder. He recalls a day when an Iranian colleague went to get an ice-cream and bought ice-creams for the whole staff. “[The Irish people] were so surprised,” he says.