By Rebecca Stone
‘The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention’ – Oscar Wilde
Too many days go past where we ask ourselves – ‘What have I done today that actually matters?’ Most medical students spouted the ‘I want to help people’ spiel in response to the ‘Why do you want to do medicine?’ question of entrance interviews. However, quickly we find that there is less of this ‘helping people’ and saving the world in the medical course than we imagined. Realistically, saving a life is still beyond most of our capabilities. So, within our day to day lives as medical students, where can we find a sense of meaning in what we do, or the sense of having assisted somebody?
I suggest that we need to adjust our focus.
While we may not be able to save a life, we do have the power to make somebody smile. We can sit and listen to a patient and their story. We can spend a moment clarifying the confusion that may be a seed of anxiety.
Or we can look beyond patients and notice our colleagues around us. We can ask how people are going, and genuinely listen and respond to their answer. We can shout a friend a coffee when you know they are struggling to recover from a night shift on the birth suite.
Or perhaps even further, we can turn to strangers on the street. We can stop and offer directions to a tourist lost in the city, or smile and ask how the day was of the person next to you on public transport.
These small, random acts of kindness are what I recommend looking to when we feel that a meaningless day has passed us by. A random act of kindness can be revolutionary for both the giver and receiver. They instil a sense of power within us, and a feeling of connection. These acts are a manifestation of you seeing somebody, and acknowledging them as a person. And is this sense of connection not what we all strive for when searching for meaning in our lives?
For example, one morning while I was standing at the nurses’ station waiting for my intern to return from seeing a patient, feeling more and more like an object perpetually in the way by the second, I staff member I did not recognise smiled at me. She said, ‘Hi, how are you?’
Automatically, I replied ‘I’m only a medical student,’ expecting that she was hoping to find out some information that I wouldn’t be able to provide.
She looked slightly perplexed at this response that had no relevance to her simple question. ‘Oh, ok, I’m an outside mental health clinician and I know how lonely it gets not knowing many staff so I thought I would just say hi. I welcome any conversation as I’m normally just working by myself!’
I was slightly taken aback that a random stranger genuinely wanted to know how I was. Suddenly, I wasn’t feeling so useless or in the way. The small positive acknowledgement of me as a person led to me feeling more upbeat for the rest of the day. That day, a small ‘how are you?’ had helped me.
This is the power of a random act of kindness or acknowledgement.
So, to remedy the feeling of mundane, meaningless days rushing past, I challenge you to reflect on both the random acts of kindness you give to others, and those you receive yourself. Through this reflection, it may help you realise that rarely do days go past with no actions that help people, or provide meaning.
But if a day does seem to speed by with no sense of having achieved anything, perhaps ask yourself – what small kindness may I be able to do for others?
As part of MUMUS Community and Wellbeing’s Blue Week from 20th August – 31st August, we are running a campaign to encourage random acts of kindness. During these weeks, we invite you to reflect on random acts of kindness you have seen, performed, or been given, and to send them through to us to help inspire others. Find the event on Facebook here.